Sometimes I’m a liar liar pants on fire. I will straight up lie the first time you ask how I’m doing. And maybe the second and third times too. I’m fine, it’s fine, everything’s fine. I have quite a few patient friends, who put in the hard work of getting to know me. I’m slowly learning that the perceived danger of being known and loved is worth the apparent risk. It’s a long, slow, painful turning in the right direction and I’m thankful to have my people who are willing to stick with me.
One friend has a question that I know is coming if we’ve talked long enough for me to skirt the issues sufficiently… “How’s your heart?” A couple of weeks ago I was waiting for it. In my brain I was debating how to answer. I decided to inform her of where I was in a way that would make us laugh but be abundantly clear about the state of my heart. I told her I was listening to the Indigo Girls album Swamp Ophelia circa 1994. There’s a lengthy backstory to where this puts me, but let’s just say she knew I was not fine. It was not fine. Everything was not fine.
Ignoring her advice to find something that might pull me out of a pit instead of push me deeper into it, I listened to that album on repeat for days. Just like I did in the mixture of deep darkness and flat out fun of my college years. Feeling all the feels. When I hear those first few notes of the first track, I am flooded with memories both good and bad. In many ways that album stirs up deep regret, but it also makes me long to live and love better. One of the verses of that first song, Fugitive, keeps playing over and over in my head.
Now it’s coming to you / The lessons I’ve learned / Won’t do you any good / You’ve got to get burned / Well the curse and the blessing / They’re one in the same / Baby it’s all / Such a treacherous gain
Such a treacherous gain. As I struggle to walk this Christian life, to walk in a manner worthy, to learn to love as Christ has loved me, to listen and learn with humility, to move with compassion and grace, my flesh cries out: “This is hard! And uncomfortable! And I can’t like it!!!” My sinful heart recoils in the face of the unpredictable dangers and betrayal of self that being a disciple of Jesus promises. At the very least the gain of Christ is a loss of my comfort. In the truest sense, life in Christ is a call to death, a death of self and flesh. That feels so very treacherous
The path Christ has set us on isn’t exactly a path of ease or safety, with its dangers and trials of many forms, battles raged around us, as well as within us. We travel along the edge of a precipice that makes our hearts race and our stomachs plummet. All too often, our feet slipping along this narrow path. We have a call to die to self, to put aside the old fleshly desires, to fight against the sin that enslaves us, to in essence betray our sinful selves by turning to Jesus. His words ring out: “Take up your cross – this shameful instrument of death – and follow Me”. We face opposition and persecution from the world that hates our Savior, and we share in His sufferings. We battle our own flesh that clings to control, runs its own way, and fights to the death, The gain of the Gospel feels treacherous to our sinful hearts, because it is.
It is treacherous, but it is all such a treacherous gain! Jesus calls us to continue on in a world that will be full of trouble, and yet He has overcome that world. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat how difficult following Him will be, but He promises His presence in it and through it. His presence and power are our gain. Our great benefit. What we have because Jesus has us is more weighty than all the treachery we face.
The gain of grace is hard for our finite souls to fathom. Just read Ephesians 1 and experience the fire hose of grace to the face – chosen, loved, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and given an inheritance. It is lavish, abundant, more than we could ever think or ask. Though we are called to die, we have new and everlasting life, and every spiritual blessing in Christ. And the greatest gain of all is that we have Jesus Himself!
It sounds weird to say it, but part of what feels so treacherous about this Christian walk is the call to love. If I’m honest, loving others well is filled with the possibility of danger and opportunity for betrayal. Reading through I Corinthians 13 confirms this feeling. Loving others means opening ourselves up for wounding. It requires laying our lives down as a sacrifice. Loving others is about seeking their good not our own, giving up our preferences. But the good news is that in Jesus we have been perfectly loved, and that love enables us to turn and try to do the same – albeit imperfectly – for others. His love changes us, it changes our hearts and our desires. It squashes our pride, and gives us empathy for others. It moves us with compassion towards those who are hurting and needy. His love allows us to face the promised danger and treachery without fear, and the greatness of the gain makes it all worthwhile.
Jesus endured the treacherous, both danger and betrayal, to bring us unfathomable gain. My prayer is that we will fix our eyes on what is true and lovely and worthy of praise, in the middle of what is frightening and hard and uncomfortable, and trust that He is with us and worth it, so that we can faithfully walk along the path He has for us.