Seeking Substance

Subh-stuh-ns… I’m on a quest…for ‘substance’. I want to accumulate substance…to store it up, but not in a physical sense. has a definition for ‘substance’ that describes perfectly the kind of substance I mean: “…

Sub-stance: the actual matter of a thing as opposed to the appearance or a shadow of something; reality…”

My quest for substance got a jolt a few years ago. I was disenchanted. Listening to friends talking about life, it seemed life was all about careers, success, travel, purchases, the latest entertainment, home reno, makeover, vitamin or fitness regimen… It all sounded great, but I was in a different zone. I had been facing an unprecedented period of health, career, and economic set backs. What appeared to consume my friends in terms of priorities didn’t connect to my reality. Soon  these friends seemed to disappear and dissolve into the shadows…or…was it simply that I was tired of ‘appearances’ and found myself heading in a new direction…? I felt alone and abandoned as I recalled an old phrase, “Nobody loves you when you’re down and out…”

Why not? I wondered. Isn’t that exactly when you most need to be loved and cared for? Where is everyone? But I disliked the nagging note of self-pity in my thoughts. I began searching for substance, for meaning… I began to see things I hadn’t noticed before, like the homeless persons…’the regulars’…hanging out in the shopping and restaurant district where I live.  One day I invited one of them to church. People smiled politely and stood back. I wondered if I was the only one to notice how eagerly the ‘homeless guy’ had rummaged through his grubby knapsack. A few coins plunked noisily into the offering plate. People smiled and shuffled their feet, looking away.

As time went on, I noticed that my friends conversations had stayed the same, all about personal achievements, box store buys,  home renos, personal fitness, etc… I felt jarred, as if I was stuck staring at someone’s over-whitened teeth and expected to say something. Didn’t they get it, that life was about more than all of their…stuff!?

Life had shifted. Along came new connections and friends who encouraged, helped out, and stood by in prayer. My own prayer life began to grow. I felt inspired in new ways. It was agonizing at times. I felt as if God was stretching my faith to the max. But I began looking for ways to reach out to those less fortunate than myself. One day I had a breakthrough. I realized that life had done me a huge favour. I had gone back to basics. I had learned to live again just a day at a time. I trusted God more humbly. Faith felt real. I had found ‘substance’.

In times of economic turmoil, joblessness or uncertainty, it’s easy to think life is over. Perhaps our whole identity was wrapped up in our work. Perhaps we sometimes let what we do or our jobs too easily ‘define’ us.  Amazingly, God isn’t intimidated by such challenges. Challenges in our lives are God’s best times, because they are times when He knows we might be willing to let go of false lifelines. We might learn about ‘substance’. Substance is found in knowing God and in seeking and building sincere and caring relationships with others…and reaching out in a real way to others. Real substance is the best kind of ‘substance’…It is ‘substance’ that lasts.

Faith is the substance…of things hoped for…it is the evidence of things not seen…

copyright 2011 S. Michaels (Based on Hebrews 11:1)

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