When you’re a kid you rarely glimpse just how challenging, grief-stricken, and dangerous the world really is. Other people—God bless them—are busy taking care of it for you. But as you grow up, you have to shoulder more of those responsibilities yourself, few of which come with rulebooks or how-to’s.
It’s not for the faint of heart. You get a call with news that punches your gut. You face an ethical quandary in which the “solutions” just look like myriad muddy shades of gray. When you’re lucky enough to get a problem posed in brilliant, binary black and white, the only thing higher than the stakes are the sunk costs. Everything is risky. Nothing is certain. And you’ve got just enough emotional reserves to make it through the day. You can barely manage.
Here’s your bonus: It gets harder as you go.
We live in a fallen, broken world. And part of the responsibility that attaches to living that world is to blunt the sharp edges and pad the jagged pieces, like all those people did for us when we were too young and blissfully ignorant to notice.
The spiritual life is like that too. We are called to grow into the stature of Christ, to mature, to take on more responsibility. The Letter to the Hebrews touches on this. After saying that his readers ought to have been more mature, the writer says, “You need milk, not solid food. . . . [S]olid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” The writer then urges, “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity. . . .”Traditionally speaking, Paul penned Hebrews. That makes sense relative to this subject because Paul deals with maturity elsewhere in his letters as well. Ephesians 4 jumps immediately to mind:
. . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. . . .
If we are to grow into Christ (a process we also know as sanctification or theosis), then the difficulties we face are only just beginning. The admonishment ultimately is to pick up our crosses and follow.
The Christian life is difficult. In a sin-riddled word, it can be no other way. We’re at war, and part of our job as we grow is to protect others from the shrapnel. The prayers we pray, the sins we face, the temptations we battle, the repentance we undergo—these are not just for our sakes; they are for the rest of the body. There are people depending on us.
Don’t get me wrong. There are wonderful moments of peace and celebration too. But it would be immature and childish to speak of life as if those were constants, or as if we could expect them to be so. If we bear one another’s burdens, we must accept that they will be heavy. The cross, after all, was heavy too.