There are no after photos in the Christian Faith

You ever see those commercials for workout programs and equipment? I always find it so amazing to look at the before and after photos on these things. Men and women, many of whom are my age, who may have struggled with their weight for years and just decided that they were tired of it. They then worked hard for months, sometimes years to develop healthier habits. They asked for help from friends and family and made alterations to their lifestyle to reinforce these changes and after lots of hard work they finally arrived at their goal weight and were able to take the victory lap of weight loss: the “after” photo.

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Some of these transformations are pretty extreme…

Before and after photos are often really cool to see – the first image looks like a totally different, but similar person from the second, as if they might’ve been related – perhaps siblings. I like seeing these because they’re a physical and visible example of life transformation. The problem is that they don’t tell the whole story. Not only do they not tell you about the struggle in-between the “before” and the “after” even more importantly they don’t tell you the story of what happened after the “after” photo was taken. Did they stay on track? Did they backslide a little? Were they carried into heaven by a flaming chariot now that they reached physical perfection?

I think that because the church is so aware of how much everyone needs Jesus and the dramatic transformation he brings about in peoples lives we tend to think of people in one of two ways: they’re either a before or an after; meaning that either they haven’t surrendered their life to Christ (and therefore are a terrible mess) or they have surrendered their life to Christ (and therefore have things totally figured out.) But we know that there are usually many more steps in Christian maturity and growth beyond salvation.

Obviously the importance of the first step of accepting Christ cannot be overvalued, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only step. Yet the church often seems to believe that the people outside of the church are the only ones who need the church. As if to say that once you’re in the church you no longer need teaching, guidance, financial assistance, community, or counseling. That’s what everyone outside the church needs, but now that you’re in the church you no longer need it. This breeds the idea that when we, as Christians, do have issues, we’re the only ones. If you struggle with depression, marital issues, addictions, or meeting your family’s basic needs – it can seem like the church isn’t the place for you, because the people of the Christian church have it all figured out, right? The resulting effect is either that people either try to hide those issues or they don’t engage with the church because they feel like they don’t belong. Either way the very thing they need; the church isn’t able to help them.

Meanwhile, the truth is that there are no “after” photos in the Christian faith. There are only “during” photos. The Christian life doesn’t end with Jesus, it begins with it. We don’t believe that Salvation is the only work of grace. There’s sanctifying grace that continues to work in a person’s life until they go to be with Jesus at which point I fully expect they’ll take an “after” photo of you upon your arrival in paradise.

Yes there is a definite before and after in the Christian faith. Jesus’ impact on a person’s life should create a transformation that may be dramatic. This can be a very clear “before” and “after,” but the reality is there is more to it. To be accurate the after photo would have to be a video time lapse of a person as they continue to live their life. The time-lapse might have moments of pure happiness; where joy seems obvious on their face. Then they might have moments of frustration and doubt, where they’re angry with God. There might be moments of obedience where they trusted and God were faithful, despite their feelings. Then they might have moments where they feel like they’ve messed up again and aren’t deserving of forgiveness. They’ll have moments of assurance, and moments of despair. Hopefully they have moments where they grow closer to God and find that it’s easier to resist temptation as they know him more. That would be quite a long “after photo,”  but it would be more accurate then a single-frame snapshot of a person’s life depicting them at one high moment.

it might look kinda like this.

I think I too often appear to people who see me from afar as an “after” photo when I’m really a “during.” While I don’t think it’s wise to broadcast every struggle – after all it’s not about me – I do think there is some merit to admitting that we all have them and that I am a part of “we all.” So let me proclaim: any snapshot you see of my life is a “during” photo. I have moments of joy, moments of obedience, and moments of growth, but I also have moments of despair and moments of embarrassment. While I’m growing closer to God and learning to follow him better, it is an ongoing process. I do not say this to excuse my shortcomings, I say this to acknowledge them and declare that my hope and righteousness is in Christ.

