Being a Christian is Exhausting
Sometimes I think that being a Christian is exhausting. Wait, am I allowed to say that? Can pastors say that out loud? It doesn’t sound very pious or inspirational, I know… But hey—I’ve been talking about Job for a while now, and Job is all about complaint and lament and being transparent before God, right? Right?
To begin with, there is this whole metaphysical package that I am supposed to accept, keep straight in my head, and, presumably, accurately convey to others. An invisible creator God, a primal fall from grace, the incarnation—Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human—miracles, a virgin birth, angels, resurrection from the dead, ascension, future return. The kingdom of God—this invisible reality that we claim advances throughout history, and is the truest story we can tell about our world. Absolute truth—truth that is not relative to human perspective or context or preference. New creation—already begun in me (what? In me?), and the final truth about the world. This entire unseen dimension that is claimed to be behind us, underneath us, all around us, ahead of us, and within us. It’s quite a package.
Sometimes it all just strikes me as so laughably implausible. Yesterday I was walking around a lake on my lunch break, listening to a sermon where the preacher was breathlessly declaring the glory of the risen Christ, enthroned in the heavens, ruling at the right hand of God, clothed in majesty, the origin and destiny—arche and telos—of every created thing. He was talking about how if we could just peel back the curtain of the visible world, we would see that this entire unseen realm is as real as what we can perceive with our five senses. It sounded magnificent. I looked around me—at barren, windswept trees, cloudy, threatening skies, people walking their dogs, advertising, concession stands, public bathrooms. “Really?” I thought. Really? God is going to rule this? This is going to be “made new?” I wonder where the throne will go…
But suppose I’m not terribly interested in metaphysics. Well, rather than obsessing about what to think, I can transfer my neuroses into the arena of action and focus on what I am supposed to do! Mennonites have historically been very good at this one. Metaphysics is all fine and good for those who are interested in that kind of thing (at least it might be… sometimes we’re not so sure), but the really important thing is following the commands of Jesus. At the risk of horrendous oversimplification, Mennonites are doers not thinkers. So, we seek peace, we pursue justice, we advocate for those whose voices are not being heard, we scramble to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to attend to the prisoner, the widow, the orphan, the sick, the vulnerable, the marginalized. We speak truth to power (or try). But there’s always one more thing (or ten more things!) to do and never enough energy to do it/them.
But that’s not all! Even if the metaphysical and ethical demands of Christianity have left me reeling, there’s at least one more thing to pile on. This is the affective/emotional component of Christianity. Not only am I supposed to think about and believe the right things about the invisible world as well as display the correct moral behaviour, I am also expected to feel a certain way about this whole package. I am supposed to have spiritual experiences in worship and prayer. I am supposed to read my Bible a lot (and like it!). I am supposed to be perpetually happy and well-adjusted and sincere and eager and ready to share about this whole metaphysical/ethical package with anyone who expresses an interest. This package is supposed to be a source of inner joy, strength and untroubled tranquility.
Whew. That’s a lot to think/believe/do/feel.
And then, I return, staggering under this complicated load, to Jesus.
“My yoke is easy,” he says, “and my burden is light.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled… I have overcome the world.”
“My peace I give you.”
“Love God, love your neighbour. That pretty much sums it up.”
Good words. Liberating, uncomplicated words. Words that bring life and light rather than weariness.
I am, appropriately, reminded that the life of faith is not the acceptance of a “system” or a “package” or a “philosophy” or even a “worldview.” It is a relationship. A relationship of trust and hope. A relationship with one who wants what is good for me. A relationship with one whose faith and character are far sturdier than mine, whose love is inexhaustible, incorruptible, indefatigable. A relationship that does not have as its prerequisites cognitive certainty, moral rectitude, or emotional conformity. A relationship that does not, in fact, depend on me at all.
And all of a sudden, being a Christian doesn’t seem so exhausting.