In Part One, we saw a fellow shoot down a traditional “churchy” evangelist-type who knocked at his door. Now here’s the same guy, the next day, in a different setting.
Hey Joe, do you have a moment?
You know, we’ve been working alongside each other for several years now, and I’ve gotta ask you something. I’ve got something in my head and I just can’t shake it. I know this sounds funny coming from me, but I don’t even know quite how to express it.
Lately it’s like I’ve hit a wall, Joe, and I just can’t seem to get over it. I don’t even know why I’m asking you, and it doesn’t really make sense to me. But it’s just that … well … you seem have something that I really want, and I just can’t find IT anywhere else – and I’ve tried everything!
You know, folks say, “life sucks, then you die,” and I’ve always thought that was just a joke. But damn it, Joe, that’s what’s happening to me, and I don’t want that! I don’t want life to suck, and then I die. When I look at you, your life doesn’t seem to suck at all, and I gotta tell you, that’s sorta frustrating as hell to me.
You see, that’s what doesn’t make sense. I mean, you know that over these years, I’ve played the system, virtually lived here at work, and made a lot more money than you. (No offense there, right? … ok…) And my wife works, too – and I know yours stays at home with your kids. So here we make, what, two or three times what your family makes? We’re able to buy everything we’ve ever wanted, and then some … the best of everything. But you know what? It’s all just so empty! There always seems to be something more, just out of reach, that if we get it, then we’ll have IT. So we work harder and get it, and then there’s something else, and we never really find what we’re really looking for. I’m beginning to think the whole “American Dream” thing is more of a nightmare!
Ok, so when I realized that wasn’t working, I thought, maybe there’s more to IT than that. But I just can’t find what it may be! I’ve slept around, drunk my share – and even tried cocaine. And it’s all just like the other stuff – like I’m almost there, just one more woman, one more drink, one more snort and I’ll finally find IT … and then, well, then there’s always just one more, and one more, and IT always stays just out of reach!
So then I thought maybe that “religion” was the answer. We even went to church for a few years – yeah, me, in church, can you believe it? And Joe, I wasn’t playing around, I really gave it a shot. I raised my hand, went to the front, said “the prayer.” We joined the committees, went to the classes, sang the songs, sent our kids to youth group, and even put money in the plate. Heck, I even started listening to “Christian” music and my wife put a fish on her car! I even quit partying and chasing skirt, for the most part – I really tried to walk the walk and talk the talk. You now, I really liked the services – great music, a heck of a show! – and that pastor really seemed like a heck of guy who really had IT. He can sure get you motivated!
Joe, I wanted it to work. I really did. I grew up going to church, you know, and a lot of my good childhood memories are from there. But you know what? In the end, it was just like everything else! What I really wanted, what my family really needed, was still just one step away! Sing a little louder, memorize a bit more Bible trivia, serve on another committee, sit a little closer to the front … and of course, give a little more money! … and so we did. And did. And did. And we never found what we were looking for!
I really didn’t want to give up, I figured this MUST be the right ladder to climb. But then I stepped back and looked at all the other folks, the ones who seemed to really have IT together, and you know what? While they acted like they had IT, they really didn’t! What’s sad is I recognized those same folks from before — we went to the same titty bars, shopped at the same liquor stores, and even bought coke from the same dealer – yet then on Sunday they’d deny they ever knew me. It was all such an act!
What’s sad is, not even the pastor really had IT! I really do think he meant well, but he was the biggest actor of all! I know I shouldn’t have, but I overheard him one time talking to his wife at the hardware store. I was on the next aisle and they didn’t know anyone was around. And you know what? They actually wanted to get a divorce, but were afraid of how it would look to the “congregation.” You shoulda heard the stuff that came out of their mouths! I was shocked! This was the guy who was trying to tell me how to get IT, and he didn’t even have IT!
And I still didn’t give up. Instead, I went to one of the elders — they’re bound to have IT, right? And you know what? That was even worse! He started talking church politics, about keeping up appearances, and even said that he was afraid that if we had a scandal it would hurt “giving,” and we couldn’t do that, especially in the middle of a building project!
I gotta tell you, Joe. After that I ran like hell, and I’ve never looked back. That was three years ago, and brother, I’ve pretty much quit. My marriage is on the rocks, my kids don’t respect me, and well, I figured I should just quit looking for IT. Life sucks, then you die, right? Might as well make the most of it. Maybe if I stop acting like I believe IT exists, then I can get through my days ok. But that’s not working!
And then I started watching you. I know it sounds crazy – I mean, you don’t make much money, you don’t drive a fancy car, you don’t party. You don’t have anything that the world says will give you IT. But of everyone I know, Joe .. . of anyone I’ve ever seen or met .. if there’s really an IT in this world, you have IT! Joe, you gotta tell me, is IT for real?
I mean, all I’m looking for is just … well, I just want some peace! And hope! Maybe even true love, if it’s not just some myth. Darn it, I want to be content, Joe! That’s all. Is that possible? Please, brother, you gotta tell me. Tell me if IT’s real, and if IT is, tell me where I can find IT! I’ll do anything ….
What’s next? Go to Part Three
–You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
It’s not about me, and it’s not about this life. I can’t expect to understand the plans of the God who stoked every star, engineered every insect, and knows every grain of sand. His plan is bigger than me and my ability to comprehend. Faith means realizing that I am at best an insignificant part of a very big strategy, and being comfortable with that.
I may live a blameless life and still die in disgrace, due to the lies of self-serving men. And those men may live in luxury and die high in man’s esteem. A day of reckoning will come, but for me it may not be on this earth.
It’s also not about my vision or plans. God understands His glory better than I do. If I am faithful, He will use my efforts – but not necessarily in the way I intended them to be used. I need to always remember that it’s never about image, assets or organizations. It’s about love. Only love can guide our steps, motivate our mission, and serve as the measure of our success. If we seek success, joy or God’s favor any other way, we will achieve none.
Trials come when we are faithfully following the steps God puts before us, and it ends up leading us to a place that deviates from our comprehension; when God’s perfect plans and desires don’t line up with our imperfect ones, however sincere we are about them. Serving God requires that we persevere through such trials, and we are blessed when we do.
Perseverance must finish its work, and that can be a life-long challenge. Facing the beginning of a trial is like facing the planting of an unwanted seed in the garden we’re trying to grow. When it’s just a seed it can be easy to accept. It’s small, hidden, and doesn’t affect our plans that much. True perseverance means facing not just that seed, but being willing to accept the eventual existence of the mature plant, even if that plant grows to choke off everything we had hoped for. We must be willing to tend to that unwanted plant as if it were the one we intended.
Put differently, when we have mapped out a path to a desired destination, it’s easy to be content following an alternate path when we believe it to be a temporary detour. But when that alternate path leads further and further in a different direction – and we realize that it’s not a detour after all, but instead is taking us to another destination entirely – can we be content with that?
We must find joy and contentment in the pursuit of God’s plans and desires, not our own. If Jesus could end his earthly life on the cross, tortured as a common criminal and betrayed by everyone he knew and trusted, how much more can we expect?
Let love guide your steps, take it one step at a time, find joy in obedience and nothing else, trust that Father knows best … and persevere.