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This is especially tough to keep in mind in today’s social media- driven world. You see a friend post about their marriage, or the birth of a child, or the fact that they just got another degree, bought a house, got a promotion, or are on an expensive vacation. Or maybe it’s not material success; they post photos of their family in worship, or the scripture they read this morning, or the theologian they’re reading. You look at this and think they have it all together; that they’ve arrived. In reality, they don’t post about the fight they had with their kids before getting to worship. They don’t tell about the fact that they lost their temper with a co-worker and they got reprimanded at work. They don’t explain that they’re struggling financially because they’re in a huge amount of debt due to the new house, expensive degree, and crazy vacations they’re taking. Those “after” pictures, don’t show the whole picture.

Also – don’t be afraid to unfollow those people that are only posting things that make you jealous or angry. You’re not obligated to keep up with them. I’m sure you realize all of this, because you’re smart, but I’m amazed at the number of people who complain about the kind of things they see on social media – which is a totally customizable medium; tailored to the way you make it. You don’t have to unfriend those people, but you don’t have to follow them either. If seeing those things aren’t edifying to you, then why choose to continue to see them? And while we’re on the topic – don’t contribute to the noise by being dishonest about your situation. You don’t have to broadcast every high and don’t be afraid to ask for prayer as a way of letting your friends know that you’re human. Otherwise your highlights might be someone else’s struggle.

 

To sum it up simply: The Christian walk isn’t a sprint wherein you might run hard for a few hundred feet, but then once you reach the end you get to soak in the hot tub for the rest of your life. It’s an ultra marathon that lasts for days and nights and is longer than anything else you encounter. Some days it’s uphill. Some day’s it’s flat and boring, if you’re fortunate, you’ll have a few days wherein you’ll run through a stretch where the crowds are lining the road, cheering you on. There are no “after” photos in the Christian life, so enjoy the during – it’s the during, the journey wherein we grow closer to Christ as we constantly rely on him in our struggles.

 

What is Adulthood anyway? Ice Cream For Breakfast Part 1

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

Welcome to adulthood. Yes, I know you might be in your late 20s to late 60s as you’re reading this, but regardless of how old you are you probably haven’t had anyone actually welcome you to adulthood. Unless you grew up in an African tribe or you’re Jewish, there was no ceremony. If you’re like me, you subconsciously expected to gain some measure of knowledge and confidence between the ages of 17 and 22. That it would just fall on you one day in a burst of sudden enlightenment. Maybe it would be a bit like that scene in Dragon Ball Z where the Eldest Namek puts his big green hand on Krillin and suddenly he’s better at fighting?

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and then Krillin dies because that’s what Krillin does.

Or maybe it would happen like fraternity initiation, after the “hell week” that is being a teenager you get abducted and pulled into a group of other adults wearing robes and all the guys get hip holsters for their phones & a book of dad jokes while all the women get short, layered haircuts and mom jeans.

I hear they're back in style!
I hear they’re back in style!

Hey, apropos to nothing – don’t you think it’s super lame when someone starts a speech on a topic by giving you the Websters definition of the topic? I mean how lazy and boring a way to start a topic right?

Full Definition of adult

  1.  fully developed and mature :  grown-up

  2. of, relating to, intended for, or befitting adults <an adult approach to a problem>

  3. dealing in or with explicitly sexual material <adult bookstores> <adult movies>

 

That third one gets me – and I have to say, when I hear the world “Adult” to describe anything that’s where my mind goes. I was outside of a Supercuts the other day (insert bald joke here) and I saw a big sign that said “Adult Haircut $9” I found myself thinking amusedly -“Wow, what does that entail?”

