Here’s a story I’m telling this Sunday, (before I removed the profanity for the sake of all the good church people.) Enjoy!
Seth had life figured out.
If most people traveled through existence with the serenity and grace of a slightly drunken tightrope walker before their first high wire act, then Seth was the person who could casually tap dance on that same wire while singing show tunes and looking condescendingly at the audience below.
Seth had immaculate to-do lists.
He had immaculate to-do lists about his to-do lists.
He had work priorities, life priorities, and spiritual priorities, all printed in bold ink and framed on the walls of his house.
He was six years into a fifty year personal strategic plan for his life and so far, everything was going according to schedule.
In short, he had not only managed to tame that great beast called Life, he had wrestled it to the ground and beat the living shit out of it.
He sat at the breakfast nook, cup of freshly ground coffee in his hand, eating an orange and some cottage cheese while he contemplated the pristine order that was his life.
It was all about balance.
His pastor agreed with him. She had even preached about it. Balance, she said, was the key to a good life. You take your health: your emotional health, your mental health, your physical health, your spiritual health , you tend to them all, not letting any of them take up too much or too little of your time, and, like magic, everything will just come into focus.
While Seth was not sure exactly where Jesus had said that, it sounded like the mature, rational, reasonable sort of teaching that he would have expected from someone as well-developed as the Son of God.
He leaned back and smiled.
Seth had discovered that there were few genuinely well-balanced people in the world.
He was proud to be one of them.
And it was then, as he raised his cup to take a self-satisfied sip, that Jesus walked into his kitchen.
Seth nearly choked, spurting coffee back into his mug, which was emblazoned with the slogan, “Winning At Life (And At Coffee)”.
Jesus walked over to Seth’s coffee pot and poured himself a mug.
Seth was a rational person. He was normally suspicious of bearded men, dressed like they had just fled the set of Lawrence of Arabia, who strode into his kitchen unannounced to drink his coffee. However, if the beard and undoubtedly outdated wardrobe hadn’t been a giveaway, the bright levitating halo and the fact this man was glowing like an overenthusiastic Christmas tree definitely clinched it.
Sometimes, you just knew.
Seth found himself annoyed. He had expected that the Son of God would at least have the forethought to call ahead before he appeared.
Jesus walked over to the kitchen table and sat down across from Seth, mug clasped between both hands.
There was a moment of silence.
“Well?” said Seth, impatiently.
“Why are you here?…uh, my Lord.”
“Well Seth,” Jesus said, taking a sip of his coffee, “I’m here to fuck up your life.”
If Seth were to have made a top-ten list of the things he’d expect Jesus to say to him if they met, this was not on it. “Be not afraid” had seemed like a safe choice. “Well done, my good and faithful servant” also seemed highly probable considering Seth’s amazing life competence. He would have even accepted a gentle, “Why did you run that red light on the way home from work yesterday?” (After all, no one is perfect.)
It was therefore unsurprising that all that Seth managed was a spluttery, “Excuse me?”, the type you might give a person who had just informed you that the UFO’s were coming, but if you wore this nifty tin foil and green felt hat, you’d be safe from their mind control.
“I’m here to fuck up your life.” Jesus said, sounding for all the world as if he were talking about shopping for groceries.
Seth paused for a moment.
He breathed a sigh of relief.
He was a good church person. He had heard this line before. Granted, not from the Son of God, (and not in such vigorous language), but several times from his professional stand-in’s.
“Following Jesus”, he remembered several pastors preaching before, “will screw up your life. After all, if you listen to the call of God, you might end up volunteering at the soup kitchen! Or collecting coats for the homeless!! Or tithing your income to the church’s operating budget! It will take you to places you’d never expect to go!”
Following Jesus could screw up your life, Seth supposed, if you were less well organized, less balanced, less well put together than he was. However, so far in his experience, the demands of following Jesus were nothing that a little discipline and a good to-do list couldn’t take care of.
