To live a life wholly positive is, fortunately, impossible. Were any man able to do such a thing it could be only for a moment. Living positively would be like inhaling continuously without exhaling. Aside from its being impossible, it would be fatal. Exhalation is as necessary to life as inhalation. Let us not be shocked by the suggestion that there are disadvantages to the life in Christ. The sons of this world managed to make it tough for the children of God in a thousand cruel ways. Everyone who has lived for Christ in a Christless world has suffered some losses and endured some pains that he could have avoided by the simple expedient of laying down his cross. However, the pains are short and the losses inconsequential compared with the glory that will follow, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). But while we are here among men with our sensitive hearts exposed to the chilly blasts of the unbelieving and uncomprehending world, it is imperative that we take a realistic view of things and learn to deal with disadvantages.”A.W. Tozer
Wedged somewhere between Friday night lights and holiday turkey is a little season in our house and many others that I like to call “Holy crap it’s time to apply to college and decide the trajectory of the rest of your life”. No pressure at all, its not like the world is insane or anything, not like everything about college has changed since the old days of dorm life and four-year plans.
So this past week, I accompanied my senior to a prospective college, where he did a day in the life program; spent the night, attended class, ate in the dorms, the whole thing. The thing is, this was the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M, a kind of hybrid of college and military prep school. In the first five minutes of our parent meeting, I found myself sitting up straighter, leaving my phone in my bag, listening intently in case there was going to be a quiz… this was not the usual college chat. There were no explanations about great campus amenities, there was instead a history lesson. Immediately, the focus became less about individual comforts and more about a big picture. The instructor had a wonderful mix of no-nonsense efficiency with a down to earth personality. The prospective students had been whisked away as soon as we arrived, without so much as a wave goodbye, and that was that. He was left with a room full of parents who were either excited or completely freaked out about their babies joining up in this much-revered program. I fell somewhere in-between.
“Whats one word you would use to describe your son or daughters generation?” he immediately asked.
Before I could even think, answers began coming.
“Soft little snowflakes!”
Thankfully, I don’t see my kid as that at all, but I get it. Culture is doing everything it can to drive us all into some mad mix of fearful, self-righteous, self-seeking, homogenous group-thinkers. We need some warriors. We need bravery and courage. It’s all but disappeared in the world. It’s why I am not having a total meltdown at the thought of my first-born being put through the ringer if he gets accepted there. We are desperately short on leadership these days.
Something that struck me about the Corps is that they were painfully and brutally honest about how hard this journey will be. There will be a breaking down but with a purpose: to build you back up, stronger than you were. This isn’t for everyone. There was some light-hearted joking about kids who come to college to play video games and party, this was not the place for them. Can you serve while leading? Can you lead while serving? This isn’t the path of least resistance, not by a long shot.
On the surface I found myself asking why on earth these kids choose this. Freshman year is about as austere as it gets, no real possessions, up at 05:30, being yelled at constantly… no thanks. But every older cadet I talked with said the same thing: the hardest part turned out to be the best part. They look back at difficulty with great admiration. It’s when relationships were forged in fire. They moved on from it, became upperclassmen, and kept on going.
I can’t help but think we all need a bit of a boot camp ourselves in our lives. We need something that pushes us past our constant desire to always be inhaling only the good, as Tozer put it. Jesus was no positivity guru, and we would do well to watch ourselves when the popular people try and hawk their cheap philosophies off on us. Nobody needs a life coach who is twice-divorced and a hot mess themselves. Think for a moment about the epic separation from reality our culture has taken: the loud ones want us to see everything as a disadvantage and be paralyzed over it. A whole generation unable to deal with God-given emotions, consequences, feelings, basic rules of nature… Christianity does not and cannot exist in this weird vacuum.
Fear looms over our culture with such heaviness, it has brought with it an irrational and nefarious agenda. At the same time, lots of Christians have just kind of joined arms with the world and become a sad watered-down version of what they claim to be. Many don’t go to church anymore, and their faith is relegated to maybe a sign from Hobby Lobby that says something about Jesus and coffee.
We have been sidelined because things are just darn hard and we aren’t strong enough to fight all the battles all the time. Jesus is the author and provider of the faith we need to get through. We have to find a way to quit being shocked at persecution and ask for boldness in combatting it.
The wind blows, but we aren’t brittle little hothouse flowers, friends. As our culture grows smaller and weaker by the day, there exists an ever-growing space for us to get up and be bold, to call out what is not working, and clearly present a Gospel that does. It requires that we be willing to be inconvenienced. That’s the rub, and that’s how the enemy is so successful: everyday Christians need to do everyday Christian things. The Lord isn’t asking all of us to write a book or lead up a ministry, He starts with the people right in our path. Are we sacrificing for them? Speaking truth in love to them? Serving them? Courage these days starts with a willingness to just stop being so self-absorbed. A hard thing to tackle when you live in a culture that legitimately sees sacrifice as having to explain your pronouns to someone.
Don’t lay down your cross. Pick it up, heavy as it may be, and keep going with Jesus. I’m always going to remember the message of those cadets, that in hindsight, the hardest times really do end up being some of the best times. We learn a lot in the fire, things we never could have understood had we stayed on the paved path.