Anyway – back to the topic at hand, you’ll notice that among the definitions there isn’t anything about being prepared for life, contributing to society, or not being a jerk. The closest we get is the word “mature” though given the context I’d suspect that Mr. Webster probably meant biologically rather than emotionally. No, there is no part of adulthood that includes the preparedness for what is to come. No one comes to your door to make sure you’re not having ice cream for breakfast. Nor does adulthood come when you are prepared. Adulthood sneaks up on you . . . you don’t even see it coming . . . and then one day . . . you find yourself  . . .

reading the home depot circulars like its your new Toys R’ Us. Or the first time you get a “late on your rent” notice. Or when you’re in a room full of teenagers who are laughing at a fart joke and you’re just angry at them all for not appreciating what you’re trying to teach them. Or you make your first payment on a retirement plan. Or maybe its when you turn 25, or 30, or 35 (because then you start checking a new box on forms and that’s crazy.) Or maybe it’s the first time you notice that you feel sore after a day of moderate activity or you start feeling tired around 10pm instead of 2am.

Did you pause and read it? Congrats you're an adult now.
Did you pause and read it? Congrats you’re an adult now.

Whatever it is – you’ll have that moment – and that’s when you have to admit, that childhood is over.

So are your best years behind you?

Maybe.

I want to be honest with you. It is quite possible that you have peaked already. Some of you might read this and say “i knew it!” Others will defiantly say “not me!” Or “That’s never true!” But we all know people who peaked in high school – they were big fish in little ponds – usually they were well-liked decently successful people by high school standards – but they just haven’t realized their potential.

But the good news? You don’t have to peak in high school or college. You can move on and keep growing, but you also need to accept that the growth is going to look different – slower, even imperceptible. This is tough, because for most of us up until around age 17 or 18 you were having to buy different size clothes because you were actually growing up so it was easy to measure your growth visually. Plus your environment changed every year. You “Leveled up” and got a new set of teachers every year and a new school every few years. Your daily activities were varied, because once you learned one thing you eventually moved on to something new.

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Now life looks wildly different. You’re going to look about the same for 10-20 years, but somewhere in there your body will start to work against you. In my case I went bald by age 29. I think I might accept it by age 32. Your metabolism slows, and unless you have a good work-out ethic you’ll probably gain some weight. Your schedule will become mind-numbingly repetitive. You’ll wake up the same time every day, go to work, leave around the same time, come home, once you set your mind to being healthier you’ll eat a lot of the same things over and over again. You’ll shop at the same places – and for the first time your atmosphere won’t change unless you choose for it to, and make a major life change.

Now, some people will get more interesting jobs that let them travel and do cool stuff – but probably not you. You’ll see them post about their travels on facebook and you’ll think that you made the wrong choice settling into a career like the one you’ve chosen – you should’ve done something more interesting riskier. Or perhaps you like the regiment – the same-ness is comforting. You feel content with life – you don’t need all that adventure. You’re happy to view the photos on facebook.

It’s no wonder some people peak in high school – this adulthood thing is pretty boring most of the time.  I mean no one opens a fortune cookie expecting to find a message that says “Things are basically going to stay about the same – and that’s really ok” but that is often the case with adulthood. It goes on with only incremental change and while you may not accomplish your dreams you’re still alive and contributing to society, and that’s something right? Right?

Well, not really. Most of us want something more, but the trouble is that we don’t know how to get there. We’re so busy rolling the boulder up the hill every day that we never stop to ask what the end goal is, or evaluate how close we are to actually accomplishing what we set out to do. And yet we do it, over and over again. And we call it being a responsible adult. If we see someone who isn’t rolling their rock up the hill every day we tend to get incredulous. And often for good reason – many of them are just saying at home on the couch, rolling a virtual rock up a cyber-hill, claiming it makes them happy. These folks are often avoiding adulthood, and who can blame them? Adulthood looks boring and pointless from the outside, especially if you’ve only ever been around people who’ve been doing it wrong their whole life. Maybe people who are rolling the “real” boulders up the hill are on a metaphorical couch; sitting comfortably in their own mediocrity, doing the same tasks without thinking of what’s coming next. Shhh; don’t ask me about next year, I want to watch the latest season of Game of Thrones this weekend, not plan for the future. (Ok sure you can still binge watch something once in a while and still be productive, but at the very least the two are diametrically opposed unless your job is to review Television)

These days all of society is avoiding adulthood in many different ways. Some people avoid adulthood by embracing something adjacent to adulthood apart from actual maturity; employment, parenthood, or simply having a few glasses of wine in the evening, you know, for your heart. None of these things are bad, but chasing after any of them alone will not guarantee you’re being a responsible adult.

