Why We Might Not Want to Live Without Suffering

The other day, I learned the physiological mechanics of a mosquito bite.

Yee-haw.

Some of you might have seen the same animated video that I did as it makes the rounds on Facebook. I learned that it’s really all about the mosquito’s saliva (ick) – it acts as both an anesthetic and anticoagulant, allowing the female to get the blood she needs (what a wonderful provider God is!….I think…).

Then the video concluded with an interesting point: the actual swelling and itching of a mosquito bite isn’t directly caused by the saliva. It’s caused by the body’s immune  response to the bite. The saliva is an allergen, which triggers antibodies to attack the foreign intrusion, and that causes the swelling and itching we’re all familiar with as we writhe around upon the grassy ground, scratching like gangbusters.

I was reminded of other bodily responses. A lot of symptoms we experience to various problems aren’t actually caused by the problem: they’re the result of our body fighting the virus or the infection or whatever.

We would not want to live without physical pain.

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Never Assume

When I read that Robin Williams had died of suicide, a thought went through my mind that is probably shared by many.

“I had no idea”.

Perhaps at some point I’d fleetingly read that Williams was in rehab from substance abuse, but I had no idea that his addictions were an attempt to fight off depression.

I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest people-reader, and 99% of what I saw of Williams was a performance of some kind. But I have trouble connecting the manic, happy-at-all-the-wrong-times boom of “Aladdin”‘s Genie to a depressed soul. The man’s calling was to cheer people up. He was so gifted at it. He had so much admiration from people. It was hard to guess what was under the surface the whole time, that the great well of humor and compassion from which he enriched others belied a different internal reality. I so wish I’d known him; I wish I’d had a chance to build him up.

It’s a reminder to me that we must never assume.

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Not By Works: The Calling Card of Christ

cardI had a Muslim housemate a few years ago, a transfer student from (if I recall) Saudi Arabia. I got to sit down with him a couple times and hear about his life. He was discombobulated, a devout follower of Islam living in a Christian area. Hypercharged homesickness. I felt for him.

But that was nothing next to what I felt after hearing about his faith.

This guy had no idea whether his religion was “breaking through”. He practiced, as best he could, the Five Pillars of Islam and their attending rituals – a dizzying mass of minutiae including five daily prayers at proper times, even kneeling in a specific manner. Charity work. Fasting. He hadn’t yet made a Mecca pilgrimage, though he hoped to. But he admitted that all these observances were doing nothing to reassure him that God accepted his work. He was “flying blind”, as the saying goes.

I couldn’t help but think, “that’s an awful way to live.”

Then I read something today from a Catholic…: “If I take off my scapular prior to surgery and die on the operating table, will I still go to Heaven?” A scapular is a ceremonial apron that Catholics believe will grant you eternal life if worn at one’s death. I was like…good gravy! The sheer paranoia if such a talisman carried that kind of weight. Forget it in the morning and forget about heaven! I’m bad enough at remembering to pick the right shoes for the day.

You’re probably thinking, I’m glad we Christians don’t go there.

If only.

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In Defense of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

twoI’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.

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Singles Training #5: How to View God

mountain-climbing-768813_960_720“But God…you’re just so boring.”

The confession was guilty, but honest.

I was in the waning years of my teens, struggling with loneliness, and had stumbled upon an article telling me to “find my ultimate satisfaction in God”. Like too much such advice, the author just dropped that little gem in front of me and then…finis. End of blog post/article/paragraph. Walked away without telling me how to do it, how to find pleasure in a God I couldn’t see or hear.

As if it’s a piece of cake or something.

Relationship with the unseen is hard. I don’t wake up every morning and have a crisis of belief over whether my best friend exists. I’ve seen him, I’ve heard from him, and even though we don’t get to hang out as much as we’d like, I know – easily, simply, without a doubt – that he loves me as a brother.

It isn’t like that with God. He’s intangible. Elusive. He tends to speak with a still, small voice.

