I’m a product of the nineties. I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Taco Bell dog, Rush Limbaugh in his glory days, and most relevant to you readers, I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris. Like many young Christians, my approach to dating and romance was heavily shaped by the 1997 bestseller, probably more so than I first realized.
Once I did start to realize, it was easy to get annoyed. “What was he thinking?” I’d grumble. Years later, as a budding writer myself, I repent of my easy arrogance. This “words” business is tough to wrangle. One poor word choice, one errant paragraph, and my idea darts off in a direction opposite what I intended, never to be seen again. (Although I’ll certainly see its criticisms. Better stock up on burn cream.) That an author’s ideas sometimes get away – even a Christian author, held to a stricter standard – is something that should be met with grace, especially in “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). I prefer to think of Harris now as a pioneer. You try new routes, and some don’t work out. You just back up and try new ones. Eventually, you’re able to forge solid trails across new frontier.
But yes…sometimes the cliffs are painful. And the false trails might bring trouble to those trying to follow you.
The generation raised on the 90’s singles culture is now looking around for something more. I myself have some beefs with that culture. Even with my limited relationship experience (limited partially because of IKDG), I’ve been able to look back over my trail and pinpoint both its good and its not-so-much. There are regrets I have in following the book. And since it (and its long line of successors) targets a topic so foundational to our youth, it’s both necessary and proper to honestly examine the trails the book has forged.
However – we ought not to do it in anger. With Harris’ recent announcement that he’s reexamining the book, there has come out of the woodwork a flood of frustrated millennials who are discovering their struggles with the Christian singles culture. There is pain and confusion in their words. It’s understandable. But it’s also making it hard to judge the book well. Many criticisms out there are simply sloppy and show that it’s been a while since some of us read the book closely. If I were Harris, the thought that my legacy is a book everyone hates would be a source of deep pain. I’m not here to pile on.
So I want to sound three notes of grace on what we’ve taken for granted about the book, and where we might actually owe it a great debt.
What is it with the vague, apprehensive feeling that persistent prayer is wrong?
A lot of people have this. For me, it was something along these lines: “God has perfect hearing, memory, and knowledge of our needs. Repeating a prayer reveals that you’re not thinking about God’s qualities.” There’s also the thought, pushing back like an invisible barrier, saying that we’re fortunate to be tolerated by God anyway and that we really shouldn’t be pushing our luck. The result is that importunate prayer often goes untried. “Just pray once and let it go.”
I do not deny that some prayers can be offered out of anxiety, ignorance, or selfishness. Those prayers are worthless before God, and should be countered with other prayers for sanctification and wisdom.
But would you have told Elijah to stop praying for rain upon Israel after his first prayer was met with silence?
Would you have told Moses to stop interceding for the Israelites’ lives after his first day of pleading was met with silence?
What about Jesus praying to God three times in Gethsemane for the cup of the cross to be taken from him?
Oh, and hoo boy: What do we do with the story of the Canaanite woman?
Let’s talk about envy for a minute.
It doesn’t play nice. You’re walking along enjoying your life, and suddenly someone appears on the sidewalk or the television with something you don’t have – walking into a bigger house, relishing a career they were born for, holding someone’s hand or pushing a stroller. Boom. Envy sweeps over you like a tidal wave. The tabloids and self-help mags shout from the supermarket rack about everything that you’re not. Boom. The life you have seems to darken and pale. You hear a story in church about how someone else has finally reached the end of a debilitating trial. Boom. You sigh even as you celebrate, wondering why God hasn’t delivered you.
Whether it’s a dream, a goal, or simply the other side of a difficult season that we long to attain, the rush of envy doesn’t yield. If it’s not a deluge, it’s a leak that gradually covers the floor and wreaks havoc with your soul’s drywall. Let your guard down and your day is shot.
Envy is a menace.
And how do we answer?
Well…typically, we sigh, try to count our blessings and remind ourselves of how the goodness of God transcends this life thanks to the Cross and the Empty Tomb. We try half-heartedly to distract ourselves. That’s…about it. And then we wonder where our joy went.
We’re resisting a gale with a small pink umbrella.
Not that I would diminish the truths of Scripture. But it is actually Scripture that commands us to do more. Much more.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him with a spirit of gentleness. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
Seriously – how epic. Jesus wants his church to be a place where people feel unburdened. It should be a building people are tearing off the roofs to enter – a refuge, a house of hope, a place for healing and companionship and peace. Imagine a forty-pound backpack coming off your shoulders after a hike. It’s wonderful; you feel immune to gravity, able to leap ten feet. That’s Jesus’ vision for the church!
Of course, that’s not what jumps to mind when many people hear the word “church”. They see it as a place where burdens are added, not lifted.
