The threat of bodily harm exists for many Christians today, though usually not in North America (see Voice of the Martyrs, which does good work at reminding us in the “civilized” world about physical persecution going on in other parts of the world). Social and cultural persecution exists around the world as well. I just read a newsletter from a friend serving in the Arab world, who told of two young women becoming Christian. After announcing this to their families, one was immediately kicked out of her home and banished from the family. There are countless accounts of missionaries, pastors and plain old converts losing jobs, houses and friends for the sake of following Jesus. It’s just that few of them happen in North America, in the relatively wealthy suburbs, in my town, to me (or people I know). Compared with the “real suffering” of others in far away places, how can following Jesus in modern, comfortable, safe America be possibly considered hazardous?
I’m sharing My Hazardous Faith Story as part of a synchroblog connected with the release of Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper’s new book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. When I first heard about this project, I was intrigued. I begin to contemplate the idea of being a Christian as hazardous; I have never experienced actual (or even really perceived) persecution. At most I have experienced a few awkward family dinners, a few bruised relationships, a few harsh comments within the larger cultural/political framework…but for the most part my life, my Christian life has been pretty positive. Then a startling series of thoughts hit me: is this because I am not wholeheartedly, wild with abandon, sold out kind of Christian? Is there anything in my life that indicates that following Jesus is costing me something? After all, Jesus himself talked quite a bit about trouble and suffering (as in, we will experience it). He talked about “bearing your cross” and “counting the cost” and he himself was the ultimate model of suffering and sacrifice.
Bodily harm or physical restriction, social, cultural and relational pressures…these are not the only hazards of following Jesus. I have to acknowledge that the reality of those hazards have not been mine to date. As I plant a church in Salem, MA – known infamously as The Witch City – that certainly might change. But what has been mine is a disappointed heart. I’m facing the hard reality that God is not what I thought; God is not easy.
I somehow expect that because my life has been easy, that God would be too. Loving others, doing good, avoiding evil…how hard can that all be (‘cuz I’m a nice person, right? ) In some ways, the longer I walk with God, the harder it is. I think it may be because as I mature, loving others becomes spend time with an annoying co-worker, doing good becomes treating my children with respect when I feel like chewing them out, avoiding evil becomes refraining from fast food (which tastes so good) in an effort to reduce animal cruelty and environmental destruction. Those specific actions are much harder than “be nice and do good.” And that, quite frankly stinks.
I’m wrestling with the fact that as I choose to follow Jesus, I’m not really free. I’m not free to treat myself above others (family, friends and even total strangers). I’m not free to ignore the plight of…well anyone else. I’m not free to do the things that I want to at the expense of someone else (and how annoying is that in a marriage?) I’m not free to be a glutton (especially while there are those who are starving). I’m not free to hoard my possessions (especially while there are needy folks). I’m not free to watch pornography, cheat on my taxes or kick my dog (if I had one…) And not only am I not free, I am actually compelled to do certain things. Like give away my stuff. My money, my time, my possessions…myself. I am compelled to act when I see wrongdoing; discipline my children when I’d rather turn a blind eye because I’m tired and that’s easier.
As I said, that stinks.
Much of the time, I’d rather do things my way. Which involves me getting my way. But here’s the thing: the times I have gotten my way haven’t turned out to be all that rewarding. I usually end up with a niggling feeling about those I tramped over in my hurry to get my way. Or I end with broken relationships and I discover I actually do value the person more than the thing I thought I wanted. Or the thing itself provided fleeting happiness (as in the book I stayed up reading was so good, but it doesn’t erase my grouchiness the next day). I don’t think I have the internal fortitude to make the equation “doing X might not feel good now but will pay off in the end” stick in my life, simply for it’s own sake. Ha! If that were the case, small amounts of weight loss and a few bad habits would be no big deal.
No, I have successfully proved to myself and the world that even in cases of extreme self-interest, willpower alone doesn’t cut it.
So I am left with a faith that requires certain things of me. I must constantly choose to engage with those things. When I fail, I must seek forgiveness, and offer it. I must try again. And again. And most of the time, that is pretty hard. I can either continue on in that faith, trusting that this way – the hard way – is God’s way (and probably ultimately better for me though I may not always see or feel it); or I can quit. Go back to being free, or at least thinking I am free and doing things my way. But it’s also true that what I consider easy now may not always be the easy choice, and that ultimately, I may be bound (and thus not free) by my own bad choices.
The answer for me is obvious, but not easy.
Go to the Synchroblog landing page to read other Hazardous Faith Stories. Feel free to share your own; please include a link to your story in the comment section.