Dad’s not staying the way he always was. Today he’s not doing well. His news is worse. And yet he’s celebrating his 75th birthday today. He’s celebrating with friends and with family. He’s reading, and reading aloud to some of us, through loud coughing that’s broken a rib, through whispers as his voice gets weaker. Here’s a bit of some of what he’s sharing during the precious moments of his celebration of his life. Maybe his reading will also grace you in some small or large way:
There aren’t any easy answers to the big questions that haunt us and hunt us down. Friends commit suicide. Grandparents die awkwardly and alone in nursing homes. We get fired. We have affairs. Our kids get hooked on drugs. Time and gravity wear us down as we travel across this vale of tears.
Yet when we have hope, we have a refuge. I like how Paul put it: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. Or, as … Peterson paraphrases it …, “We’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it looks like things are falling apart, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” And grace is always stronger than my circumstances.
Every day we’re both wasting away and being renewed. When God’s Spirit moves, joy is reborn, and our lives, once new, can continually be renewed through faith and the promises of faith.
Here’s what I have to keep reminding myself: pain is real, but so is joy. Every moment, hope is available. Even now, peace can be mine. And the sparkling moments of joy that make life worth living are just as much a part of our world as the speeding tickets and funerals. When you take the time to look at both sides of the equation, you realize that life is both more depressing and more delightful than you thought.
I think it’s significant that the Bible never says Jesus enjoyed suffering. Pain is no fun — at least now for healthy, emotionally stable people. Hebrews 12:2 says we should keep our lives focused on Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” Jesus didn’t enjoy the cross; he endured it. If you meet a Christian who acts happy all the time — that shallow, plastic kind of happiness — avoid him like the dentist after Halloween. He has one eye closed to reality.
Jesus never acted artificially happy. And despite what you may have heard from some well-meaning preacher, Jesus did not like being tortured to death. He didn’t delight in it; he put up with it. To enjoy pain isn’t Christianity; it’s masochism. But to willingly endure suffering because you love something more than your own comfort level, well, that’s getting closer to the heart of the divine.
Joy is often wedded to sorrow, peace often accentuated through pain. Christianity isn’t just about putting up with hardships or dealing with problems or handling suffering. One of the paradoxes of faith is embracing those things voluntarily as a way of expressing devotion to God. Christianity is a journey that takes you everywhere you’ve always wanted to go but never by the route you’d expect. Or choose.
This voluntary aspect of love (and in some cases the willing acceptance of pain because of it) is one of the features of Christianity that sets it apart from other religions. Obligation and duty are not the same as love. Love offers itself. It actually volunteers for the cross.
…i want to untangle the future
…but for now i’ll let
…the riddle of
…your love for me
…take me along the current
…of this moment
…as i whisper
…and strive to live out
What Dad read above is from Steven James’s book Sailing Between the Stars