Trouble is you can’t get the freedom to eat your ice cream for breakfast without reaping the results. So when someone is sitting on their couch late in the evening re watching the same show in netflix for the 100th time, overweight, bored, and yet somehow content in their unhappiness, wondering why their best years are behind them; I have hope and a challenge.

Are you best years behind you? Only if you let them be. If you spend your years living in the “glory days” of high school or college then you’ll never move on. You’re so busy wishing life had turned out differently that you don’t stop to think about what you could to make it turn out differently for you in the next stage. If you play your cards right you’ll get to have an important role no matter watch age you are. For the first 20 years you’re a student. For the next 20 years you’re a worker. For the next 20 years you’re a leader and for the last 20 years you’re a mentor. Some people only like one stage. Some people want to skip stages. Others have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from one stage to the next.

If you decide that your best years are behind you, then there are and there is nothing anyone can do about it. If you want the best to be ahead of you, you need to get off the couch and go be (choose your inspirational closing line from below)

A. the change you want to see in the world

B. the magic that makes dragons take flight in the mind of a child

C. the hero we don’t deserve, but the one we need

D. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria

(PS. Don’t be D, cause all you’ll do is get assassinated and start WWI and no one else will remember you for anything else)

We need a New Definition of Adulthood

The New Adulthood is taking responsibility, but isn’t just taking responsibility, it’s also adding value to the world by being a good friend, and informed citizen, and an over all wise person. Having children doesn’t make you an adult, thinking about the entire next generation and how you can leave a legacy for any and all of them to benefit from your life – that’s real adulthood. Having a job, even a well-paying one, doesn’t automatically give you passage into true adulthood. Being someone who is pursing a calling that makes you come alive, that will awaken the fire and passion that drives you to seek out wisdom and maturity and contribute more than the minimum. Truly realized adulthood, is as NT Wright talks about truly realized humanity; It’s when we’re fully alive in Christ as we’re meant to be.

So over the next several entries I will be discussing from the view of a Christian Millennial, how I believe we all can take responsibility for our lives, how we can pursue our calling and contribute to society, and how we can interact with each other in this postmodern, social-media, over-connected, information-addicted, frustrated, confused, and divided world.

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

Ice Cream For Breakfast: An Introduction – Part 0

I’m starting a new 17+part project entitled “Ice Cream For Breakfast: musings on so-called ‘adulthood’ by another white, middle class, male, millennial.”

Just as it sounds it’s a dystopian futuristic teen thriller starring a plucky female lead. . . Actually, I wish I could pull that off because apparently that gets you a four movie deal faster than you can say “abnegation.” On the reals, this will be a look at the modern state of young adulthood. While I make no promises as to how this experiment will turn out, I hope that it will be a fun exercise for me as a write, a letter of encouragement to other young adults who feel a little disillusioned with world, and only at rare moments, totally self-indulgent pontification.

It will be a collection of essays in which I’ll discuss various struggles that I’ve encountered over the last 12+ years as an “adult.” I want to explore what adulthood is, what is was meant to be and why is it something that my generation has avoided. As always I’ll be looking at scripture, current events, modern research, maybe some science, maybe some fiction, maybe some science fiction – all of which will be partly of me just organizing my own thoughts on life as I’ve discovered (for myself, not for humanity) some hard truths. What remains I hope will be thoughtful and encouraging, and even helpful. In this day and age where cynicism and self deceit are so often is the common tongues, I would like to speak encouragement and truthful introspection.

Blah blah blah, I hope it’s funny too. Sometimes. I make no guarantees. Wow, I hope this doesn’t suck. Well here goes nothing. (click to see it all so far)