Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Sickness and In Health

Apparently, my number is up and it's my turn to be sick. I've been sick for the past few days, but I'm feeling a little better now. I live by myself in a studio apartment, and I was soon reminded of how dismal it is to be sick and alone. I wondered how long it would take for people to discover if I had died in my apartment. A week ago, I gave a sermon on Heaven at our church, and I pictured people testifying at my funeral and saying things like "God recently prompted Ryan to speak on being homesick for Heaven and now he is there, how beautiful! (or ironic?)." When I'm sick, I start to develop cabin fever from being quarantined for hours and hours watching mindless, melodramatic movies. When I was little I sometimes hallucinated when I got sick. During one delusion, I watched a monster truck drive over our house, crushing me inside. I hope I don't die like that.

Oddly enough, being sick makes me think about marriage more. Maybe, that's selfish or maybe that's by design. Meaning that when we feel fragile and vulnerable it makes us need others. Especially God. I pray more when I'm sick. Not just prayers for healing, but prayers that are more like conversations. Maybe, it's just the cabin fever setting in or maybe sickness slows us down enough so that we're able to simply enjoy God's company. Illness often helps me rethink my life because I'm reminded of how mortal I am. It is humbling that a little germ can come in like a Trojan horse and conquer me from the inside out, leveling me for days.

I wonder which will be more glorious in marriage, to share happy moments or to share hardships? I'm beginning to realize that I look forward to both. These days, I find myself fantasizing about the reality of marriage (if that make sense), and that's a big step for a dreamer. In wedding vows, the words "for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health" have always sounded bittersweet and ominous to me, a death-wish of sorts. But I'm realizing that to love each other during the low points is actually a more blessed love. Real love seems to go deeper during the storms, and if two people love each other through those times then they will emerge closer in the end. In other words, when life gets hard, it is an opportunity to love harder.

Honestly, I have become so independent, that it's difficult to imagine becoming "one" with somebody else. I'm sure that I will get the better end of the deal. It is remarkable how marriage speaks of our "oneness" with God. Often, I feel like I'm trying to earn a oneness with God that I already have. I try to make myself more presentable, even when my heart is ill. But God knows and He continues to love me "in sickness," shouldering my burdens and nursing me back to health. And in the end, I feel closer to Him. More in love with Him. Desiring to do nice things for Him.

I thought I was done with this blog and then I realized that I left a culprit unaccounted for. We writers have a tendency to beautify things with lilting words, often avoiding reality. For instance, even the phrase "in sickness and in health" still carries with it a certain poetry. Part of the problem is that we are groomed to believe that love is always dramatic. But I just realized that it is neither the highs or lows that characterize most marriages, but it is the in-betweens. After all, that's where we spend most of our time, in the ever-present mundane. It is still somewhat romantic to think of loving someone through the dramatic lows, and yet I wonder if it isn't harder to love someone when there isn't any drama at all. Maybe, wedding vows should include the promise to love "even when it's dull and boring." Nobody looks forward to a marriage full of paying bills and cleaning the house and visiting the doctor. And yet those things are a part of the ordinary rhythm of life, whether we are married or not. I think I'm onto something. When there is no drama, we let our guard down, and it seems like that would be the most opportune time for the cunning devil to have his way with a relationship. So, I need to love not only when it feels good or bad, but especially when it doesn't feel like anything. In our relationship with God, we call that faith. The Christian life is often less epic than we make it sound. We soon find that it is hardest to live for God when Heaven seems to have stopped singing over us.

I think that the purpose of marriage is different than what most people look forward to. And it seems to be the same thing with Christianity. We sign-up to receive the benefits of love, but we are only able to relish it when we become mature enough to give it. It's the point in life when a child realizes that Christmas isn't about getting presents or eating cookies, but that it's about giving. That's why selfish people never find love, they don't recognize it, they're looking for the wrong thing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


A thorn of a question has been nagging me for quite awhile now. The question is this: What does it mean to live all-out for Jesus? To put it another way: What does it mean to be a wholehearted Christian? I don't like questions like that because there is never an easy-to-swallow answer. Living "all-out" for Jesus sounds hip and thrilling until you actually try to do it. You soon find yourself on a lonely narrow road, and you begin to wonder if you're going the right way, while everyone else is going the other way. If someone says that the answer to my question is to "live like Jesus lived" then I don't know anyone personally who is a wholehearted Christian, me included. Jesus walked around all day, everyday preaching to unbelievers. Most Christians just preach to other Christians. Jesus didn't have a house or a paying job and yet He constantly helped people to the point of exhaustion. I don't know many homeless Christians, and I certainly don't know any homeless Christians who are constantly helping people.

