Recently as I sat in a circle of leaders from our church, a woman asked a simple question, provoking rich discussion. “What are your hopes for our church?” There were several responses, for our little community has many hopes. But on that night this spilled out of me: “I hope we become more and more the kind of people who learn to resist the anxieties of this world because we believe Jesus is with us and that Jesus is doing something with us.”
Years ago, when our youngest son was 5, Seth asked during breakfast, “What day is it? Am I going to school today?” “Yes, it’s Tuesday,” my wife answered. An excited smile broke across Seth’s face. “Tuesday?! Today is sharing day!” I asked Seth what he was supposed to share. “Something that begins with the letter D,” he said. I grinned. “Well . . . you could bring . . . Daddy.” “No,” Seth replied matter-of-factly, “you wouldn’t fit in my cubby.”
During a conversation with friends, several in the circle took turns recounting their early experiences with certain words in the Christian vocabulary. One person said, “Whenever I heard the word life mentioned by a Christian or in the Bible, I always thought it was only talking about heaven. I never thought it had much to do with me right now.” Most everyone nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it was difficult to know what there really was to be excited about,” another confessed. “I imagined playing harps somewhere in the clouds, and I felt guilty when the whole idea just didn’t excite me too much.”
Last Christmas I read an article from a religious thinker I admire. She attempted to make the case that we should avoid the exuberant celebration of Christmas—particularly gift-giving. Her familiar complaints? The consumerism and hustle and bustle of the holidays. As we take an axe to consumerism or greed, however, we must not unwittingly also take the axe to joy. In the next few days, you’ll likely give someone a Christmas gift that feels at least a little lavish or unnecessary. You may receive one as well. I believe this mirrors the generosity of God. Certainly, joy doesn’t require expensive gifts. But joy does provide for a gregarious and generous posture toward others.
When my wife, Miska, and I were dating and our relationship grew serious, marriage became the obvious next step. For more than a year, however, I hesitated and pushed the conversation aside. We even broke up twice as our communication faltered and expectations diverged. Through several difficult conversations, I had to face how afraid I was of commitment. I loved Miska, but I wanted to keep my options open. And I found myself haunted by all the “what ifs” and all the unknown future possibilities. My fear of commitment wasn’t unusual, but it was immature. Love requires a risk. To say yes to one person, we must say no to others.
My wife and I have arrived at that poignant age when we can’t believe how quickly time has passed—especially while looking at one of my favorite videos of our oldest son, taken when he was just 2 years old. Miska and I had gone out for a date, and the kid-sitter shot a short video of our boy clinging to the bottom ledge of the living room window. He was just tall enough to peek over the edge. As he watched us get in our car and drive away, he said, “Momma. Dadda.” There was an anxious longing in his voice. Our son was sad to see us go and eager for us to return.
In January 2015, a terrorist stormed Hyper Cacher (a Kosher supermarket) in Paris and murdered four hostages. One of the store’s clerks, Lassana Bathily, heard the gunfire and hid shoppers in a freezer. Bathily, a Muslim whose courageous actions saved several Jews (including a child), was an immigrant who had been seeking French citizenship. As a thank-you for his bravery, authorities fast-tracked his papers and handed him a French passport during a public ceremony.
In November 2014, police found a 13-year-old boy who had been missing for 4 years. The heart- wrenching story grew even more shocking when police revealed that the boy’s father and stepmother had the boy all the time—hidden behind a fake wall in their house during most hours of each day. For 4 long years the boy waited to be found, waited to be reunited with his mother.
In October of 2014, Italian authorities arrested a woman for the murder of as many as 38 victims. Most shocking was the revelation that she was the victims’ nurse. Police first charged the woman with the murder of a 78-year-old hospital patient. Later, however, they suspected her involvement in a string of suspicious deaths. News outlets posted a disturbing pic seized by police: a selfie the nurse took of herself (in her hospital scrubs) standing near the body of a recently deceased patient while smiling and making a thumbs-up gesture.
Recently a highly respected journalist from the Middle East reflected on the many complicating issues and unjust events that have led to distrust among political factions in the region. The difficulty that truly captivated me was how belligerent rhetoric and vicious violence will escalate whenever issues become explicitly religious. “We can deal with cultural and even ethnic divides, but whenever God comes into the picture, there’s no way to control the conflict,” the journalist stated. As a result, leaders exert much energy attempting to keep references to God out of political disputes.
When counseling young couples who are preparing for marriage, I always ask these questions: “Why do you love each other? Why do you want to spend the rest of your life with this person?” What I really want to hear is a flash of passion, a quake of desire. I don’t merely want to hear rational judgments (“We complement each other,” “Our families approve,” “I think we’d have the necessary elements for a successful family”). These observations are good, but I also want to hear how their souls yearn for one another, how they become more of their true selves in each other’s presence. I want to hear some indication that all they are is engaged in their transforming relationship that will culminate in marriage.
One of our sons has endured bullies on his elementary school bus. Two weeks ago, he walked into the kitchen after school and with a quivering lip said, “I don’t want to ride the bus anymore.” It’s been hard for him to learn how to protect himself while also staying open to forgiveness (if the bullies show repentance) and the possibility of extending friendship to them.
My family is planning a walking tour of Scotland. I’m eager to take the meandering paths and the side roads—to encounter parts of the Scottish Highlands that we would miss if we simply stuck with a bus tour. Some things are experienced better by taking the crooked path.
In 2003, the Crafton family—dad, mom, two daughters, and a son—sold their home and possessions and set out on a sailing voyage in which they traveled 30,000 miles over 83 months. The family says the experience, something not practical or possible for most of us, drew them closer together and made their lives feel more open and spacious. Before setting sail, parents Tom and Kathleen realized that their successful careers and two houses, though providing the external symbols of success, weren’t making for the life they desired. So they headed for open waters.
In C. S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy (from the Chronicles of Narnia series), Shasta embarked on a long journey from his village to escape being sold as a slave. As he traveled, he became aware of something following him: