Thursday, March 11, 2010

Not Can’t. Won’t

contributed by Melanie

So I failed at Lent this year. Just like I have every other year I’ve attempted it. I even went for giving up two things this time so that if I gave in to one thing I’d still have the other to fall back on. I think the reason I’ve failed to give up my two things for a month is that I really don’t care that much. That must be it, because, really, how hard is it not to eat chocolate or drink chai tea lattes for 40 days? I am so embarrassed that I can’t even sacrifice something so simple. No, not can’t. Won’t. This is what makes me so mad about lent because it brings to the forefront something that is a constant nagging in the back of my mind – that my faith costs me nothing. So far, I have sacrificed very little, if anything, to follow Christ and when I have the chance to make a minute gesture of sacrifice I decide part way through that it’s not really a big deal if I drink a chai latte or not. It’s not that I can’t do it. I just don’t want to. Now it’s time for a random story.

We had a pastor from Vietnam come to our church once and tell his story about what life as a Christian is like in Vietnam. He has been in prison at least twice, adding up to seven years in total, just for preaching the gospel. The first time he was in prison for four years and, in Vietnam, that means living in a 10 x 10 cement cell with no air conditioning in constant, oppressive heat and humidity. During that time his wife and children had to go find jobs selling things in the streets in order to support themselves. When he got out, his wife didn’t beg him to stop teaching people about Christ or to put an end to the secret bible school they had set up. Instead, they both agreed he should go right back to what he was doing before, even though they both knew it would likely mean another prison term and further separation from one another. The second time he was in for three years. He said his favorite thing to do in jail was to sing and pray and was able to keep his morale fairly high. But at some point his wife also got thrown in prison – the same one he was in – and when he found out he finally broke down. He had no strength left and said, in tears and anger, “really, God? I’ve given everything for you and now my children will be left without parents to look after them?” A few minutes later one of the prison guards came to his cell and asked him, “What are you crying for? Your wife is singing over in her cell.” And then he said he felt really embarrassed because he had been so “weak.” But then, through prayer, God told him she would be released in three days and she was. He remained for another few years. He is out of prison now, but both he and his wife continue the work they have been doing all along to help grow and strengthen the underground church in Vietnam. He said that, often, when North Americans pray for them, they pray for the persecution to stop. In Vietnam they don’t ask that of God. They ask for the strength to embrace the suffering so that the church may continue to grow. Perhaps I should write him a letter to tell him how I am struggling to give up chocolate and chai tea for 40 days. I’m sure he’d understand.

I am so frustrated with myself today. I know that there is grace for us, but sometimes, honestly, I think I just use “grace” as an excuse to be selfish and lazy. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to be exactly like the world. I want to be different. I want to be like the girl in the Bible who poured out that bottle of perfume that was worth a year’s wages over Jesus’ feet. Sadly, I think I would have been the one saying, “Why did you do that? Think of all the chai tea lattes you could have bought with that money!” When it comes right down to it, when faced with the choice between my own comfort and sacrifice, I will choose my own comfort almost every time. In my heart I want to make a difference. But I also don’t like suffering. I have a really hard time embracing pain. I figure I’ve had my share. I want life to be good. Can’t life just be good? Today I need to feel the frustration and I think that is part of this whole lent experience. It is not all sunshine and roses in our walk with Christ. Sometimes it is hard. Not to give up chocolate and chai, but to embrace what it really means to follow Christ in this culture of over-consumption. Sometimes I think I’m only cut out for North American Christianity. It requires so little of me and apparently that’s the way I like it.

Aimee posted this scripture but I am submitting it again because it’s one I’d rather skip over than meditate on.

"Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Mark 8:34

I really hope that if (more like when, the way things are going) the time comes for me to make a stand for my faith, a stand that could cost me my life, that I am ready and willing to do it. If the Lent test is any indication, I’m in trouble.

1 comment:

  1. "When it comes right down to it, when faced with the choice between my own comfort and sacrifice, I will choose my own comfort almost every time"

    I can see this in my life too.

    May the Good Shepherd lead us both.

    the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.

    thanks for today's post.