“What would you like me to do, my Lord?” He asked.
“Well, Seth,” said Jesus, taking another sip of his coffee, “I need you to help out Josh and Sadie.”
Seth knew who Josh and Sadie were. If you were a part of his church, it was hard not to know who they were.
Josh was the sort of man who looked life had punched him in the face more than a few times. He carried with him a perpetual three day stubble, a nose that looked like it had been spontaneously rearranged more than once, and the smell of cigarette smoke which was always engaged in a very vigorous war with his aftershave.
Sadie was his five year old daughter, a whirling ball of energy that generally manifested itself during worship, where she would make very large orbits around the sanctuary and its slightly scandalized inhabitants, before always ending up, like a particularly circuitous planet, back cuddling in her dad’s arms.
Seth had had the exciting misfortune of sitting in Bible Study with Josh, who sprinkled his observations of scripture with long stories about his clearly crazy, possibly dangerous ex-girlfriend and about his long trips to Asia, which, Seth was relatively sure, stood with at least one foot in the speculative fiction category.
Josh was the ball of incompetent hot mess which Seth was made to fix, probably with a few cups of coffee or some judicious life coaching. Seth could handle this.
“You see,” Jesus continued, “I’d like them to move in with you.”
Seth spewed coffee like a startled whale blowing air out its blow hole.
Jesus raised his eyebrow and lifted his mug. It said, “Keep Calm and Drink Your Damn Coffee.”
“They’re about to be evicted.” Jesus said. “I want them to live with you. You have a nice sized house. You have an extra bedroom. Kind of like that whole if you have two coats give one thing I talked about. What do you think?”
“Well, Jesus,” Seth said, taking deep breaths, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Yes, let me explain.”
Seth got up and strode around the room, ticking off points on his fingers.
“First of all, spare rooms are the not the same as spare laundry, Jesus.
Secondly, shouldn’t they face the consequences of their actions? I mean, I’m sure that if Josh had saved a little more money instead of buying all those cigarettes, he would have been able to make rent and not be evicted. How will they learn their lesson if I just take them in?
And if I did take them in: What will happen when Sadie needs a ride to school? Or Josh can’t get his shit together? Or when he tries to tell me about that time someone almost kidnapped him in Thailand when I’m trying to pray to you? There’s no way I can make sure that I’m being the person I’m supposed to be if they’re in my house. They will mess up my life.
And finally,” Seth said, gaining some momentum, “Who says that this will help them at all? Now I don’t know how well you know them Jesus,”
“Pretty well then! So you know how out of control they are! They’re probably going to end up just as screwed up crazy with me as they would if they ended up on the street anyway! So why blow up my life when their lives will probably still be messed up anyway?”
Seth paused, gasping for breath. Arguing with the Son of God was tough work.
“So what do you say to that?”
Jesus nodded his head placidly. “Yup, that all sounds about right.”
Seth nodded triumphantly, clearly he was helping him see some sense.
Jesus continued. “I want you to do it anyway.”
“What?” Seth paused. “Maybe you didn’t hear me right, I said…”
“Yes” Jesus cut him off, “I heard you just fine. I want you to do it anyway.”
This man was clearly insane. Come to think of it, this should not have surprised Seth: this was the guy who had decided that turning water into wine was a good use of divine resources, who decided to give demons pig-style apartment living, and who had given his disciples water-walking lessons one day when he got bored.
“This is crazy!”
“It’s unbalanced! It’s unhinged!”
“It’s going to mess up my life!”
“Jesus Christ, come on!” Seth yelled. “I’ve told you this won’t work! Give me one reason, just give me one good reason why I should do this!”
Jesus stood, coffee mug empty, and looked him in the face.
“Because I asked you to.”
“That’s all you’ve got? “Because I asked you to?’”
“Just trust me.”
“Jesus, that’s just not reasonable. What about the house getting destroyed?”
“What about when Josh smokes indoors? You can’t get that smell out of the curtains.”
