I cannot tell you how often my friends and family have, in the past, told me to smile more. I still vividly recall a moment when one of the more exuberant youth leaders at my church gave me an “atta boy” pat on the backside and told me to, “Smile, man.”
Unfortunately, my typical demeanor tends to be less than cheery; that simply comes with my personality. I am a born pessimist and perpetually see the proverbial glass as half-empty. Some friends have defined this as my “Eeyore-ness” after the donkey character in Winnie-the-Pooh.
To be sure, such an attitude is a serious downer and can drain the energy from a room, and any person with such a personality needs to work on smoothing out those rough edges. At the same time, though, many of those traits are ingrained in us pessimists, and they’re simply not going to disappear altogether, even over time.
Yet, there are a few reasons why you might not want that pessimism to vanish. There are a lot of reasons why, as a Christian, it’s okay to hate your life.
The Comfort-and-Better-Than-Average Gospel
Last week, I wrote about what it looks like to rejoice without faking it. Most of the circumstances I discussed in that post related to the negative aspects of life related to sin and its consequences. Here, I want to focus on whether or not it’s okay to hate the life God has called you toward.
When it comes to pursuing God, most faithful Christians understand the need to differentiate between a health-and-wealth type of understanding about the Gospel. Unfortunately, many Christians tend to think that they’ve avoided the pitfalls of a health-and-wealth gospel by disbelieving in a God who will grant them immeasurable riches and miracle cures. While, yes, they have ceased to “believe God for” mountains of cash and real estate further than the eye can see, too many Christians seem to have shrunken their understanding of what blessings God will provide rather than expand their view of who God is.
I say this not as a criticism coming from the outside but as one who feels as though he has been tripped up by what might be called a comfort-and-better-than-average gospel. Early on, I realized that asking God for material blessings beyond my wildest dreams would be foolhardy and unbiblical. God’s message in Scripture never indicates that providing money and luxury were His ultimate purpose for humanity.
At the same time, however, I refused to take the full step required to genuinely follow the Lord: surrender. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said “Take up your cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). Paul wasn’t envisioning a life of leisure when he wrote to the Corinthians about facing death every day (1 Cor. 15:30-31).
I, on the other hand, seemed more than ready to counter such implications those texts had for my life by citing Christ’s words that He came so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10) and that if I delight in Him, He “will give [me] the desires of my heart” (Ps. 37:4). I was able to weasel my way out of a surrender-your-life gospel in order to put my hope in finding comfort and living a slightly above average lifestyle (but only slightly lest we become like those health-and-wealth heretics).
None of this is to say that God aspires for His followers to seek misery, at least not for its own sake. Even so, far too often I know that I’ve hidden behind the phrase “it doesn’t say ‘money is the root of all evil,’ but ‘the love of money is the root of all evil'” in order to cover up the fact that I actually did prefer financial stability to the risk of laying everything on the line for the sake of God’s kingdom. After all, it is easy to convince yourself and others that you don’t actually love those entities you have placed above God and idolized. You can easily fake it enough to other people to prove that you’re above such “carnality.”
We deceive ourselves far too easily.
Somewhere along the line, it seems as though Christians have ceased to meditate over what it means to count the cost of discipleship. By that, I don’t intend to make it sound as though Christians (particularly Western Christians) have ceased being disciples. I merely mean to describe a recent phenomenon where Christians seem to view discipleship as a process of self-fulfillment rather than one of self-abandonment.
Much of the advice that I received whenever I sought to answer the question, “What is God’s will for my life,” or “What is my spiritual gifted-ness,” tended to return a question back to me: “What are you passionate about?”
Now, don’t interpret what I am about to say as, “God never works through your passions,” because I do believe that He does. But, I’m curious as to whether or not including that question within the assessment leans more toward utilizing a business model of leader development rather than spiritual model of Christian discipleship.
While this may, at first, seem like I am creating a false dilemma, I want to highlight why I’m discerning between the two in this way. From an business perspective, one might want to bring in what a person is passionate about because when a person has passion for accomplishing any particular thing, he or she will be more driven to succeed because there exists an internal motivation as opposed to an external one.
