The Solo Crisis–Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

The lonely blogger is having an existential crisis today. After posting to this space for four months in a row, I determined to “sharpen the saw” and attend a WordPress conference. Over the last hour, I sat through a keynote address that left me thinking–and you have to imagine a powerful voice with reverb here–I am completely out of my depth.

I just want to write. I just want to share my struggles to discover wisdom with an audience. That’s it. But it sounds like, if I really want to accomplish this and get more than 13 hits a day, I’ll need to learn a hundred different technical factors or hire technically-minded people.

My crisis is this: I don’t always play well with others. That’s why I like teaching college English. They point me to a classroom and send me 24 students, expecting that I’ll achieve the course objectives and turn in grades 16 weeks later. That’s my perfect world, but the WordPress camp suggests that I’m doomed. I’m the “person without a companion” that Solomon mentions:

Again I saw futility under the sun. There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “Who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself of good things?” This too is futile and a miserable task.

Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

Struggling Alone

As an introvert, I find this a frustrating and daunting couple of verses. Some of the people I know–I’d call them friends, but I don’t have all that many people who rise to that level–are natural extroverts and cooperators. These people maintain a vast network of contacts and know how to work with those people in a variety of ways.

But that’s not me. And I believe that even some of these extrovert networking types go into an introvert coma when the subject turns to matters of the spirit. Those extrovert people I know might go out with three complete strangers for a golf tournament and, by the end of nine holes, know the names of the other guys’ kids and have a skiing vacation planned for next January. But when one of those guys gets serious and says something like “Guys, I pray about it all the time, but I just can’t shake my porn habit,” the others will quickly steer the conversation back to golf or kids or skiing.

Getting in Tune

Many people–and I think it is men more than women–have a hard time talking about the serious issues of Christian discipleship. Instead, they tend to try to do a free-solo climb up the mountains of this world. But that’s not God’s plan for us.

In Luke 9, Jesus sends those first twelve disciples in pairs. That on-the-job training apparently yielded results, because in the next chapter, he’s sending out 72 disciples, again in pairs. Even Jesus Himself, the man I tried to describe as an introvert recently, took the disciples to support Him in Gethsemane.

Some things we have to do alone, but God gave us other people for a reason. We’ll grow more when we struggle together.

Never-ending Studies

Martin had the office across the hall from me during my one year as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas. He was practically an institution at the school. The most long-standing graduate students in the department reported that Martin had been an old-timer when they began their studies. Supposedly, he had been there, finished with course work and working toward completing his dissertation, for so long that his foreign-language qualifications expired and he had to retake them.

What is the point out going to school endlessly, paying your fees and supposedly making progress on the degree for year after endless year? It took me five years to complete my doctorate, which seemed like too long to me. Martin must have had about 15 years in when I last saw him.

It strikes me that many churches have people who are a lot like Martin. These people go to Bible study classes every week. They sit and nod appreciatively as a teacher shares whatever nuggets of wisdom are available. Then they go home and await the next week’s class.

Is there something wrong, you might ask, with going to Sunday School? Isn’t that what good Christians are supposed to do? I’d like to argue the answer to both questions might very well be “yes.” Yes, there might very well be something wrong with going to Sunday School. And yes, that just might be what Christians should do. Confused? Let me try to unconfuse.

Imagine if you will the Apostle Thaddeus. We always think about Peter and James and John, but nobody says anything about Thaddeus, so lets consider him. He probably sat with Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. He listened attentively and perhaps even asked questions. Maybe he asked Jesus who sinned, the man born blind or his parents, in John 9:2. In short, we can picture Thaddeus going to his version of “Sunday school.”

But then, in Luke 9, when Jesus sent the twelve out “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick,” what if Thaddeus had said, “You know, I think I’d rather stay here and just keep learning from you”? In short, what if Thaddeus had just decided to keep going to Sunday school rather than serving?

Christians should continue, from the day of salvation until the day they die, learning more about God’s Word. It’s important, but if that’s all we do, then what good are we? What is the point of being a Martin, learning and learning and learning but never actually putting all of that learning to use.

I mention this today, because I know of many people who should be going out of their comfortable and comforting classes in order to serve God. Are you not quite ready? Guess what? Neither was Thaddeus or the other disciples. Jesus didn’t send them out because they were ready. He sent them out to help get them ready.

For all I know, Martin is still lurking around the bottom floor of Wescoe Hall at KU. For all I know, he never finished that degree of his. We don’t need a waste of potential like that in the church.

The Easter Warranty

Woohoo! It’s Easter (or at least it was). We all got dressed up in our new clothes and headed off to church in high spirits. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” We sang and smiled and sang some more. The preacher brought his word and people who never amen uttered an amen. And did I mention that it was Easter! Yes!

So how long does that Easter high last? It’s Friday. Is He still risen? Of course Jesus is still risen, but does your life show it? Are you still feeling that Easter thrill like you did a short five days ago?

Let me put this another way. What is the shelf life for your mountain-top experiences with God? For me, this Sunday, for all its power, had pretty well faded behind the chaos and confusion of the remainder of the day. I think it was around 2:00 p.m. when I realized that my mailbox had fallen over and needed to be re-set before Monday that my Easter warranty expired.

Part of me wants to ask how to make the mountain-top experience last longer, but another part wonders if we should expect them to endure. Think about big-mouth Peter on the mountain of transfiguration:

Peter and those with him were in a deep sleep, and when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men who were standing with him. As the two men were departing from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it’s good for us to be here. Let us set up three shelters: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he was saying.–Luke 9:32-33

In short, Peter was saying, “Lord, this is really cool. Let’s stay here forever!” And of course they couldn’t. They had to go down the mountain and deal with hunger and sickness, sore feet and hard beds. How long did Peter’s literal mountain-top experience last? We know that it didn’t keep him from denying Jesus not terribly far in the future.

Should I feel bad that my Easter thrill dwindled so quickly? I don’t know that I should. I am, after all, a ball of sinful flesh with an indwelling Holy Spirit. That arrangement cannot simply stay on the mountain, although we can hope to make the visits more frequent.

A day will come when we will dwell forever in that mountain-top realm. That experience will make Easter 2019 seem kind of anemic, and it will endure. But until that day comes, we need to treasure the mountain peaks knowing that the valleys and the tedious plains will inevitably come.

Rather than feeling bad about the speed with which the glow faded out of Easter this week, perhaps we should focus on getting back to the mountain more than once a year. Easter 2020, by the way, will be on April 12.