“What if it doesn’t work out? What if they don’t change? What if they wreck my life?”
“Jesus, this is cray.”
“You’re right. It is.”
Seth snorted in exasperation.
“No ‘it’s going to work out’? No ‘it’s going to change your life in ways you can’t imagine?’ No ‘I’ll take care of everything’? Can’t you at least promise to protect my carpet?”
“Thanks for the help, Jesus!” Seth exploded. “I have a good life, I go to church, I do good work, I have a plan. People like me. People respect me. And then you just barge in here with plans to turn my home into a boarding house for losers! People will think I’m nuts! This will set my strategic plan back at least five years! If you can’t help me live my life, then what good are you for anyway?”
Jesus slammed his mug down onto the counter with a bang.
“Who do you think I am?” He said. “Your cosmic vending machine? Your own spiritual binky to help you sleep at night? Another self-help guru?
You think I’m crazy? You’re right! You think I’m unreasonable? Absolutely! I’m not good for a balanced lifestyle, Seth! I won’t help you live your best life now! I’m for the crazy, slightly unhinged, sometimes downright desperate people who will do anything because they want to follow me.
If you’re looking for well-laid plans and the respect of your peers and living your best life now, you better find someone else to follow because I have no interest in helping you do that.”
“So why should I even bother?” Seth said.
Jesus looked at him. “Oh Seth, why try so hard to balance when you can just walk on water?”
Seth knew balance. He knew being in control. He had thought that achieving mastery of his life could mean something. And it had meant something. He had a nice house, a good job, the respect of all his friends. Not many had gotten to the place he was at. He liked that.
However, being balanced was exhausting as well. It was stressful being the god of your own life; responsible for every change and crisis that came your way. It made your world small, it made it hard.
What Jesus offered him, he realized, was wild, maybe glorious, possibly dangerous, but perhaps freeing as well. And, he thought, he could try it, just try it, and, if it didn’t work out, he’d know who to blame.
“Okay.” He said. “But listen! There will be rules! I want them to pay rent! I want a timeline!”
Jesus smiled. “I’m sure we’ll figure it out.” He put his cup in the sink and headed towards the door. “Well, I better get going. Looks like you’ve got some work to do if you’re going to have company for a while. “
Seth sat back down at his kitchen table. He looked at the schedule posted on his refrigerator. He look at his life, work, and spiritual priorities, neatly framed, hanging on the wall. He thought about his fifty year strategic plan.
Shit, this was really going to fuck up his life.
With a rueful smile, he got to his feet and went upstairs to the guest bedroom.
It was time to give walking on water a try.
This is the second sermon on balance in the Christian life that I have read in the past few months. I feel like this world frowns on lack of order, letting go and letting God, sacrificing your time, energy, resources (with no return)…yet praises the priorities of idealism, bureaucracy and property value. I have seen many times that our chaos is sometimes God’s order, and even perpetuated that idea…yet get aggravated as all heck when my world is disrupted. But that’s where faith has to sustain us (way easier said than done by the way) It takes a lot of wrestling with the world and our learned thought patterns. We get burned. Sometimes our fruits are judged by friends, acquaintances, even by the sparkly Christians. Then we start to judge ourselves and the doubts come in, and before you know it we can be under a full fledged spiritual attack. But I believe that the “fruits”, good or bad, that we can see before our eyes when we judge or are being judged, most likely won’t be obvious for years, decades…even until the next generation! But God sees! The Christian life sometimes feels like an uphill climb, upstream…sometimes alone. Sometimes like banging your head on a wall. A brick wall (I will insert here that I have 5 children). But in this the Lord has developed in me a thick skull. Lord give all those who chose to serve you the strength and protection to carry on. Thanks again for your transparency, Ben 🙂
Yes. Yes. Yes.
That glorious chaos is a sign of a vital Christian life, our lives (our churches too) should accept, embrace, and celebrate it!
(And yes- a lot easier said than done!)