Part of this is not our fault as Christians. Folks feel their sin when God comes near (he’ll do that), and they resent that burden instead of casting it off through repentance. But we do play a role. Too many congregations view their church as a hospital that must be kept sterilized from any sullying influence, forgetting that the point of sterilization is to heal the sick (Luke 5:31). The result is a seeming allergy to anyone carrying sin or brokenness. Sometimes, honestly, it’s no more than irritation at the quirks and sharp edges of others (“Life would be so much easier without people” and all that).
I read a rather brilliant blog post the other day that included this quote: “You are not a burden. You HAVE a burden, which by definition is too heavy to carry on your own.” Yes. The sick cannot carry burdens. They need help. It reminded me of Galatians 6:2, and it got me thinking – what if we viewed the dirtiness and complications of other people, not as threats or inconveniences to ourselves, but as burdens to be carried?
Seems obvious at first.
But have we missed some categories of burdens?
Losing friends hurts.
Sometimes I think that if all the energy we pour into avoiding that fact were spent elsewhere, we would have cured world hunger by now.
The memes clutter our feeds.
“We never lose real friends, we only lose fake ones.”
“Be yourself and the right people will gravitate towards you.”
“Those who can’t handle your worst, don’t deserve your best.”
“If they didn’t stay, they were never meant to.”
And today I found myself wondering…Who are we trying to convince?
Over the years, I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost them because of moving. I’ve lost them because they got “too busy to call”. I’ve lost them because they got married and I didn’t. I’ve lost them because they got married and wanted to stay friends, but they were female and it was no longer appropriate. I’ve lost them because they’ve drifted away from God and all the awkwardness that causes in the coffeeshop (I should have fought harder for those). I’ve lost friends because we lacked common hobbies. I’ve lost them because I was really just part of their Bible study, or a hold-over, until they found someone more compatible. And I’ve lost friends simply because one of us changed, or finally revealed their darker side, and the other decided they didn’t like what they were seeing.
I’m not a special case. Life winnows things away, and friends are no exception. It’s left me with a small but pretty unassailable group of close friends I know I can count on, no matter how many the miles and misunderstandings. We’re in it for the long haul. (Hi, DJ!) I want to jump out a window with joy when I think of those people.
But the lost ones still hurt.
In the last couple months, I’ve been on my knees in prayer for a lot of things, both for myself and others. Nothing will reveal your view of God – your real view – quite like committed prayer. It exposes what you really believe about his heart.
My pastor spoke very honestly about deep prayer this weekend. “It’s not light duty,” he said, and it’s so true. It’s costly; intercessory prayer requires time and focus.
When we are urged by God to enter into committed prayer, there is something in us that…hesitates.
It’s more than laziness (although sometimes it is that). We don’t want to get let down. We don’t want to invest emotionally in a prayer, ask fervently of God for months or years on end, only to have God say no. I certainly don’t. Like all of us, I have a number of requests in God’s inbox right now that carry the potential to really dishearten me if they’re denied (and if I don’t guard my heart).
Sure, we have our “Theology of No” to help explain things. Maybe it wasn’t God’s will; maybe he has something better. Often, he does. But that doesn’t make the disappointment any less real in the moment, doesn’t make our toilings feel any less wasted while we wait to see the better. The wait could be years.
And when this happens, there is the temptation to sigh, or throw up our hands, and stop praying – “let God do whatever he wants”. It sounds holy on the surface. We might even justify it with more theology. “God knows best anyway.” “God knows what we need before we ask, so we don’t need to ask.” And this is all true.
But sometimes – the fruit is what we give up on committed prayer.
So I’m asking myself – is this good theology just a cover up for my fear of a no? An excuse for prayers that slowly become timid and cold?
Ladies reading this…I apologize. But I must talk about football for a moment.
Two years ago, my Seattle Seahawks marched into New York City and practically waltzed away with their first Super Bowl win. My football team. Sports snobs will never get this. For a Seahawks fan who endured the 90s, having your team be the champ isn’t just amazing. It’s therapeutic. The NFL’s highest honor at long last.
And five months later, what were most Seahawks fans doing?
Dissecting the draft, analyzing our new free agents, wringing our hands over which star players were leaving…and worrying.
Worrying over whether we would repeat.
Are you kidding me? We fight for almost forty years to get to the big dance, finally climb out of the kiddie pool and shut up the peanut gallery, and we can’t even stop to just bask in the moment? For nine months, we’re the undisputed top dogs…and we have no confidence that we’re the real deal. I walked up to a guy in church wearing a Broncos hat, pointedly adjusted and fiddled with my Seahawks hat in front of him, and he chuckled and went “Yeah, everyone gets lucky once in a while.” That’s what we fear. We don’t want a fluke, a one-off. We want a dynasty.
But part of it is…we just forget. The glow fades and it’s back to prove-it territory.
We do this with God, too.
That blessing was it for a while. I won’t be getting much more.