We Want Life Without The Responsibility of Living It”

We believe it is common for people to be more drawn to the concept of authenticity than the thing itself” Mike Lueken and Kent Carlson write in Renovation of the Church.1 Yes, that strikes me as true and they aren’t alone in pointing it out.

In To Know As We Are Known, Parker Palmer shares a parable about students who approach a teacher asking for wisdom but the teacher responds with silence. The students continue to badger the teacher until he responds, old men… do not find anything to say, since there are no longer any who carry their words out.” Palmer writes, that the students wanted words instead of life, reports instead of reality, words that would create the illusion of life while relieving them of responsibility for living it, words of authority on which they could rely and retire.”2

Humanity desires to avoid pain to such an extent that we will allow ourselves to settle—for an illusion of the good, for the concept of the good—and not live into the good in reality.

Why do we settle for the illusion of something instead of the actual thing? We like how the concept sounds, but the lived reality of that concept is a very different thing. In the lived reality we encounter all of the difficulty that goodness brings. We don’t like to think that genuine goods travel with trouble. But, every gift carries a burden with it.

We want community, but we’d rather avoid intimate relationships that can’t be sustained without practicing forgiveness. We want to be more present, but we can’t suffer the inevitable boredom. We want to be in a committed relationship, but being with another person requires us to take a hit to our autonomy. We want the thing’, but we refuse to do the work the thing requires so we settle for a cheap substitute, an illusion of the thing. Then we are disappointed by the results.

How might we move beyond desiring the good thing as a concept to desiring and living the reality? What if we acknowledged that every gift carries a burden? What if we accept the gift and the responsibilities the gift requires together?

Jesus himself tells us to count the cost” of following Him.3 No one who is a Christian would tell you that following the way of Christ is bad—they have chosen that way because they see it as the ultimate good. But the ultimate good has a decided cost it brings with it.

Sue Monk Kidd sums it up nicely when she describes her son’s reticence towards growing pains in When the Heart Waits. He wanted what we all want: a shortcut, someway to bypass the misery and still be six feet tall.”4

I’d love to have a deep community without the friction of interacting with difficult people. I’d love to be more present to my children without the boredom that sneaks in. I don’t understand why it is this way. And yet, anything that has had meaning to me has also contained within it a kernel of difficulty. And I’ve found that you cannot gain the good and detain the bad. For some reason without the bad the good disappears.”

  1. Location 135, Renovation of the Church by Mike Lueken and Kent Carlson↩︎

  2. page 41, To Know As We Are Known by Parker Palmer↩︎

  3. Luke 14:28-29↩︎

  4. pg 25, When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, emphasis original↩︎

June 7, 2024