"All of our memories are bound together in a web of associations. This is not merely a metaphor, but a reflection of the brain’s physical structure. The three-pound mass balanced atop our spines is made up of somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 billion neurons, each of which can make upwards of five to ten thousand synaptic connections with other neurons. A memory, at the most fundamental physiological level, is a pattern of connections between those neurons. Every sensation that we remember, every thought that we think, transforms our brains by altering the connections within that vast network. By the time you get to the end of this sentence, your brain will have physically changed."
- Joshua Foer, Moonwalking With Einstein (emphasis mine)
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
- Paul, Romans 12:1-2 (emphasis mine)
The thoughts of our lives, figuratively and physically transform our minds. The thoughts we give significant emphasis to fire more synaptic connections in our mind, creating memories we have greater access to for future recall. When we give God greater attention - practicing the presence of God, studying the Scriptures, meditating on His character and precepts, etc - we are allowing our minds to be spiritually and physically transformed and renewed.
That's just amazing.
I met with a former student today. He is in the middle of a road trip from San Antonio TX to Buffalo NY and was staying a couple of nights in Durham NC. He wanted to meet up and even though I've been really busy lately, and didn't honestly have the time for him, the weight of his texts pinned me into submission.
We met at an area McDonald's, I purchased us some beverages, and we sat down. At first it was some small talk, catching up. "How is 'so and so'?" "What are you up to?" Then is was some memories of youth events, $5 burgers at TGIFridays, and shopping cart races in empty parking lots.
I was feeling guilty about work I was ignoring so I threw out a question hoping to wrap up the conversation and I could get back to work. "So why aren't you at Passion this year?"
The last time we had spoken was over a phone call about one year ago. He had just returned to Buffalo from the Passion conference in Atlanta. There was an enthusiasm and zeal in his voice that I had not ever heard from him before. In fact, previously I would say that this was a young person who probably would be diagnosed as clinically depressed. But not that day. Over that phone call I heard a young man with fire in his bones. A young man who had caught a glimpse of a living Jesus.
Back to today.
"So why aren't you at Passion this year?" I asked as I began sliding out of the booth.
"Well, that's probably something I should tell you about." he answered. "I think I would label myself agnostic these days."
I settled back into my booth. What happened in the course of one year, that could quench a fire?
Over the next hour and a half I listened to this young man express a spiritual journey he was experiencing. He questioned every emotion he experienced, believing he had mastered the art of hypocrisy. Masked emotions of spirituality. Outside of the times of deep hurt and regret and shame, of which he honestly has had more than his share, everything he felt was real about Jesus, he no longer sensed.
I wanted to preach the Gospel.
I wanted to hammer him with my all my Christian apologetic training.
I wanted to wrestle his doubts into submission.
I wanted to somehow express the words that would bring life back.
Instead I listened. I asked probing questions to get him to share his spiritual regression.
I listened. I affirmed his doubts. I prayed.
I felt helpless.
I felt helpless like the time I visited him at the hospital. He had wrecked his car on a rather dangerous stretch of road around San Antonio. He spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, and by all accounts was miraculously saved from a lifetime of disabilities, mentally and physically.
I felt helpless like the time I visited him at another hospital. His parents had been out of town, and feeling down about a relationship that had gone sour, he tried to empty his parent's liquor cabinet in one night. His neighbor found him passed out. The doctors pumped his stomach and keep him on watch for a couple of days to make sure that there were no repercussions.
And I felt helpless in a booth at McDonald's today.
But not hopeless.
And when his story of regression was told I tried to remind him of those other stories.
That while he may have felt an absence of God, or a distance from God, that God was still near to him.
I asked him to not give up hope either. Could he hold on to the possibility that perhaps God is true, and perhaps God is still at work in this world, and that perhaps while he might be close to giving up on faith, that God had not yet given up on him.
As an exercise in his budding agnosticism, I asked him to attempt a journaling exercise. Maybe God isn't real and active, but if He possibly is, could we record some potential 'possibly' moments of God. If there was a moment in his day where the expressions of love or compassion or generosity or kindness or patience or grace or....wherever those expressions were evident would he jot them down in notebook or an email to me and considering the potential for God.
I left him with that. We walked to our vehicles and said our goodbyes. And he promised to send me his "potential God moments".
I don't think this young man is an agnostic on the verge of atheism. Rather, I believe this is a young man in the midst of some difficult and honest doubts. And this doubting kid is going to send me regular updates of moments he potentially sees God. I'll take that.
Lord. I'm praying for my friend tonight. You promised that if we seek you that we would find you, if we seek you with all our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13). That if we ask, it will be given. That if we seek, we will find. That if we knock, doors will be opened. (Matthew 7:7). So God, I'm asking for my friend, who has promised to recognize potential moments of your glory, that you bombard his life with voices of truth and grace. Orchestrate the interactions of his days to reveal yourself through the kindness of others. God, for my friend who considers himself alone and continually at arms length from others, would you wrap yourself around him tonight. Overwhelm his soul in moments of stillness.