The Difficulty with Being a Christian
It’s not often that I admit this, but it’s often I feel it: being a Christian is hard. I mean this neither strictly in the sense as one who agrees most with the Christian faith and therefore tries to live according to it, nor as someone who is consumed with the Christian label and makes sure people know. In fact, sometimes I think it would be easier if people didn’t know.
What I mean is being the kind of person who has both chosen to believe in God, and had the idea and glory of God pressed on him through things and ways more mysterious and enchanting than I believe can be known or understood; and having believed and awaken, is compelled to respond, to accept the invitation to live out life in a different way, redefining what it means to be human, and thereby become a new kind of person altogether.
In high school, this was the biggest objection friends of mine had to faith. Why live your life according to a bunch of rules? Why live your life in a box when you can have the world?
But why would I want the world if it meant forfeiting who I am?
It’s not eternity I’m getting at. It’s the present. That rope that’s your life becoming ever unraveled. In college I met someone who said to me, “Being a Christian is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” This led me to believe they had not previously been one before, or, that they had just begun to take on its seriousness. Regardless, it was the first time I had ever heard someone say it out loud: This is hard.
The objections to faith—like the ones heard in high school—don’t change. Only the people change. The phases of life change. What everyone’s doing Monday through Friday changes. But the objections, for the most part, are the same.
Since the objections remain the same, maybe there’s some validity to them. Maybe they’re there and consistent for a reason. Maybe I should jettison faith and come to terms with the objections. Maybe I should come to terms with the difficulty of this and give up.
But I can’t. And I don’t know why.
There have been times when, in my mind, I’ve tried.
But I can’t. And I don’t know why.
Every man and woman’s path to God is different, so there’s no way to describe a universal reason how people get there and why they don’t vector off. But at least for me, it comes down to two reasons, mystery and relationship.
The first: mystery. I don’t always know why I believe, but I just know that I know that it’s not only right, it’s also true. This “knowing” has nothing to do with worldview, nothing to do with intellectual arguments, nothing to do with emotional attachments. Something draws me to God and keeps me there. The anchor is down and I am docked.
The second: relationship. In recounting his journey to faith, C. S. Lewis said that he originally believed God projected us as a dramatist projects their characters, not believing he could know God anymore than Hamlet could know Shakespeare; however, as time went on he perceived that the two could only meet if Shakespeare wrote himself into the story and introduced himself to Hamlet as the character Shakespeare. It must be the author’s doing. And that’s what happened in the Incarnation.
God taking on flesh, becoming everything we are and everything we’re not, makes a relationship with this God possible. The Incarnation is what’s unique to Christianity and sets it apart from other faiths. It sets everything in motion to make things right, to mend what’s been broken, to bring justice where there’s been none. It gives truth a leg to stand on, and gives love a name: Jesus.
We might not understand why things happen the way they do in our lives, or about racial injustices, or genocide, or world hunger. We might not understand God’s role in these points in history. Though we may not ever fully understand God, we can fully know him. This knowing, like all relationships, doesn’t come with immediacy. It takes time. It takes some bumps and bruises; it takes some victories and coruscations of joy. And ultimately, it takes surrender.
The difficulty with being a Christian, then, is just that: actually being one. Not the kind of person who faithfully reads their Bible and prays. Those are the habits of the Christian life, good for the formation of the soul as exercise and a good night’s sleep is to the body.
But also being the kind of person tasked with living a different life contrary to what is likely most natural in order to return one’s self to what was meant to be natural.
To be the kind of person who turns the cheek and who goes the extra mile; the kind of person who forgives rather than retaliates; the kind of person who is careful with their words and thoughtful in their treatment of others; the kind of person who refuses to accept the status quo and cannot—will not—stomach mediocrity and instead chooses to live with hope and with joy.
Life is filled with different narratives, all running parallel to one another, all boasting in what they offer. But only one narrative stands out from them, not running alongside, but perpendicular. It cuts across them and through them. It boasts not just in what it offers, but that it’s the only true narrative.
So we shouldn’t be overwhelmed or afraid. We’re not alone. God’s the main character to our supporting cast, and he goes on ahead of us, working through mystery and fractured people. He calls us into different chapters and different scenes, never promising that things will be easy or safe or fair, only that, eventually, they’ll be good.