Disciple

“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me,” he said.

I asked if he would make sure not to lead me anywhere too dangerous and if he wouldn’t walk too quickly. I asked if he would wait until I’d thought about it and if I could at the very least build up my courage a bit before we left. He remained silent. I asked where we were going but he only turned around and started down the road.

As I watched him go I became enamored with the way he walked. His gait was sure and peaceful. As he got smaller and further away I began to point him out to people around in the expectation that they would find him as enthralling as I did. I pointed and squinted  as I could just make him out down in the distance. A small crowd approached me. “What did he say to you before he left?” they asked me.

“He said to follow him,” I replied with great relish. “And isn’t that just it? That is the answer I’ve been waiting for: someone worth following. When he said it I looked behind me to see if maybe he was talking to someone else. I was so surprised that he actually meant me. It was really quite a privilege and such a powerful thing to watch him go. I wish I’d had a camera.”

“What should we do then?” they asked.

“Well one of us should paint a picture; maybe one of us can make a movie about it. Does anyone think they can preach a sermon or write a book about this?”

A little boy in the crowd who had been inching away from us began to walk slowly down the road in the direction that he had gone. But when his mother noticed she ran after him and grabbed him, demanding to know where he thought he was going.

“I’m going with him,” the boy said.

“No, you can’t,” said his mother. “You don’t know what might be down that road. And did you ever think about what that would do to me? You’re a selfish boy, you know.”

The boy’s father approached them as the rest of us looked on.

“It’s only a phase, dear,” he said to his wife. “He’ll get over it soon enough. He won’t make it a mile before he gets frightened and comes running back. Let him go play.”

At the first easing of his mother’s grip the boy ran down the road. “Wait!” he called to the man. “I’m coming with you!” And then turning back to his parents with great tears collapsing over his face he pleaded with them to come along as well. They declined and he turned and ran down the road.

“I thought he would come back,” said the mother, sounding rather shocked. “He will come back when he gets homesick,” replied the boy’s father.

But I suspect that little boy had always been homesick until that day.

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At Once

If you have ever anxiously desired something, whether to gain something you lacked or to be free of something you wish you did not have, you know what it is to want something at once. In fact, I really cannot think of too many scenarios in which someone would not want something at once. Typically when we say that we want something in five years it is because we know it is not available to us right now. Perhaps forestalling having children or pets might be an exception but few others come to my mind. When we want something we usually want it at once.

Part of the nature of sin is its duality. Sin contains conflicting desires. Psychology professor and author Daniel Yankelovitch illustrates this well in his 1981 book New Rules: searching for self-fulfillment in a world turned upside-down. He writes: “If you feel it is imperative to fill all your needs, and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those of others, or are simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows. To Abby and to Mark self-fulfillment means having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting on social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on. The individual is not truly fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous. Indeed, to move too far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy. The injunction that to find one’s self, one must lose one’s self, contains the truth any seeker of fulfillment needs to grasp.” While there is quite a lot to unpack in this statement please notice the problem and solution Yankelovitch presents. He says that we pursue conflicting goals and find nothing wrong or even contradictory in doing so. We want our cake and to eat it too. We want two different things at once. The solution, he says, is to lose oneself in order to find oneself.

Having is never greater than being. Often in wanting to have something we are really wanting to be something. If I want to have a large house and expensive car I may really want to be rich, powerful, important. Greater than obtaining what we want at once is to be at once. What you are is more than what you have. We are people of conflicting desires; the God of the Bible is a God of paradoxical nature. He is at once merciful and wrathful, comforting and frightful, loud and silent, penetrating and forgiving. Do you want to be human? Be in conflict within yourself. Do you want to be like God? Jump from your sunken ship and discover the one who brings together in Himself all things at once. Let go of having and take hold of being. His real blessing and promise is in giving of Himself to your self, not in giving into the maw of your battling desires all shrieking to be fulfilled.

Jesus of Nazareth once stood before his disciples and announced that he would suffer and then lose his life and rise again and offered them the same if they would follow him. Peter tried to stop him from saying such things but Jesus taught them a darker solution when he said: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”