When You Had To Climb A Mountain To Get It
In her excellent little book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard tells the story of a photographer who brings his best photo prints year after year to a master photographer for his advice and blessing.
Each year the master would place the photos in stacks, rating those he thought were very good, and those that weren't up to his standards. He began to notice that the photographer continued to bring a particular photo that was continually rejected.
Finally, he asked, "Why do you keep bringing this photo back? I keep telling you it's not good enough." The photographer picked up the photo and replied:
"I keep bringing it back because I had to climb a mountain to get it."
I loved that story when I heard it. It reminds me that sometimes what is most precious to us is often what was gained only through great sacrifice, and struggle.
And this is also true... Our hard-won prize might not look like that much of a prize in the eyes of the world around us, but to us, it is everything because we know the story of how it was won.
I have often thought about this in light of the Christian experience.
And when I say "Christian experience" I don't mean the "easy-believism" of the cultural Christianity that is so prevalent around us today.
This form of Christianity seems to ask very little of anyone except blind loyalty to a set of beliefs that perpetuate the comfort of the comfortable, maintain the status quo in an unequal society, and eschews sacrifice in favor of power and influence.
But we know better!
We know deep inside that religion which requires little of us and doesn't affect any real transformation within us or in the world is nothing more than junk religion. We know this.
We know this as surely as we know that some of our most precious "prizes" were ones that were gained because we left it all on the field to win them. We gave up our own comfort, we pushed back against the status quo... we sacrificed.
And the journey, the striving toward those precious things was what changed us, and we know that, too.
Here's a serious truth about this...
When it comes to those "prizes" it's not really about the thing itself. We don't care about accolades, we could give a rip if no one else finds it amazing. We only remember the climb, or the long road we walked, the people who joined us in the struggle, the way we saw the world and ourselves differently when it was done.
There was something holy and good in it. It wasn't self-serving. In the end, the "prize" merely becomes a reminder of the transformative power of sacrifice and surrender to God's holy, audacious purpose for us.
How does this feel true to you today?
Have you fallen into a rut with your faith---one that keeps you perfectly safe, comfortable, and yet somehow yearning for more? Longing for transformation?
Have you grown weary of the dominant, cultural form of Christianity, which seems to be more interested in elections than resurrection? (Come on! That'll preach)
Maybe it's time to surrender to those holy, audacious purposes that God longs for you to embrace. It might require something of you---maybe all of you---but it will be worth more than you can imagine.
May you let go of a religion that requires little, and offers nothing but more of the same. May you instead embrace a relationship that requires everything and offers eternal, abundant life both now and forever.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.