Ever been pulled like plastic wrap over a warm roast pan? I was cleaning up after a great meal prepared by my beautiful wife. The roast pan had some leftovers, well, left over, and so out came the plastic wrap. The warmth of the pan gathered the clear plastic to itself, enabling me to pull the wrap so tight I could see my reflection staring back at me. Scary sight to be sure. It reminded me I needed a haircut. And in this most common, everyday task, a metaphor for the journey I’ve been on emerged.
I’ve been stretched tight lately. This church stuff is wearing me thin. This life of being a servant of the King is a humble privilege and a royal pain in the nether regions. I’m not being trite or disrespectful. Truth is, being the church can be deeply painful. That pain can find places best left undisturbed. At least that’s the way we see it. Not surprisingly, this is not necessarily God’s perspective.
This is my recent experience. This is my church’s journey. We’re learning the challenge of being a fellowship, the earthquake of shattered assumptions, the threadbare-ness of the end of a rope.
But what if this is where I discover what it means to be shaped by grace? What if this is the only way we become people with anything remotely meaningful to offer our world? What if God is simply disinterested in making me happy? In this culture, where my happiness is apparently the purpose of virtually everything, what shall I do with such a thought?
I checked, and “Blessed are the smugly satisfied” has been unhelpfully edited out of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Perhaps a newer paraphrase will replace it. Barring that unforeseen extra-canonical rescue, what if the happiness God intends for me, for a church like mine and yours, is really the blessedness of the poor, the mourning, the meek, the merciful . . . and the peacemakers?
That will mean, will it not, that we have to be led—yes, led—into the admission that we simply can’t do it anymore. We must learn lament. We may need to discover that all we have to offer is mercy, because mercy is all we can hope for ourselves. We may have to be sent to the frontlines of conflict when it would be easier to just golf, grumble about what’s wrong with the world, and watch another movie that steals a couple of hours we can never get back.
Don’t mock me. If you haven’t felt this way at some point about the cost of discipleship, about the cost of becoming the community of the King, you’ve probably not yet considered the awesomeness of the call of Jesus to follow him. Seriously, have you tried dying to self? Yeah, we talk nobly about it, so long as it doesn’t involve the suicide of the selfishness of numero uno. However, the opportunities at the end of our rope, the blessedness of being possessed by the kingdom of heaven, will only be realized when we become pliable in the hands of someone doing clean-up in “aisle me.”
So I stand there looking at my reflection in plastic pulled taught over noodles. My life and the life of my church is like this wrap, I think to myself. Only when we’re stretched, only when the heat grabs hold, only then do we begin to reflect his glory, his beauty, his blessedness. Only then do we taste the joy of leftovers.