At one point I looked over at little Theo, and he had pulled one arm out of his shirt, making it look like he was wearing a toga. Perfect for such a wild boy, I thought. Then he did something that I didn’t even have words for: He picked up a pickle, the long kind that come out of a jar. He took his pickle, and proceeded to balance it on top of his foot. Then, concentrating deeply, he steadily brought his foot to his mouth to take a bite of the pickle.
I could only think to myself, why in the world? Son, there are easier ways to eat pickles.
As I told this story to other people over the week, it made me laugh every time. It may really sound like a stretch to tie something spiritual into a toga-boy-pickle-balancing act, right?
However as I reflected on this, I think there are still spiritual lessons to be taken. Little Theo is a child, deeply curious, exploring, pushing limits, and experimenting constantly. His silliness, while it might make his mother crazy, is understandable and quite typical. But I wonder – as we grow into adulthood as people and as Christians, how many times have people who love us looked and us and thought just what I thought: why in the world? There are easier ways….!
Somewhere my parents are reading this, saying AMEN. They watched me, you see, for many years, choose the harder path. They watched me balance pickles on my feet, they spent endless conversations listening to me argue against all reason that up was down and left was right and the sky was whatever color I said it was because I was doing it all my way and everybody else just get out of the way. And they were also that calm (more or less, sometimes less) voice of reason saying Amy, there are easier ways.
Like many of us, I had to go down my own path. I had to go, and keep going, and go some more, propelled by my almighty self-will. For many this phase ends in childhood and young adulthood, for me it took a little longer. It took hitting the brick wall, it took crashing to the bottom, it took reaching a point of complete spiritual and emotional bankruptcy. It took what it took.
Pain is a good motivator. This week I discussed with someone what an absolute gift it was to hit that point where I had finally had enough of myself, and was ready to look for something easier. At the time it was not a gift, it was painful, it was ugly and terrifying. But it marked the point where the turn was made toward the life I live now, which is truly more blessed than I ever could have planned out for myself.
Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). When I think of “weary and burdened” I think of the exhaustion and misery which comes from living a life based on self, I think of the consequences of sin, I think of how tiring it is to try to be the master of my own life.
Before trusting Jesus, I really believed it would be much harder to try and live a Christian life than it would be to live in my self-run ways. Church and a bunch of rules and a bunch of people telling me not to do the stuff I like to do. Boring and suffocating. But the truth is found in 1 John: This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). It is so, so much easier to trust Jesus.
It is so much easier to believe that God has my best interests at heart and truly knows what is best for me. It is so much easier to just keep bringing myself and all that I have to the Cross and finished work of Jesus. It is so much easier to let go of what I think makes me feel good and how I think things should be, and take it all in prayer to the only One who can fill the God-sized hole.
This is not to forget that trying to sincerely follow Jesus in our world is challenging sometimes, right? I have friends who attack Christianity and bash Jesus on a regular basis, friends whose eyes roll and voices drip with disgust if I even mention my work at Church. Friends who really, are just where I used to be. The world is not friendly to us or to the Gospel. But the relationship with Jesus and the spirit of strength he gives us is so very, very much easier than going back and being a part of that world which rejects Him.
This is a lesson I need to keep learning. I still think I am going to do things “my way” all the time, and it usually doesn’t go well for me. This week, I wonder if there are any areas in your life which resemble a two year-old in a toga balancing a pickle on his foot? Think about it. There may be an easier way.