Unfortunately, such an approach tends to minimize the “spiritual” aspect of a Christian’s giftedness. The process of determining one’s spiritual gifts really becomes a practice in self-discovery rather than a focus on asking God how He wants to work in the believer’s through prayer, fasting, and supplication.
I do not mean to discredit the spiritual gift inventory. Many of them are built on practical wisdom and Scripture, but numerous characters throughout the Bible are explicitly described as ill-equipped for the task they are led to accomplish.
If we use only the process of self-discovery in determining our gifts, then we may unintentionally put God into a box and limit our view of what He can do in and through us. Or worse, we may intentionally craft a life based on the results of our self-discovery that leads us toward the sort of life that we prefer rather than surrender ourselves by pouring out our lives as an offering.
Instead, we should combine the process of self-discovery with ardent prayer such that, while we may make our plans, we will be ready when He directs our steps (cf. Pr. 16:9).
God’s Tough, Heavenly Calling
In the business world, every leader understands that the first step toward accomplishment often requires a substantial risk. As a modern wisdom saying, this can be boiled down into the axiom, “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”
This initial step of risk has, perhaps, become synonymous in the Christian’s understanding with a step of faith. As it plays out, the Christian first determines his or her gifts based on a process of self-discovery. Then, he or she takes the risk of applying what was learned during that assessment period in order to step out of a “comfort zone” and move toward accomplishing a predetermined goal (presumably one centered on some biblical, Christian purpose).
While such a process is valuable, it’s based on wisdom that could be applied to any person seeking to add meaning to his or her life. It’s a Christianized version of basic wisdom. Living a healthy, moral lifestyle requires that a Christian make such decisions, but a person cannot stop there and believe he or she has completely entered the discipleship process.
Discipleship is about something much more radical than merely “finding your calling.” True Christian discipleship might more righteously be defined as “finding your losing.” Calling connotes a sense of fulfillment. Losing underscores the fact of surrender.
It’s far too easy to conflate God’s calling on our lives with our own. Discipline, goal-setting, character building: all of these are a part of human development. When people get involved in these processes, it will make a community a better place, but such involvement can easily lead us to focus too much on temporal circumstances and successes.
When Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, describes a life of persecution and agony, he asks what point such pain has in a life that does not include the resurrection. He is battling a heretical view that dismissed the raising of the dead. Yet, beyond establishing the resurrection of Christ as the foundation for Christian faith, Paul describes the resurrection as the impetus for his embracing his worldly sorrows.
Paul had his sights set, not on this life, but on the life to come. He shunned wealth and health, yes, but he also rejected comfort. He boldly called out the Corinthians, saying, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Cor. 15:34).
Not every Christian will encounter a life of pain and agony in their pursuit of Christ.
In John 21, Jesus told Peter that he was going to lead a difficult life where he would be led and taken where he did not want to go. John comments and explains that this was a prophecy of the kind of death he would suffer, and Peter seemingly understands the severity of the statement. For he looks over to John and asks Jesus, “What about him?” Jesus rebukes Peter, basically letting Peter know that John’s fate had no bearing on his calling (Jn.21:18-23).
Jesus’ framing of the prediction and Peter’s response demonstrates that he hated the thought of losing control of his life, but Jesus does not apologize. Instead, he emphasizes to Peter that, in spite of this fate, He wants him to “Follow Me.”
No one should feel guilty for leading a life that includes some luxury. Some will suffer greatly while others will never experience the agony of persecution, but if there’s never a moment where your Christian faith generates a conflict of interests in your soul or a disappointed sense of missing out on some desired experience, then you may be following Christ in word rather than deed.
Don’t fall for the lie that following Christ is all about your self-fulliment. Christ would not have demanded that we “take up our cross” if that meant always feeling good and comfortable with the shape our lives take. Pursuing Christ isn’t about fulfillment or satisfaction but obedience. Sometimes obedience means a leading a life you wouldn’t have chosen.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s quite all right if, in your pursuit of Christ, you find reason to hate your life.