When I was a dopey lad of 19, my future father-in-law for some reason trusted me to take his baby girl to prom in his brand new Corvette. I had no idea why, except that perhaps he knew it was clean and reliable and he wasn’t so sure about my ’89 Corolla. I’m sure you can imagine, I was sweating bullets and drove about seven miles an hour. Allie told me to relax, but she didn’t see the look in his eye when he handed over the keys!
As Jim asked me to write this month’s newsletter, I felt a similar sense of awe and responsibility. I mean, “Strands” gets printed and mailed – to a Millennial, this is truly an austere medium! But I have a much clearer idea as to why Jim asked me to tackle this task, and it actually brings my late father-in-law’s reasoning into focus as well. You see, Jim is marrying off his middle daughter this weekend, and in moments like that, you begin to think through how little time you have and how significant your investments are. He had somewhere more important to be this week. I’m not there yet in my own journey as a father, but I have seen enough so far to imagine, and tremble.
Amy and I interviewed communicants this week – seven elementary-aged kids whose parents made vows around a decade ago to raise them in the faith. We know when we baptize our kids that it’s no guarantee of salvation, but we also know that God declares “the blessing is for you and your children;” so we bless them and pray and pray and pray that he grants them saving grace through faith. Weekends like this are so special to those who, like the men and women listed in the book of Hebrews, trusted God, not knowing what the outcome would be or if we’d ever see the promise come to pass in this way. One boy was kind enough to remind us, “Mom says it’s easy to get the gospel in your brain but not so easy to get it in your heart.” That’s a parent who understands the urgent impossibility of what she’s passing down. If the Lord doesn’t bless our kindling with fire, it’s just a pile of soaking wood.
It’s then that I begin to realize that the fear I felt when I took his keys will never compare to the fear Allie’s dad felt when he handed them over to me. That makes him one of the bravest men I’ve ever met. He understood something that is so counterintuitive to fallen humanity: if you love something, you have to let it go.
In the hours before his death, Jesus told his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever surrenders his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:24-27)
This is a man staring into an abyss, with everything to lose, and taking a leap. A man who truly loved God, and people, and life, and he’s about to release control and stop breathing. I would panic. This looks like an investment in absolute foolishness. If we pick up a cross and follow him, in the world’s eyes we are squandering the things most precious to us: our possessions, our platforms, our own children. And it’s not like we don’t also view those things through the world’s eyes. I shudder at the thought of one day “giving” my daughter away to some punk kid. I recoil at the lowest seat and the least of these. That fear of losing out can so easily become anxiety and control and rage in me, as I scramble and cling to the edge. I want to think of myself as brave, like Peter did, but I’m afraid he and I have even more in common than either of us would like to admit.
Yet we are not alone. It’s all about that great cloud of witnesses who have lived lives of faithful surrender. I see the fruit of their sacrifices, even in my own life, because they modeled a legacy of losing control. Lent is a season of grace in which we link arms together in our fear and jump straight into the abyss together after Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the Father” (Hebrews 12:2).
And there is glory on the other side: sons-in-law, and grandchildren, and church plants, and thriving families, and baptisms, and communicants, and ten thousand blessings that will never be taken away. We emphasize serving throughout Lent, not because there are things to be done, but because there are disciples to be made. The more we lay down our time and resources, our energy and labor and comfort and self-importance, the farther down the road we carry our crosses after Christ. As Jim always says, we’re not just making new disciples; we’re making better ones, too: those who, more and more, develop a legacy of losing control; who come not to be served, but to serve. It reminds me of a favorite lyric, by Jon Foreman:
Friend, all along
Thought I was learning how to take,
How to bend, not how to break,
How to live, not how to cry,
But really, I’ve been learning how to die.
Take heart, brothers and sisters: Resurrection is coming.