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Surprised, confused, and born anew

Kite flying in the sky

Throughout Lent, campus ministry leaders will provide devotions based on the Gospel lectionary scriptures. Laura Todd from Albion College writes about the confusing yet liberating place we find ourselves in when we’re born of the Spirit.

Assistant Director for Spiritual Wellness, Albion College

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8, NRSVUE).

I identify with Nicodemus’ surprise and confusion in this story from John 3. Frankly, I’m still confused and frustrated even after Jesus further explains the “born from above” concept in verses 7-8. Maybe that’s okay. Perhaps that’s even the point. I don’t know definitively what being “born from above” (or even “born anew”) means, but maybe confusion is part of the experience.

Life—even life with God—is sometimes uncomfortable and often confusing. A baby does not know what is happening when they are being born. Something we don’t fully understand sends the signal, and then birth happens, ushering the infant into a world of bright light and noise. Over the next few months, the baby will learn to eat by mouth rather than absorption. They will learn that they can move and crawl. Hopefully, they will learn that someone will hold them when they cry. They will learn to explore, play, and laugh. Everything will be a blur for a while, unremembered by the conscious mind as the little one grows. That doesn’t mean the birth didn’t occur or the child isn’t growing. The confusion of it all doesn’t mean the child is unloved. And perhaps that is the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

I often feel bewildered, clumsy, and out of control when I learn something that shifts how I think about myself and the world around me. One catalyst that I have experienced and that comes up often in my campus ministry is the issue of queerness. Most of the students I work with are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Many of them find that their beliefs and priorities are changing, even if it’s not directly related to their sexual orientation or gender identity (though some do have religious trauma). Some are relearning what it means to be faithful in light of having learned this about themselves. Simply, they’re outgrowing old patterns and beliefs and experiencing the world differently, even though they didn’t choose to.

Like the experience of falling in love for the first time, these young people might feel like the world has shifted, priorities have changed, and beliefs are scrambled. Grief, anxiety, love, confusion, fear, and delight may coexist. That is okay. Life may look different than what they once took for granted, and it isn’t settled. Life is beautiful, and it is mysterious.

The wind blows where it will, free and unruly. We can feel and see the evidence of its action—in the hair that whips about our faces, the smell of distant rain, the leaves scuttling along the ground like living creatures, the colorful kites, and the chill in our bones. We can marvel at the clouds moving across the sky like herds of bison. We might feel the wind push us back or nudge us along. We may even hide from it. But we can’t see the wind itself, nor can we predict its direction from moment to moment. We also can’t make the wind do anything, and that is a source of fear, wonder, and delight.

When born from above, we may feel like we know less than we did before. We might find ourselves in places we didn’t expect. That can be frustrating, confusing, and scary. But confusion is part of the experience. God is mysterious, and life is hard—we never know what will happen in our lives. It’s hard to live in this bright, loud new world. Yet, life in the acceptance of that mystery invites a sense of freedom and childlike wonder. If the Spirit goes where it will, we can let it lead us through all of life’s strangeness despite our rules. At the same time, if we have been born anew, we are surely held in God’s arms. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Will you pray with me? Holy Spirit, in this Lenten season, let us start again. Let us set aside our preconceived notions of how our lives should be so that we can listen for your wisdom. Help us accept confusion and rest in mystery when we are exhausted and afraid. Give us the childlike wonder to experience life in a new way while you guide and hold us. Amen.

~ Laura Todd serves as the Assistant Director for Spiritual Wellness at United Methodist-affiliated Albion College. Her work focuses on creating opportunities for interfaith engagement and belonging, giving spiritual direction, serving the needs of students with religious trauma, and helping her community to face our changing world with courage and wisdom. Recent initiatives include the Interfaith Ambassadors experiential learning program, Ashes to Go for Ash Wednesday (traditional and with glitter), and collaborative climate change resilience discussions. She also writes a regular community spiritual newsletter called The Sacred Squirrel.

Last Updated on March 1, 2023

The Michigan Conference