Different or Weird
Pastor Tim Ortberg said in a talk some years ago that many Christians, knowing that with Christ in their hearts their lives should be different and finding that it isn’t, default to being weird instead. This brings up a great question with which I’ve wrestled many times: What is it about being a Christian that fundamentally makes my life different than someone who’s not a follower of Christ?
Of course, there is the obvious eternal life deal, which is great and all, but Christ Himself stated that He intended much more. He speaks of His followers having life and not just life, but an abundant life; that by knowing His truth we will be free, and so on. But that doesn’t really answer two questions. What is that supposed to look like on a day to day basis? Why don’t Christians seem to demonstrate it more? (And the corollary, what about all those non-Christians that seem to be ‘better Christians’ than the Christians?)
This is not an academic exercise. If we cannot be different because of the life changing reality of Christ in our lives, what is the point? If Christians are supposed to be different than the rest, and we don’t feel like we are, then should we just be weird, just to be distinctive and so others can recognize where we stand?
The second question is patently ridiculous, except for the fact that many seem to answer in the affirmative out of some kind of desperation to ‘be a good witness’ or to satisfy themselves about the status of their faith. It is a form of self-deception.
But I think I do have some insight on the first question. It is not ridiculous, but it is the wrong question. The problem is that the question is looking inward—why am I not different? We aren’t different because we’re looking at the wrong thing. We need to look to Christ, not to ourselves.
It is the reality that as human animals, we are obsessed with ourselves. It is natural. It is hard to forget about ourselves, to get away, take a vacation away from our being. As Americans with a heritage of rugged individualism and marketing executives who make their living telling us we aren’t content, we’ve raised introspection and navel-gazing to an art form. We’re OCD about self-improvement. Our Puritan heritage survives in a keen awareness of our fallenness that we desperately try to ‘fix.’
Jesus is the solution to that problem, true. But He isn’t a pill we take or a new hairstyle. He’s the King. The Lord. Our eyes need to be on Him, not us. He’ll worry about us, and His worry is sufficient. Therefore, let us worry over Him. Let us adore and fixate on Him, His nature, His character.
In a sense, God made us like chameleons. We tend to look like what we are around and what we focus on. Thus, the Proverb, “bad company ruins good morals.” But here’s the rub. If we are busy looking at ourselves, we can’t change. A chameleon mimics its outside environment, not itself. It is kind of a silly thought when you picture it. What does a chameleon look like if it isn’t in an environment??? What is it like if it tries to mimic itself?
If you want to change, then you have to compare yourself to something external, and focus on that, internalize it, and it will happen. A chameleon doesn’t worry how closely it is mimicking the scenery, it just does it. We should do the same. We need to forget about ourselves, live life in obedience to the things we do know, loving Him to the extent we know how, and we will change, we will be different. We may even be a little weird at times. But if the ‘weirdness’ is from mimicking the Lord rather than our own effort, it is an outward and visible sign of the change within us, not an outward and visible change to hide the sameness inside.
Today, I read a blog post that really manifested in a gritty, honest way the principles I lay out here. It inspired these thoughts, addressing them (mostly unintentionally, I think) from a variety of perspectives. Jen Hatmaker is a local author, speaker, pastor’s wife, mother of five (including two newly adopted Ethiopian orphans). Yesterday’s post, After the Airport, covered her joy at all of the kids being at school, and revealed in an honest, personal way how difficult life is for them right now.
She has no “Life is Wonderful with Jesus in My Heart” platitudes. They are stressed and exhausted. They have 3 older children who are “normal, stable, well-adjusted.” But the adopted kids, especially the daughter, are extremely difficult. They are orphans, either through death or abandonment. They don’t understand permanence of love and support. They are in a completely different world. They long for love like air, but don’t believe it contains oxygen or that it will be there for the next breath.
Jen and her husband are living out the reality of Christ in their lives, but it is lonely, exhausting, and painful…and they wouldn’t exchange it for anything. This is both the difference and the weirdness being manifest. It is also the fundamental nature of unconditional love.
Their lives are living parables of probably half of Jesus’ stories. You see the parable of the soils, the prodigal son, and others. You see a picture of people meeting God for the first time, thrilled with the hope and promise, but so burned by their past disappointments, they are afraid to trust, so they hit and hug, attack and cry to be comforted, terrorize and collapse in tears. They aren’t irrational. They just can’t figure out what their environment is and respond appropriately. They don’t know what to mimic. Yet, the Hatmakers are patient. They keep coming back. They promised to love forever. And the kids are testing to see if they mean it.
Patience isn’t merely never losing one’s cool. It means coming back and not giving up. Forbearance, steadfastness, patience. These are not the static words we picture of immovable granite. It is the dynamism of the sea, wearing unceasingly against the rocky cliffs until the finest sand embraces our toes.
The kids’ lives are different, radically so. Radically improved. That is the reality. But it is so foreign to them, they don’t recognize the improvement. To them it is just weird. For many of us, our new life in Christ is radically different, radically improved. That is the reality. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places, the Bible declares. But we don’t see it. Our lives look the same, feel the same. So we sometimes embrace the weird, so we can feel different. It does seem a little irrational, but it isn’t about our feelings. It is about Him. And He is patient. We’d do well to mimic that.