Embracing the Struggle

February 14, 2019 § Leave a comment

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I’ll take inspiration where I find it, even if it’s from a book’s back cover . . . quoted at Amazon.com.

The book is Bo M. White’s A Time to Question Everything: Embracing Good News and Bad Days. White is the director of study abroad at Baylor University and has traveled to over 40 countries in his work with NGOs, international non-profits, and international education. The bio at his website says,

Married with two children, Bo has lived near Chicago, St. Louis, Phoenix, and Kansas City, but a little street in Central London remains a significant place because it’s where he explored the power of story with great intensity, studying at the University of London within walking distance of the former residences of Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot. It’s where he first explored in any serious way the idea of grace attending an RML group at St. Helen’s Church at Bishopsgate. And it’s where culture was explored through a law internship that took him inside London prisons, a University class that took him inside many of London’s incredible theatres, and a chance to see himself and his life outside America for the first time.

The book-cover blurb goes like this:

Bookstores and blogs display stories of people who go from bad days to good days, encouraging people to break out of their slump, pick themselves up, and make something awesome happen. Readers are supposed to get inspired and fix themselves. A Time to Question Everything, instead, offers space to bring personal demons, doubts, and disappointments to the table, daring people to believe that embracing the daily struggle of faith is indeed the good life. Unlike any other world religion, the Christian faith celebrates grace, not self-improvement. The heart of A Time to Question Everything is this sincere question: can grace hold the weight of this messy life?

The part here that struck me is that “embracing the daily struggle of faith is indeed the good life.” That’s the kind of thing I was trying to say nearly two years ago in my post “Surviving? Thriving? How about Striving?” at A Life Overseas. In it I express that when we’re in a situation where thriving seems out of reach, we shouldn’t give up but should see striving as a worthy alternative. Striving—or “struggling”—is a natural part, a positive part, of living, whether that’s at home or abroad.

In a comment following my post, Erika Loftis wrote,

I understand what you mean by striving. But striving also sounds like “trying” and it’s the trying that seems to be the weight dragging us all under water. Trying to keep our neighbors impressed with us, trying to learn language, trying to keep people from thinking we are too rich or too poor. Trying trying trying . . . I wonder if striving, in the holy sense, comes from some semblance of settled and embracing our life and surroundings. . . . If I’m honest, I had a strong reaction, a sense of hope seeping away, that I or anyone around me, has any chance off this well beaten path towards burn out (which is sort of the modern day martyr . . . except for anyone who knows the burnt out/burning out missionary). If striving is the best we will ever achieve, we will stay on this path of strive/trying and ultimately end up at the bottom of Burn Out Canyon. Strive/Trying to still be a Christian. Or not trying anymore. . . .

I responded,

I certainly don’t mean to add to anyone’s burden by saying “strive more” or “try harder.” Instead, my hope is to say that striving is not less acceptable than thriving—it’s just where we often find ourselves.

“I wonder if striving, in the holy sense . . .” Yes, “holy” striving is what I want to practice, and I guess I’m still figuring out what that looks like. Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but I’m not always able to take hold of that truth. The burdens we pick up can sure feel hard and heavy. I hope that we will all keep trying (and ultimately I’m talking about our walk with Christ, not about a particular ministry or situation), while trusting that God’s grace will meet us more than halfway.

I wish that at the time I’d been able to make my point more clearly by crafting a phrase as good as “embracing the daily struggle of faith is indeed the good life.” Embracing . . . that’s even better than simply accepting. Struggle of faith . . . that’s a good way to sum up striving. The good life . . . that’s what we all want, and we need to know that that good life is defined by grace, not by more and more effort.

I haven’t read A Time to Question Everything yet, but I’m not above judging a book by its back cover, so I’ve added it to my Amazon Wishlist—which really should be renamed my Amazon wish-everything-here-was-free-and-I-had-three-extra-hours-a-day-to-read-all-these-books list.

I actually don’t think I’ll ever get to all the titles in the depths of my collection, but I am making some progress. And at least for now, this one’s at the top.

(Bo M. White, “About Me,” Bo M. White; Bo M. White, A Time to Question Everything: Embracing Good News and Bad Days, Wipf and Stock, 2018)

[photo: “Bristlecone 2,” by David Wood, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Save the Date: You’ve Got 171 Days to Get Your Happy On

October 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Consider this your six-month reminder: March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, and author Randy Alcorn is already telling us we should all celebrate the event, even Christians who have been taught “that God is interested in our holiness, not our happiness; that joy is the opposite of happiness; that joy isn’t an emotion.”

In fact, Alcorn, who last year wrote a book titled Happiness, tells Christianity Today this week that the church shouldn’t just acknowledge Happiness Day, we should embrace it:

Wouldn’t it be great if Bible-believing evangelical Christians were the first to put that day on the calendar and declare a day of feasting? Great food, great drink, partying, games for the kids. We could invite the community, wave the flags of various nations, welcome people from all different ethnic and national backgrounds, and just invite everyone to come eat and drink and have fun.

We don’t have to give them all a tract—though of course we can explain the Bible’s good news of happiness, that God sent his Son Jesus into the world. But it isn’t just a means to that end. You could take most of the outreach plans and programs of many evangelical churches and reach more people and give more people a favorable view of the gospel by celebrating a day like this. And then, when our kids are in their college dorms and hearing about all the stuff that can supposedly make them happy (drugs, sex, changing their worldview because Christianity is so negative and intolerant), they might remember amazingly great times of celebration alongside people of every tribe, language, worldview, and faith. That would go a long way toward dissolving the unfortunate notion that church is an unhappy place.

So, what calendar should you mark the date? Well, how about the “Happiness Is . . . 2017 Daily Calendar“? By the way, I cheated and looked ahead. March 20 says,

Happiness is . . . talking music with someone who gets it.

Alcorn talks about using the International Day of Happiness for cross-cultural outreach, and here’s a video, created by This American Life, that bridges its own cultural divide. It’s about Maggie, who is afraid to tell her “conservative Christian” parents about her 17 tattoos. She has this memory from her childhood:

I remember saying, “God wants me to be happy,” and my parents said, “No, he wants you to obey him. He doesn’t care if you’re happy.” To me God is so much more than that. There’s also grace. I think that is something that gets forgotten a lot in my family.

Turns out, their cultures aren’t as far apart as Maggie thought, and the distance between was bridged with an unexpected “ton of grace.”

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Ah, yes, grace . . . and happiness.

(Jen Pollock Michel, “Randy Alcorn: God Wants You to Find Your Happy Place,” Christianity Today, September 27, 2016)

[photo: “Smile,” by Sofia, used under a Creative Commons license]

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