Our family moved from Chicago to Toronto, Canada two years ago. And for all the obvious similarities between Canada and the U.S., cultural differences do exist. I need only to talk to my Canadian friends or stand in the grocery line to recognize them.
As a matter of routine here, cashiers at the grocery store do not whip items over the scanner into the hands of pimply 16-year-olds bagging for minimum wage. Instead, cashiers pluck items from the conveyor belt, one by one, scanning and bagging each individually with such apparent lack of haste that clearly, time is not of the essence.
I once irritably timed the inefficiency: 15 minutes.
Standing at the checkout in Toronto, I begin recognizing my patriotic allegiance to convenience and ease. These values are the currency of American culture.
And it’s made me wonder: Have ease and convenience also become my currency of prayer?
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done.” These are the words Jesus taught us to pray, and they bind us, like a gentle and easy yoke, to the will and glory of Another.
They don’t promise us an easy life. In fact, the Scriptures assure that following a crucified Savior is an invitation into suffering (2 Timothy 3:12, Romans 8:17, Philippians 3:10).
I, like you, would say that I want God’s will. However, what may also be true is that I want it à l’Americaine. “Yes, Lord, I will do as you ask. However, kindly impose no obligations to inconvenience or discomfort, please.”
This is the bargain I seem to want to continually strike with God. I will serve. I will give. I know to accept these as terms of God’s kingdom. However, the contractual obligation to which I insist on holding God is the preservation of my hassle-free life.
Imagine, then, my indignation when: the the foster child we bring into our home persistently wakes in the middle of the night, crying for a bottle he’s long past the age of needing; my 4-year-old son coughs and cries as sleepless hours creep toward my speaking engagement at church the next morning; my plans for a graduate ministry degree are interrupted with a surprise pregnancy—twins; we move to Toronto and two years later, must move again because we’ve been forced out of a lease; another landlord refuses to rent to us because we have “too many” kids; my recently orphaned 18-year-old nephew comes to live with us when the deadline for my first book manuscript looms.
I want a life that is as placid as the surface of a glassy sea, and instead, God capsizes my efforts at self-assured control. He takes me beyond the comfortable limits of my time, money and capacities into waters that churn with challenge and uncertainty. I don’t ever feel I can keep afloat, and in fact, I often have the sense of near-drowning.
Self-pity is a first responder—when the responsibilities God hands me multiply at an alarming rate and I watch as the cache of my emotional, financial and relational reserves erodes. I confess to an initial state of brooding over the injustice of having to give and give more. I don’t suffer well the discourtesy of God’s calling.
Why won’t God hold to his end of the bargain? Hasn’t he owed me at least the generosity of making his will easier, especially when I’ve readily complied with his terms? I’m giving, and I’m serving, aren’t I?
And then again, when God makes life—and calling—“hard,” there are lessons he means to teach us. I write them as if only to remind myself:
1. Grace is sufficient where time, money and capacity are not. Whether or not we admit it, we are each skilled in habits of self-reliance. When God obligates us to responsibilities that our resources are insufficient to meet, we begin learning to pray—and depend. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
2. Glory is reserved for Christ alone. Despite our insatiable need to be heroic, God will necessarily return us to a vision of our proper size. The lesson, which John the Baptist learned, is one we must each begin to internalize: sometimes it takes a too-big life and calling to teach us something of our own smallness (John 3:30).
3. The cross is the central event of the Christian story. It was a vision of ignominy and death before it ever became a symbol of glory and life. Whenever we begin believing that God owes us our best life now, we could stand to be consider Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,” (Hebrews 12:2).
In his book, The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson argues that the American church has divorced the truth of Jesus from the way of Jesus. We like the message of the Christian faith, but we aren’t jazzed about the means. Peterson says that we are asking the wrong question (“What would Jesus do?”) when we should instead be probing, “How would Jesus do it?”
The discourtesy of God’s calling serves as one means of rescue. We are saved from our petulant demands that faith be easy, convenient and amenable to our plans. We are returned to the cross—and to the way of Jesus. The difficulties God providentially allows as we seek to follow him teach us to live more willingly into the mystery of the words that Jesus taught us to pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done. They grant us the courage to invite God to accomplish His work—in His way. We could even say that suffering produces real and resilient faith, and for this reason, is cause for joy (James 1:2-4).