In a conversation with some student friends the other night, someone mentioned that an important part of life is being disappointed. He said that to be fully human we need to allow ourselves to feel disappointment and all the emotions that go along with the experience of not getting what we want.

Another friend strongly objected: “I completely disagree with that,” she said. “I think life is so much better when you have no expectations.”

As I sat between them I felt torn. Cognitively I agreed with the first point: being disappointed and learning how to respond to disappointment in healthy ways is really important.

But, emotionally, I also resonated with my other friend: sometimes the best things in life are the things that surprise us, that we never saw coming, that were unexpected.

Our expectations, especially unrealistic ones, can set us up for pain and disappointment. Sometimes our expectations can keep us from seeing the beauty of the moment, to be fully alive and present to that which is right in front of us.

But, life with no expectations? Is that really the best way to live? Is that essentially life with no hope?

In one of the most brilliantly depressing songs of all time, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) sings: “Every plan is a tiny prayer to father time.”

No matter how much I might want to agree with my second friend, how much I might want to live life with no expectations, I just can’t get away from hope.

Every plan is a prayer, a hope that there will be another moment, another day, another week, another opportunity, another experience, another place where God might show up and do something.

So the question I wrestle with constantly is what do I hope for? What do I place my hope in? Who do I hope in?

Do I place my hope in ideals?
Do I hope for generally good things?
Do I hope in myself and my ability to do good,
to figure things out,
and to make wise decisions?

Yes. All too often, I find myself hoping in these things.

The disciple Peter, Peter who said and did dumb things and who blew it spectacularly, says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Authentic hope is grounded in something beyond ourselves.
It is grounded in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life,
abundant life,
everlasting life.

Telling A Different Story Is Hard

I am a total fan of Donald Miller and his work with story. I cried several times reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I gave it to friends to read, and Sojourn gave it away on campus and to graduates. I use story language all the time.

If I were to be critical of my stance, though, I would say this: telling a different, better, story is hard. And sometimes, talking about different, better life as story can mask the nitty, gritty work that goes into telling better, different stories.

Living a holy life is a better, different story, but it’s hard.
Living a simple, non-consumeristic life (with a budget and a lot of saying no to things) is a better, different story, but it’s hard.
Living a servanthearted/others-oriented posture is a better, different story, but it’s hard.

Lot’s of people want a better, different story, but they don’t want hard.

When I talk like this I’m afraid following Jesus can sound sad and joyless. It is anything but!

Holiness is hard, but I am so grateful and happy for the choices that Amy and I have made, for the suffering we’ve been spared as a result, and the relative innocence with which we get to live our lives.
Simplicity is hard, but I am so grateful and happy for the miracles we’ve seen and experienced, for the direct provision from God we get to see daily, and for the freedom we have as a result.
Serving others first is hard, but I am so grateful and happy for the meaning and purpose that comes from giving our lives away.

But none of those things are cool. None of them are sexy. And they stand in direct opposition to 99% of the messages we are bombarded with from advertising, families of origin, Facebook, the stories we see on TV and in movies, from our professors and peers, from the celebrities we worship.

Better, different stories have very little cultural reinforcement. And so living these stories and calling people to these kinds of stories is hard, hard work.

Who wants to live simply and raise money when they could get paid a steady and reliable income? Who wants to live a holy life when you can just do what you want? Who wants to serve others and put others first when every other message tells us that to get ahead we need to take care of ourselves (through networking, taking advantage of opportunities, making the right friends, meeting the right people, getting what we deserve, etc)?

All semester we’ve led our students through a series of conversations that have contrasted these different ways of living, different ways of viewing the world, and making decisions, and setting priorites. We’ve invited them to a different and better story.

All semester I realize that what we are doing is asking people to make a really hard choice.

But I believe it is the best choice they could ever make.

To live life in service of the King and his Kingdom is never going to be easy,
or safe,
or cool,
or “fun”.

But it is going to be good.
And adventurous.
And dangerous.
And costly.
And full of joy.

And beautiful.

Seek the Peace (Some Thoughts on Small Acts)

Last weekend Hillsong came to Boston University. Many, many college students went to see them sing along. The very next day we took a much smaller group of students to serve and learn alongside one of our neighborhood partnerships.

Quick aside: I don’t have anything against a large worship gathering/concert. I’ve been to see David Crowder several times. It’s a lot of fun to sing really loudly in a crowd of thousands.

But, I couldn’t help be struck by the contrast. Getting up early on Saturday morning is harder than going to a concert on Friday night. Interacting with grade school kids who are hyper and say anything that comes into their minds is more difficult and requires more energy than standing in a room with a thousand of your peers. Listening to people who have lived in Boston’s inner city for 4 decades is not as cool as hipster led worship/rock. Spending an hour and half in a quiet reflection is more unnerving than “Oceans” at 120 decibels.

I’m not trying to bash Hillsong. I am trying to honor the choice made by those students who came along to serve on Saturday.

Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Friday was awesome, I’m sure, but Saturday was mustard seed stuff.

What I get concerned about is the chasing of experiences. It’s way easier and cooler to chase experiences, to run after the next big thing, than it is to settle down, make roots, and seek the peace of the city.

Our event on Saturday was not designed to accommodate the numbers that went and saw Hillsong, but what if 1000 students dedicated themselves to seeking the peace of the city? What if 1000 stayed in Boston after they graduated to pursue God’s mission right here in this place?

That seed might become a tree.

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