I (Michael) have been thinking about evolution a lot lately. Not the kind that gets PTA meetings all in a tizzy over what should or shouldn’t be taught in schools; I am referring to personal evolution. For me, this means that though in many ways I am similar to the person who graduated from Banting Memorial High School and who practiced massage therapy for over a decade, in many other ways I am a stranger to that person. While this idea of personal evolution hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind, I see it weaving itself through a number of events and occurrences that have happened as of late.
It started with a brief reconnection with a high school friend through the infamous 21st century means of Facebook. Actually, that started with my mom running into someone I knew from high school and my post-college years, who had nothing but fond memories of me. I don’t have equally fond memories of myself from that time. These types of encounters often make me realize that if the individual from my past was to step into my life at this point, they might not know the person who stood in front of them. There would be the possibility that we might both revert back to that time of connection out of familiarity, but if that old friend was to walk into a lecture I was giving, they would probably be astonished.
Next came the comments of people around me about how much they respect the amount of time I dedicate to reading. People who have a history of enjoying literature were telling me they were convicted by the amount they see me reading, and the insights I share from the different books I have read. The irony of those comments was completely lost on them. These are people (including my lovely wife) who have only known me for at most, six years, so they have no context for the irony. Currently, I am reading three books at the same time (outside of the reading I need to do for work). I am currently reading more books for pleasure than I likely did in my entire time in public school. Then there is what I do vocationally. I teach, but not only that, I essentially teach literature, or the study of it. This might sound like a minimization of Scripture, but what I’m getting at is the irony that someone who almost failed every high school English class he ever took, now helps people understand how knowing the elements of a particular genre of literature might help them better interpret a 4000 year old sacred text, and apply it to their lives. While the people around me don’t understand the irony of this firsthand, anyone who knew me in my teens could relate.
Additionally I have been thinking about my teenage years. I was exposed to things by accident and by choice that I now truly regret – and that was before the internet made access to everything so easy. I think of what statistically I know my teenage sister has likely been exposed to, and it makes my shudder. This being said, I look back at my own evolution under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit, and I know that as bad as it can get, God can redeem it. Looking at my life in my late teens, there is no way anyone could have guessed that I would serve God as a missionary and Bible teacher. Most would be amazed that I do not have a child and that I chose to get married in my late twenties instead of being forced to marry someone I had got pregnant. Of course, as I think of my sister, I have confidence that no matter what she accidentally or willingly is exposed to, God can redeem it. I hope this won’t be necessary, but I can trust that nothing is too big for God to change.
Finally, I come to the last piece of the puzzle that led to these thoughts on evolution. I am currently reading Timothy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage; in it, Keller argues against the typical Western perception of marriage. He talks about the unrealistic belief people have that marriage is about finding someone who is compatible with you. One of his arguments came from Stanley Hauerwas, whom Keller quotes:
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being (the enormous thing it is) means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is…learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.*
I realized as I read this that in comparison to the man she married over five years ago, Helen really does wake up next to a stranger. Now this is a stranger she has come to know and love over that time. Likewise, I have to remind myself that I am not married to the same woman I committed to in June 2008. This is a good thing because I have watched her evolution and there is so much more to love in the stranger I wake up to every day than there was back then. It can be detrimental to our relationship in the present when I react to Helen as if she is still the woman I married on that beautiful summer’s day a little over five years ago.
If pressed I will say I believe in evolution – at least the evolution of who I am, and the evolution of those who have allowed the Holy Spirit to infiltrate their lives. The more Christian term for this is “sanctification,” but in some ways I feel arrogant saying I am more sanctified now that I was five, ten, fifteen years ago. It’s much easer to say I have evolved. Actually, the most honest response I can think of is to say that I have become a stranger to who I used to be. I feel like my prayer should be, “God, keep making me strange.”
* Keller’s source for this quote is available online at www.religiononline.org/showarticle.asp?title=1797.