At this point, most people will quickly play the "grace card." Yes, I too am grateful for grace, but I'm not sure that it lets us off the hook so easily. I wonder if Jesus was serious when He said that we must "lose our lives" and "take up our cross and follow Him." When Jesus told the rich young ruler to "sell all his possessions" he didn't give him a loophole and add "or you can just talk about grace a lot." I wonder what all of this means for me in 2010 here in America. I feel like writing a book, but I don't think that we need another book. I feel like writing a song, but the world doesn't need another song either. Frankly, I get tired of Christian talk. I've grown up with it and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of Christians talking about how church should be done. I'm tired of Christians talking about their latest epiphany from God or their latest profound insight on easy-to-understand Scriptures. I'm tired of hearing Christians pray without lifting a finger and telling God to do everything. More than anything, I'm tired of Christians telling other Christians what to do and not living up to their preaching. I'm amazed at how much Christians talk and don't really do much more than that. I'm guilty of this too, and it bothers me. But then I come back to my initial question and it bothers me too. What does it mean to really live for Jesus? What are we really supposed to be doing with these lives that will soon vanish like a vapor? I think it's more than just occasionally telling people about God. I think it's more than just being a family man. I think it's more than smiling and hugging and opening doors for people. I think it's more than being in "ministry." It's definitely more than singing songs. Sometimes, I wish Jesus would've just spelled it all out, step by step, and yet that would've led to mere legalism, not love. At any rate, I'm not sure that I want a feel-good resolution to my question because that only enables me to get comfortable again. And yet, I don't want to remain comfortable with ambiguity either. No, I must know the answer, but only an answer that demands change.

Sometimes, I'm on the verge of selling everything and moving to a third-world country and living out my days in impoverished obscurity and yet happy that I will be known by Jesus in heaven. I wonder if that's what Jesus meant by choosing Him over the world. Most Christians would say that they would gladly do that too if that's what God told them to do. But it's so easy to "hear" God "say" what we want Him to say, it enables us to find loopholes in boldface, pointblank Scriptures that demand everything of us.

I'm just thinking out loud. The finger is pointed at you and me. I don't think God wants us to feel guilty about any of this, but I do think He wants us to feel a little bit uncomfortable. Lord, I need to be wholehearted, show me what that means, eternity is at stake. . .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Secret Bench

Last week, I found a secret bench along the Willamette river. In all my river wanderings, I'd never spotted it before. There's no path leading to it, it's just there, as if it just grew out of the shaggy ground like the trees around it (I'm sorry, I cannot disclose the location of my secret bench at this time). At least I thought it was a secret bench, until I came back the next day and found a homeless man sleeping on it. So I guess it's a secret to me and the homeless man, it's our little secret. I'm not sure why I automatically assume that he was homeless, maybe he thought I was homeless when I was sitting on his bench. After all, I'm sporting a fairly grizzly beard as of late. Anyway, my secret bench is my new favorite spot in the world. I love it. It's magical and insular and weird. I now have a new view of little ol' Corvallis. It makes me wonder how many other things that I walk past everyday and don't even see. I am the type of person who relishes new perspectives. I like to go down roads that I've never been down before. I thrive on new inspiration and inspiration comes from new experiences, new places, new people, new benches. I also like to observe familiar concepts from new angles. Familiar things like love.

Love is like that Chinese puzzle that you can never solve. It sits on the coffee table, defiant, daring you to play with it. You fiddle with it day after day, and yet the mystery remains locked inside. Sometimes you get frustrated and throw it across the room, but inevitably you pick it up and try again, not knowing whether you're getting closer to the solution or not. And yet, it's well worth it. I can't imagine a world without love. I wonder what we would do with our time. So much of what we do depends on our desire to be loved and to love others.

I want to keep exploring the secrets of love. I never want it to become ordinary. I don't think love itself could ever really become ordinary, but my perspective of love very well could. As much as I try to figure out love, I don't really want to figure it out. I want it to remain as that secret bench, numinous, a haven from everything I already know. More than anything, I always want love to remind me of God.

It is unfortunate that the phrase "God loves you" has lost its bang for most people. It has become as commonplace as saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. It doesn't really stop us in our tracks, it doesn't take our breath away, it doesn't make us teary-eyed. Why is that? Perhaps, we don't need another sermon on God's love. But maybe, we need more clarification about God Himself. There's something wrong when human love means more to me than God's love. Maybe, we don't know God as well as we think we do. Maybe, we need to focus on Who it is that loves us. Only then, can the confession of His puzzling love stop us, slay us, rescue us, and change us.