A few years ago, when I felt the first inkling of belief, I assumed I was set. I figured once I’d experienced my official “conversion,” I’d be home free, transformed, smooth sailing for eternity.
As with most everything else in this journey so far, I thought wrong.
Believing in God, it turned out, was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The real conversion, I’ve since learned, takes place continually, incrementally, from that first moment and in every moment forward. Come to find out, there are a lot of backwards steps in the process of conversion, too.
Benedict called this continual conversion conversatio morum – the conversion of life. Author Jane Tomaine explains the concept this way:
“While stability calls us to remain, conversion of life calls us to change and to grow, to be transformed by the Spirit. It has an outward dimension and an inward dimension. Outward behavior or attitudes change as well as the inner self. God works with both dimensions…Conversion of life is a process where, again and again, we recognize that we’ve turned from God, we listen to how God is calling us back, and we take action to return to living a gospel life.”
Conversion isn’t instantaneous. It doesn’t happen overnight or in a split second. It’s a lifelong process. A two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of journey.
Case in point:
A few summers ago I got mad at my neighbor. For weeks he’d parked his pick-up truck in front of the flower garden that sidles along our picket fence, right next to the street. Day after day I couldn’t run the sprinklers, couldn’t weed or deadhead or prune, couldn’t even admire the blooming lilies and bee balm and phlox because his big ol’ truck was in the way. “This is ridiculous,” I fumed to Brad. “I can’t even see my own garden. All I see is his stupid, ugly, red truck. Why can’t he park in his own driveway?!”
I plotted revenge. I decided I would confront my neighbor about the parking issue, and when (of course I assumed when, not if) he refused to move, I planned to yank weeds, toss them into the back of his truck, flip on the sprinkler system and watch as the bed of his pick-up turned into a muddy, glumpy mess.
Of course you know what happened, right? When I marched over to confront my neighbor, he couldn’t have been more gracious.
“I’m so sorry about that,” he said immediately. “We are about to resurface the driveway, would you mind if I parked the truck there just a few more days?” Not only was he pleasant and apologetic, he also took the time to show Rowan how the fountain in his front yard pumped water. And he invited us inside for a tour of the remodeled kitchen. And he offered free three-day passes for Brad and me to use at his son’s new gym.
Needless to say, I was properly humbled. I’d forgotten one of Jesus’ most important commandments, second only to love God. I’d forgotten to love my neighbor. I needed a re-do, and now God was calling me back for yet another chance to live a gospel life.
True conversion requires that we continually prepare our hearts for transformation. We continually strive to make God, rather than ourselves, the center. But it’s not a day-long or month-long or even a year-long process. It’s lifelong. A true conversion of life.
What about you? Do you ever feel like you should be “done” with your transformation by now?