By Caitlin Magness
I recently heard a sermon from a pastor I very much respect, but with whom in this case I slightly disagreed. The basic thrust of the sermon was that the Christian life is a radical, difficult, lifelong commitment, and that one should know what she is getting into and be prepared before undertaking it. I agreed with the first half--the Christian life is definitely a narrow, difficult road, and not the blessed cakewalk imagined by televangelists and proponents of the prosperity gospel. However, I believe one can’t fully comprehend what the Christian life entails before embarking on it.
The first reason for this is simply that all lives are different. There are all kinds of crosses, some heavier than others. There is no one model “Christian life,” but one Christ who accompanies us on all walks of life. That is what makes a life Christian, not the specific struggles, trials, and temptations one faces. The second reason is that it is impossible for us to understand the cost of faith before we commit to it. If we could, we would surely turn tail and flee, for none of us would have the courage to face the challenges and temptations we would see ahead. Instead, Christ walks alongside us and helps us to meet each challenge and temptation as it comes.
I am reminded of a scene in The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s novel about teenagers with cancer, in which the main character, Hazel, is talking with her friend Isaac about Isaac’s girlfriend, who has recently broken up with him. According to Isaac, she couldn’t handle watching him suffer through cancer, and so broke the promise she had made to stay with him throughout his treatment. Hazel attempts to defend her:
"Sometimes people don't understand the promises they make when they make them," I said.
Isaac shot me a look. "Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That's what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway. Don't you believe in true love?"
I didn't answer. I didn't have an answer. But I thought that if true love did exist, that was a pretty good definition of it. (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars, 60-61)
Do newlyweds know what they’re getting into when they first say “I do?” Do parents know what they’re getting into when the doctor first hands them their newborn child? Do we know what we’re getting into when we first commit to a new school, a new career, a new friendship? No, it is through living these vocations that we discover what they encompass, both the joys and the struggles. In the case of many of them, such as marriage and children, one cannot withdraw from the commitment simply because it turns out not to be what was expected. Even in vocations from which one can withdraw without breaking God’s command, it is often best to see them through to the end and find out what blessings are waiting down the road.
So it is with the Christian life. I can say with confidence that I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was baptized as a baby. Nor did I completely understand what it meant when I stood up and confessed my faith before the congregation at my confirmation. Yet those promises were still real and binding. Because while I didn’t know what I was getting into, God did. And while I was promising to stay true to Him—a promise He knew I would sometimes forget and break—He was renewing his promise to stay true to me, which He first made in the waters of Baptism. It is a covenant He has promised to keep, and to bring to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. This is true love: keeping the promise anyway, not our promise to Him but His promise to us. “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”--2 Timothy 2:13
Caitlin Magness is the daughter of a family of Lutheran musicians and church workers. She is an aspiring novelist, college student, and thinker of too many thoughts. She lives in Oklahoma with her family.