There is a tradition in Portland, as in many cities, of celebrating the lighting of the giant Christmas tree in the center of town. Having never seen it live, Auntie Sarah and I decided to brave the elements (I forget how cold it is up here!) and head downtown with all three kids to see the tree-lighting. I expected it to be a bit chaotic and crowded, but I did not even begin to imagine the craziness that met us the moment we stepped off the train. Huge crowds of people, big dogs, way too many strollers…after walking less than a block we reached the point where people were no longer moving and we realized this was as close as we would get.
Of course the tree was barely visible to me, and completely out of the realm of the kids’ sight, and we were Daddy-less so there were no giant shoulders for kiddos to perch upon. I had Elijah bundled up in the Bjorn so I could not lift either of the kids (I mistakingly tried to lift Aaron, and the combination of his weight and the slipperiness of his down coat made for a disaster as I tried to hold him on one hip), and of course Mercy had to go pee right before the big moment so she and Sarah missed it anyway. Basically, it was a disaster.
Having skipped dinner to make the ceremony, we were in urgent need of a meal so we headed to the food court of the big downtown mall a few blocks away. It was a good idea except for the fact that every other family decided to do the same and people were circling like vultures trying to snag tables and chairs. It was around then that we began to really feel the two adult to three needy children ratio. Sarah summed it up this way: “I don’t know how you ever do anything.”
Auntie Sarah is a trooper. She is not only brilliant and imaginative in how she relates to our kids in conversation and in play, but she is endlessly patient and kind with them. I had lost my cool before we even arrived at the food court, and it was her strength that sustained us through the meal and back to the train. I was honest with her, saying that it often isn’t worth trying to do stuff like this because it just ends up being so hard. She nodded and understood.
In most areas of our lives we want things to be clean and easy. We don’t want to ever get too cold or wait too in too long of a line or get pushed beyond our dinner hour. It annoys us when we have to stand at the periphery. And we really don’t want to be outnumbered by demanding, needy ones. I see this in how we want church to function. We so often do anything in our power to eliminate the messy, the unpredictable, the uncomfortable. We want things to work in ways that suit us, accommodate our particular list of needs, and make us comfortable and happy. And as much as many of us talk about self-sacrifice and living mission-driven lives, we still feel entitled to see the tree.
I just came across (via Bill Kinnon) this terribly valuable reminder of what lies at the center of our life as Christ-followers:
Overall the gospel is the grandest Yes to human aspirations in all history. But the gospel’s No’s are plain, unvarnished, and impossible to duck. There is challenge as well as promise, warning of costs as much as offers of rewards, and talk of sacrifice as common as invitations to the party…
In an age when comfort and convenience are unspoken articles of our modern bill of rights, the Christian faith is not a license to entitlement, a prescription for an easy-going spirituality, or a how-to manual for self-improvement. The cross of Jesus runs crosswise to all our human ways of thinking. A rediscovery of the hard and the unpopular themes of the gospel will therefore be such a rediscovery of the whole gospel that the result may lead to reformation and revival (Os Guiness).
In thinking about my own faith community, how many things are there to which I say: “It’s not worth it. It will just end up being too hard.”