I like honesty, most people do. I like it when I know that someone is telling me the straight truth and I don’t have to wonder how it has been nuanced in order to fit the moment or to serve their purpose or agenda. I’m sure you know what I mean. For instance, just how adept have you become at scrutinizing every bit of data, every bit of news coverage dealing with COVID-19?
Frankly, I think most people like it when someone just says how it is and doesn’t try to get one past them or try to tell them what they want to hear. An honest, straightforward answer is always the best. We may not like it but it is what it is and we can deal with that. I like it when someone is simply honest about how things really are – and that’s especially true when it comes to figuring out how to live as a follower of Christ in a very strange world.
Well, this morning, I opened up A Guide to Prayer For Ministers and Other Servants and came across a quote from Mother Teressa where she just tells it like it is. She doesn’t try to nuance the truth; she just lays it out there.
“Some people came to Calcutta, and before leaving, they begged me: ‘Tell us something that will help us to live our lives better.’ And I said, ‘Smile at each other; smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.’ And then one of them asked me: ‘Are you married?’ and I said: ‘Yes, and I find it difficult sometimes to smile at Jesus.’ And it is true, Jesus can be very demanding also, and it is at those times when he is so demanding that to give him a big smile is very beautiful’” (A Gift of God by Mother Teresa).
I love the fact that Mother Teresa described her calling and vows to serve Jesus like marriage vows. Marriage vows are understood as sacred and they bear significant theological weight in the eyes of God and the church. They are incredibly serious as they indicate a lifelong commitment to a deep and abiding relationship. But I also love the fact that she is honest about that relationship; it is demanding and sometimes it is difficult to smile at Jesus.
The fact that Mother Terresa admits that following Jesus is demanding and that it is sometimes difficult to smile at him is an encouragement for me. I know a number of Christian folks who beat themselves up a lot because they can’t seem to get things going in the right direction for very long. One minute they are praying and the next minute they are yelling at their son or daughter – and then they feel terrible and wonder how Christian can they really be. Or, one minute they are reading the Bible and the next they are engrossed in some sort of argument. One minute they are singing along with a worship song on the radio and the next minute they are offering a salute to a driver that cut them off. You get the idea.
The fact is following Jesus demands a lot out of us and somedays, some moments, are better than others – and that’s okay because it is in those most demanding moments when aren’t getting it right, that we just need to smile at ourselves because it is in those moments that we realize just how dependent we are on Jesus – and that’s a good thing.
I think a lot of Christian folks have a misconception about spiritual maturity and it can lead to frustration and discouragement. Spiritual maturity isn’t like physical/emotional maturity. For example, a goal of parenting is helping a child to grow in maturity so that when they reach a certain age they can be independent, self-reliant adults. But that’s not the case for spiritual maturity.
Unlike physical maturity, the goal of spiritual maturity isn’t independence but greater dependence – not on self but on God. If at any moment a person starts to think of themselves as independent – as if they don’t need God to help them to work through an issue (think sin) – well then they are headed in the wrong direction. Growing in faith doesn’t make a person less dependent on God it makes them more dependent – largely because the longer a person walks with Christ the more aware they become of Christ’s demands on their lives (think holiness) and their own – well – humanness or perhaps sinfulness. But, the longer I walk with Christ the more I realize just how engrained some things are in my life and the more I realize how much I need the Lord to help me. Truth is, I don’t need Jesus less – I need him more and I came to realize that the more I realize the demands that come with the call of Christ.
The longer a person walks with Christ, the more dependent they become on Him to help them.
Yes, I know, that sounds a bit counterintuitive – but my hope is that it encourages you. It does me – believe me – it encourages me to realize that as the demands that Christ puts on me grow, and the more those demands show the glaring mess of my heart and soul, well, the more dependent I am on the Lord to help me and the greater his promise to never leave me nor forsake me becomes. That’s one of the reasons that the only thing I can really ever boast about is that I belong to the Lord and that He knows me.
Without a doubt, the call of Christ is challenging and the life of a Christian is a demanding life. I mean, we are supposed to live out of the law of love; we are to strive to be Christ-like – which sometimes means turning the other cheek and sometimes it means speaking up against injustice, and sometimes it means smiling at the people we are social distancing with when on the inside I want to say a more than a few choice words…but in all of that living life as it really is – the demand of Christ on our lives is very real – and the truth is – honest – it can be quite tough – and sometimes all we can do is smile because we know God loves us and He knows who we are and He knows we need Him in order for us to live in a way that is pleasing to him.
So today I want to encourage you to smile – but I’d encourage you to smile at the demands that Christ has put on your life – and smile at your inability to pull it off without Jesus’ help – and smile at your family and at yourself and be honest about how much you need the Lord to help you.