I certainly believed in God through Scripture, saw him as a master to be obeyed and a savior to be worshiped. But intimacy? Delight? That’s a whole ‘nother level. Especially when I constantly felt I was disappointing him, that our relationship was mostly expectations. When the Psalmist spoke of “eternal pleasures at his right hand” (Psalm 16:11), I felt guilty. Like when you sing the lyrics “O How He Loves” and secretly groan, “It’s a beautiful song, but I have NO idea what he’s talking about.”

Who wants to be pressured into a relationship?

Especially with human fulfillment so seemingly close at hand, so simple to drink from. Obviously, home and hearth and sex and babies seemed a lot more interesting. Everyone else seemed to be getting such joy out of it. Looking back I can see the illusion, how tense and spotty it was behind the scenes. But at the time, I remained blind. And single. God seemed like the manipulative mother, sabotaging her son’s blessings so he’d stay home with her.

So I spent years resenting the very God who wanted to fill me. I accepted a grievous lie, one which I believe many Christian singles have embraced deep down.

“God can’t really fill me like a mate can.”

If you don’t think you’ve embraced this lie, tell me your reaction if I told you you’d be single the rest of your life. How do you feel? Do you have something else to fall back on?

I didn’t.

I’m embarrassed about it now. But I didn’t.

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The Gospel is the answer. There is no other.

daybreak-over-lake-michigan-at-point-beach-wisconsinThere’s a dangerous idea floating around.

It’s the idea that the world’s darkness can be overcome by anything but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We seek spot welds, individual solutions to individual problems. Do we not? The solution to racism is equality. The solution to poverty is charity. The solution to terrorism is war/closed borders/isolationism/whatever your favorite politician is hawking. A different flavor soup for each symptom. John Lennon would have you believe that love is a key for every lock.

I’m not here to debate the validity of any of these. There’s something to each. Many seem to have the words of Jesus behind them, if you argue your case well enough.

But the scattershot approach is dangerous. It’s dangerous because the days are short, our energies precious, and false solutions are sucking them up.

We are right to be heartbroken and outraged about these symptoms. But…and I include myself in this…we are heartbroken and outraged selectively, about our preferred lineup of issues, colored by our upbringing and nationality and what not. We don’t see that the five minute scream-and-hang-up session you just directed at your father, or the money you just cheated from your subordinate, are no less grieving to God than murder and hate.

If you’re going to bring Jesus into it, you’re going to get more than you bargained for. You have to see the problem through his eyes.

And he’s got a much different take on what’s generating this mess.

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Singles’ Training #1: How to View A Spouse

sparringPlease share this if someone you know might find it valuable.

It’s fair to say that we singles view these days as a kind of training.

As we wait for God to bring us someone, we’re told enthusiastically by those around us, “This is the time for you to be preparing for marriage!” We’re told to grow in holiness, learn the Word, and hone our character as part of our preparation.

(We also get a hint that God might be waiting until we’re “trained” to marry us off. Never mind that God marries off plenty of people who aren’t even remotely ready, that nobody is exempt from learning to love, and that we’re training for a lot more than just marriage…)

But pull me back from the rabbit trail.

Training.

I love training. In a masochistic way. Something about those training montages in movies just gets to me. Rocky. The Matrix. Any superhero origin film. The entire Harry Potter series. The hero doesn’t get kid gloves; he must adapt and learn, or he’ll be hosed. It’s a calling out, a strengthening and preparation for a mythic role. And he is usually guided by an old sage who cares enough about his welfare to show him the way, equip him for survival.

Honestly, if we learned to see our lives’ trials more like Shifu’s rigor towards Po, or de la Vega’s harshness towards Alejandro, we might start seeing God differently.

Singleness has its own training. We, too, love just reading about it (right?); it makes us feel like we’re “on the way”. God is our sage, showing us the ropes.

But to what great arena, what great mission, is God calling us singles?

Love.

No, not the fun version. Love. Giving up, sacrificing, letting go, often with no visible prospect of reward.

True love is brutal, and so its training must be. I’ll make a bold statement here: in my experience, many of the deep kingdom secrets of love are not found in typical advice to Christian singles. Tragically, they’re often left to the marriage books. Love isn’t cushy. It’s going to cost everything you have. For Jesus, it was a cross. It will demand of you.

Why wait until marriage to start becoming the awesome spouse you’ve envisioned yourself being? What if we could start…right now?

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