Self-Denial and Other Bad News
Several things have happened lately that at first blush sound mostly like bad news, but when added up, I think might be headed toward a rather remarkable story.
First, a stolen backpack containing a fairly expensive and difficult-to-be-without computer. Second, a sizable ding in the tailgate of my husband’s new-to-him pickup truck. Third, a man-child of whom I’m very fond feeling as hopeless as moss on an upturned stump. And finally, the nicest coat I’ve ever owned tied up in a garbage bag and hauled out to charity.
I’ll start with the backpack, although I really ought to start with the coat, since it happened first. Friday morning. It’s early enough that I’m still sitting with Bible open on my bedroom chair, mug of cooling coffee propped precariously on the bedframe near my knees. I hear my husband answering his cell phone, discern it’s an offspring. He moves quickly from “hello” to “oh no…” which is when I close my Bible and make my way to the adjacent room. None of my husband’s phrases are promising—“that’s no good” and “man, what a bummer” and so on. I get close enough to hear the voice on the other end, my third-born college student, who just the day before called to chat as he was walking back from the campus library. The boy was planning to meet his girlfriend’s parents this weekend, and my first sinking thought was that he’d lost the girl. But no, it was the backpack and the computer. He’d been doing a good deed at a gas station the night before—later than, in hind-sight, was apparently wise—and finding out after the fact he’d been scammed. Good Samaritan meets original thug. Ugh.
These sobering thoughts already brewing, my husband, too distracted to notice hair freshly colored and a good four inches shorter since the last time he saw me, says without looking up, he’s dinged up his truck. Not really his fault, the gate unlatching unexpectedly and coming down hard on the rented trailer he was using to haul some stuff. My first thought—but I didn’t mention it out loud—was that the impressively meticulous guy who’d sold us his pickup would have never let that happen, but oh well, it was probably inevitable—we don’t plan to showcase the vehicle, but work it hard—and anyway we are not exactly the pristine-car type.
Already feeling a bit knotted up over my family’s disappointments, I sat down to eat a lettuce salad dinner while reading son-number-two’s latest blog post. It was, in a word, sobering. My boy is deconstructing his childhood faith, and while I am absolutely certain when he’s done stripping it down what he’ll find is the Real Jesus, there is no guarantee this will be happening overnight, and in the meantime my dear son is (his own words) hurting like hell. And ditto for his mom.
Perhaps you’re wondering by now how all these things could possibly add up to the remarkable story promised in the first paragraph. And maybe also waiting with baited breath for the thing about the coat. Press pause for a moment and hold those thoughts.
John Mark Comer is pastor of Bridgetown Church out in Portland, Oregon, and for all practical purposes my current go-to teacher. Daily I’ve been restraining myself from texting sermon suggestions to my boys, who have taken to texting back LOL emoji’s, amused at my obsession. That said. Last night it was well past dark, albeit early evening, when I plugged in a podcast to keep me company on my 30-minute drive to the middle school talent show where my Prayer Partner was performing. Like happens just about every time, it was just what the Sprit ordered. By the time I pulled back into the townhouse driveway, three hours later, my inner sanctum had gone from achy conflicted to fully convicted.
Now the story about the coat. (I’ll start by admitting this might very well be one of those stories best left a secret, but I’m risking telling to make my point.) A few weeks back it was mid-soccer season for boy-number-five. The weather was turning predictably chilly, frigid temps in the not-too-distant forecast. I was battling dread. My best winter coat was a flimsy option and no match for the guaranteed precipitation. My husband agreed, new coat justified, and he drove me quite willingly to the outlet mall where we found a gem. Everything I wanted at a discount price. I enjoyed those final weeks of soccer cozy and dry in my thoroughly appropriate outerwear.
And then. A couple of weeks back. It was a chilly Sunday morning, good excuse for enjoying my favorite new purchase. Church was over, Kyle and I among the last people remaining in the building, I locked my office, headed toward the front door. With no intention of my own, my glance briefly picked up a box in the peripheral. Coat Donations. I’d have never, mind you, had this thought on my own. Never. But this voice, as clear and direct as any I’ve ever heard. Put your coat in the box. The Spirit. No doubt.
I didn’t. All day I wore that coat around, those words nagging, knowing precisely what I’d need to do. Like most Sundays, we spent the afternoon eating Chipotle and watching football with boy-number-four until it was time for Small Group back in our old neighborhood. It was somewhere around eight-thirty when we made our way, finally, back north and back past the church. I explained to Kyle, he pulled up to the front door, I punched my code into the keypad, and the deed was done.
Yikes. So now. How to tie up these stories into a coherent bunch?
Back to that sermon. Comer’s message—Self-Denial in an Age of Self-Fulfillment—was this. Jesus tells us to take up our cross by killing our flesh and its disordered desires so our single desire is more of his love.
And I am a miracle in the making, just lately, no way of missing it. DESIRES being killed off right and left. Desires for keeping my kids safe and keeping myself warm and keeping our stuff pristine and shiny. All these. Not bad, really. But disordered if they’re not ordered. The real miracle being the space it’s making. FOR JESUS. And I’m here to tell you. Dying like this isn’t at all what you’d think. If this is a cross I’m bearing it feels an awful lot like love.