When I was growing up I was an avid youth group kid. I eagerly anticipated Wednesday night church gatherings, and was proud to be an evangelical – inviting my friends to come with me to weekly gatherings in the hope that they too may find the joy of Jesus.
I remember, quite vividly, a sermon one of our leadership gave about being the light in the world. We walked into the Youth Room, walls painted red, fresh carpet in geometric patterns, foosball table tucked in the corner, and at the front one of our leaders was standing on a chair.
He invited several kids to come and stand on the chair, one at a time. Then invited the one standing to try and lift others unto the chair with them. It was hard for the one standing to get his friends up with him, when little effort was exerted by the youth being pulled from the arm socket, onto the wobbly, wooden seat.
The demonstration shifted and the leader then asked those standing underneath to try and pull the standing youth off of the chair. With enthusiasm, the teen from the carpet swiftly pulled the other youth down from his perch. The leader paused, waited for laughter to calm, and explained his unfolding metaphor.
It is much easier to be the one pulling down onto the lower levels. When standing in a higher space, it can be difficult to lift others into the light, into the space of grace, onto “spiritual solid ground.” So what can we do to bring others up onto the chair?
Here is where the lesson gets muddy, and my spiritual growth starts to fail me. I’m not sure how I feel about this implied moral superiority – that I was taught that I was the one standing on the chair, in the cleaner, brighter air because of my faith. Seems a little wrong to instill in teenagers that they are ‘better than’ because they have Jesus.
I still have many questions about faith, and Jesus, and truth. Yet, I know that this year I have returned to the Gospel in ways I previously resisted, and do find comfort here in the mist of confusion.
Here is what I do very much agree with – It is so much easier to be pulled down from the chair.
As I write this there are nine hours left in 2016. This has been one of the most challenging years of my life, and I know there are lessons I’ve learned from this year that will carry me forward. Many events outside of my control seemingly knocked me swiftly off my seat.
I admit that it can be exhausting to be optimistic, to look for the beautiful, to be pulling one after another up into the light, to the seat on higher ground.
Many people are saying 2016 was horrible, and anticipating that 2017 may be worse. To this I cringe – I don’t want worse. I want healing. And I want people to keep helping lift me onto the seat. To pick up my chin, and say ‘Hey, I’m here with you. Let’s climb up these rickety chairs together, and stand with arms triumphant.’
There is beauty in the suffering, and also beauty in the refusal to be dragged down by the negativity of others. Beauty in continuing to choose to look for the good. Beauty in afternoon walks, and the smell of laundry detergent, and sleeping in, and frozen pizza, and dinners in front of the tv. Beauty in music played on guitars, and backyard fires, and laughter, and treats from Trader Joes. Beauty in books, and phone calls, and text messages, and the mountains. Beauty in lattes and rosemary plants that grow indoors. In puppies, in warm socks, in kleenex, in healing tears. Beauty in peanut butter cups, and glasses of red wine. In intelligent conversations and witty comments. Beauty in games, and sweet smelling shampoo. Beauty in holding hands, remaining soft, and open to the world. Beauty in weakness, in vulnerability, in shared experience.
So this I ask you – who will you be in 2017? The one helping individuals into the light, or the one pulling us down from our seats?