This is the first of (hopefully) many posts of a series called “Words.” I’m a strong believer in the power of words, especially those that are repeated throughout the Bible, that describe a righteous way of living, or that have had special meaning to me. These are words to build a life around.
Does anyone remember that play we read in school years ago called “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde? I only have a vague memory of it, which was that I found it to be surprisingly witty. In my high school English lit class, most of what we read seemed dry on the surface. However, once we got into discussion about it, found all the imagery and underlying connotations throughout the literature, I always came away with a pleasantly surprised feeling of appreciation.
This play was definitely no exception. Revealing Oscar Wilde’s famous satire and wit, the play chronicles a complicated case of mistaken identity and plot twists caused by an imagined brother named Ernest. I’ll admit, I had to go to SparkNotes to remember the full story, and just the overview had me laughing at the continued hilarity and ridiculousness. Basically, by the end of the story, all the characters understand the necessity of being earnest (the adjective, not the name).
What does it mean?
The definition of earnest (according to Google) is serious in intention, purpose, or effort; sincerely zealous; showing depth or sincerity of feeling. Though Wilde’s play takes it to mean something more along the lines of honest, I prefer the actual definition when it comes to faith, to life decisions, and to the way people relate to one another.
There are some great synonyms for earnest as well: fervent, intent, purposeful, determined, industrious, ambitious. As Dictionary.com puts it, “Earnest, resolute, serious, and sincere imply having qualities of depth and firmness … having a purpose and being steadily and soberly eager in pursuing it … an absence of superficiality.”
Being Earnest In Relationships
I’ve found that often, in order to avoid awkward silences or questions, we speak too quickly and insincerely. Our endless words meander willy-nilly through conversations no more important than a lazy breeze. There and gone.
This mostly happens in conversations with coworkers, random people in the grocery line, or the person sitting next to you at church. Sometimes, though, it can even happen with friends and acquaintances, when – even at the same time, deep down – both of you would much rather have a real and meaningful conversation with someone. The reasons for this are normally one of the following:
- We are too lazy or tired to push into a real topic.
- The time and place are not ideal for what we deem “deep conversation.”
- We are scared to be vulnerable or show our true selves to people.
It drives me nuts when I find myself doing this. Lately, so many people (coworkers, friends, family) have been asking me how I’m doing. But it’s not like before when it was a casual “What’s up?” Now its, “How are you doing?” with a tilted head and an overly sympathetic look, like they’re expecting me to say “I’m miserable and my life is a trainwreck.”
I’m so quick to jump to the usual “I’m fine,” partly to correct their mistaken view of my emotional state and partly to get them off my back and move to a different topic. But, in all honesty, I haven’t been truly fine in months. We talk about subjects that are trivial and I try to suppress the emotions that always come up my throat anytime my issues are alluded to.
It is so important to be earnest when it comes to relationships of all kinds. It shows our love for other people by speaking to them with intention. Think: I want to talk to you because I want to understand you and know you better. Conversations that mean nothing may break the awkward silence, but it often leaves us even more alone, frustrated, and empty than having no conversation at all.
Please note, however, this will totally backfire if you are just putting-on your earnest behavior. People can see through that so easily.
Being Earnest With God
As believers in God, what would happen if we really took our faith seriously and pursued Him earnestly every day of our lives? What would that look like?
It would change us as individuals, and then change the church as a whole. It would change people we came into contact with. We would be mission-driven, taking purity and integrity seriously, and could show others what God wants us all to experience.
I was guilty of being the half-hearted follower. I don’t think such a thing really exists – you either are a follower or you aren’t – but as a teenager, I definitely thought I could do things my way and His way at the same time and have the best of both worlds. I thought that by going to youth group, missions trips, and church activities, by osmosis, I would be a Christian. That’s not how it works.
You have to be earnest to be a follower of Christ. You are striving for wisdom, for knowledge of the Almighty God. That takes commitment and it takes perseverance. But above all it needs to be an earnest and authentic search for Truth. You can’t just casually wonder about God and expect your life to be transformed. It has to be purposeful – otherwise, what’s the point? And you will continue living as you always have.
I don’t think I understood the importance of being earnest in my faith until much later in my life, about two or three years ago. It took me falling to absolute rock-bottom, where I could no longer pretend I was “basically a good person” and I was confronted with the ugly reality of my offenses against God and other people.
Once I realized what I truly am (a sinner), I saw how badly I did need a different, long-lasting solution. Someone to save me from myself that was outside of just me – because I’m not very good at saving me – or even other people – because they’ve all fallen short of what I need. I realized I needed an absolute miracle, and then I turned to God and ran full speed ahead.
There was an earnestness in my life that I had never felt before – though I’d claimed I was a Christian. I had a purpose, and that purpose was to know God, to know everything about Him. I devoured page after page of my Bible, scouring the Gospels to drink up every word that Jesus spoke.
Who is this guy? I thought to myself, astounded at the familiar, yet all-at-once strange, words I found among those pages. He is either absolutely insane, or He is outside of the world and society that I know to be real. He is from some sublime realm that I cannot understand. And it suddenly became clear to me that I needed to get to the bottom of this mystery, of Jesus, and understand what these words mean.
I saw myself in every story. I was every character doubting Him, reaching out for Him, confused by Him, needing Him.
This was serious. I realized in that journey of reflection and study that this is what Christianity is. This is what will continue to be my life and faith throughout my life, an earnest pursuit of Christ and His mission.
I can no longer be flippant when talking about my faith. It’s impossible. It means too much to me and I’ve been changed too miraculously for me to just brush it off like it’s only one facet of my personality. My relationship with God defines me now, and it is the one thing I can hold onto with no fear of abandonment or rejection.
I earnestly hope you can find this faith too.