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Earlier this week my friend opened up a discussion by asking “Why does every decision these days come with a full pit in the bottom of one's stomach?”
I automatically went into discussing this from the perspectives of human communication and systems theory. “Because we are in the midst of an impossible problem. There is no way to formulate ‘correct’ answers; we won’t know what was good/bad/best until after it’s all over and we can look back at things. In our culture this is a common sensation, one that makes change difficult for systems (and the people within): when we feel like we could be choosing a losing (wrong) option. It isn’t really that we are scared of losing, but because we have to let go of so much control while dealing with the perception of individual responsibility, we cannot logic a feeling of comfort. So, currently there is this overarching anxiety filling the system of our world and we realize that we cannot even play our normally ‘assigned’ roles within the system. Thus every decision that pushes the system more out of balance and doesn’t bring us back into that normal role (which currently, because of the impossible problem, is all of them) wears on us until even simple decisions (like dinner) come with real discomfort and anxiety.”
Feeling proud of myself, I looked at my friend who had a look on his face somewhere between, “I’m going to kill you” and, “what are you talking about?” It was in this moment I realized the question wasn’t aimed at a conclusive answer (which really answered nothing), but rather at feeling a common bond with others regarding this discomfort and anxiety we are all sitting with to some extent.
I can’t help but think about the scriptures from last week and this week in Matthew and how the disciples must feel; particularly Peter. Peter last week was given the keys to Jesus’ car. While others still pondered what Jesus was all about even within the closest group, Peter steps up and calls Jesus the Christ. With that, Peter must have been proud, he was trusted, he was given leadership, he was in the driver’s seat and the other 11 were along for the ride.
Yet, Peter doesn’t know the road ahead or even the best way to travel it. I think back to the first time I went to my college town and had to turn off of one major road and onto another. I don’t think before then I had ever had to use a cloverleaf exit, but as I tried to control my speed and then merge with traffic, I heard a loud snap and noticed I no longer had a passenger side mirror. I had been so focused on merging, that I had run into the guardrail. Here in scripture, Peter runs into Jesus’s guardrail.
Peter, and all of the disciples are in a very similar place to where we are now. They are hearing Jesus talk about what is going to happen and what needs to happen, but they are trying to control things themselves. Peter makes this clear when Jesus talks about how he is going to suffer and Peter decides to try to take a left turn in Albuquerque.
“21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day. 22 Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” 23 But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
Peter cannot understand the road ahead, he wants to be in control, he wants to make things happen the way that he thinks they need to, and in doing so he loses sight of the navigator’s (Jesus’s) directions. We likewise don’t know how the world is going to go, and we are realizing day by day that we have less control over it than we thought we did. Yet, like the scriptures we are in the midst of, the answer isn’t changing.
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them.
Take up our cross. We as disciples must expect to have to do some hard things in order to live like Jesus. We need to hear that being a follower of Jesus is not always fun, and we don’t always get what we want. This week in our family supplement, I encourage parents to point out that when Jesus says “take up your cross” he is not telling us to not feel the pain of suffering, not to feel the bottomless pit in the depths of our stomach. Jesus is telling us to look around us, see the needs of others and work to take care of them. Even if all we can do is sit across a screen and feel that pit too.
As I close this blog post I offer some other words from our family worship supplement, a focus on the themes in our prayers of confession:
Almighty and merciful God,
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us.
Be with us, as we confess our faults.
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