Listen: Sydney-based author Ruth Baker talks about her new book 'Are We There Yet?' and the fine line between Christian living and unrealistic religious goals
The Christian faith is a fickle thing. In believing in God and accepting Jesus as His son, our key life aim is to live as Jesus did: in perfect relationship with God, and with a divine love for humanity. But that’s impossible. You’ve probably already messed it up five times this morning and that’s OK because you can continually choose to correct it.
So how do you measure your progress as a Christian? Can you ever arrive at a place where you feel like you’re nailing it? And, more importantly, what do you do when you feel like you’re totally messing it up?
What to do when you feel like you’re messing up the Christian life
Sydney-based author Ruth Baker ponders those questions in her new book, Are We There Yet?, an exploration of the enduring nature of the Christian journey, and the hardships that can be experienced as we attempt to be like Christ.
Speaking with Hope 103.2 Ruth said, “When I became a Christian about 12 years ago, I got really focused on that end point – that heaven, the paradise and how we get there”.
“I threw myself into heaps of conferences and read lots of books, and that was great… but then [in the everyday mess of life], it was like, ‘OK, what does this actually mean?’ I didn’t know how to actually do it… I failed miserably at writing a list of things I’m supposed to do to be ‘a good Christian’.”
Like anyone laying out a plan to an end point, Ruth approached her faith as something to be accomplished and find success in. She wanted a clear-cut pathway to “doing Christianity right”, but found that only made her feel more like a failure.
“I think it’s a very human thing to need to understand what to do to complete something,” Ruth said.
“Especially now, when we’re surrounded online by images and stories of people accomplishing things and finishing things… we think, ‘If I don’t know what to do, then I just need a list – that puts my world in order – and then I can check them off as I go.
“The difficulty with the Christian walk is that praying is never ‘done’. Reading your Bible is never ‘done’. It’s not necessarily something that you can check off… and that gives us a deep sense of unease then, that things are ‘un-listable’.”
What Ruth said we need to do, is find a balance between being aware of the practices we want to embrace, but not holding ourselves to them in unrealistic religious ways.
“You actually lose focus on God by idiolising the list,” Ruth said.
“So we need to tread this fine line and find the sweet spot between having that demeanour of the heart that gives us longevity even amongst the mess, but also giving ourselves enough routine to guide us.”
To make our Christian life easier, Ruth said it also pays to look at what media, movies and content you’re consuming. They can all have an impact on our mindsets and how we approach the world. She believes it’s worth making sure they’re not distracting you from what you really want to give your attention to.
Ruth said the entertainment and media we’re exposed to “are not necessarily bad in-and-of themselves, but when exposed to them over 10, 20, 30 years, suddenly we’ve actually become immune to some things that we should feel relatively outraged about”.
“We become numb to some things that God – frankly – would be really unhappy about. And that presses down into how we parent our kids and how we advise the people in our churches,” she said.
Ruth’s advice to others when they feel like their faith needs a refresh, isn’t to beat up on themselves for a lack of perfection, but to make a choice to check in with God again.
“Usually when I’ve flagged, it’s because I’ve been too busy to read my Bible and so I’ve actually become distant from God’s word as well. Even saying that: ‘I’ve become too busy to read my Bible’ makes me uncomfortable,” Ruth said.
“But to re-energise takes a real effort on our part… you have to just choose to go, ‘Right. I’m in a bad spot here’, and do the work to catch up with Christian friends or take time to engage with the Bible.”
About the author: Sydney-based author Ruth Baker lives with her two children and a dog. She blogs at Meet Me Where I Am and writes for various online Christian platforms. Her interest is supporting Christian women and exploring all aspects of Christian living in a real and chaotic world. Outside of parenting and full-time work as an environmental consultant, she reads and studies theology and knits (badly).
Her book Are We There Yet? is available now.