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Never, Lord!

We had the most wonderful weekend up in Durham, NC for Ellie’s first grade teacher’s wedding. The hotel was more than lovely, and I seriously considered the fact that the children’s book character “Eloise” might be on to something taking permanent residence in such a place. As I was jogging the three mile loop through the Duke forest, feeling the restfulness of the weekend and processing the contrast of what feels like two different worlds in which I now live, I passed a man wearing this on the back of his t-shirt:

“Winning is everything – if you want to be elite”.

Oddly, that captured well part of what I have been struggling with in this move and the subsequent choices it is compelling our family to make. Since birth, I have been driven to win. I didn’t want to just play soccer, I wanted to be the first female Pele in the sport. (A knee injury interrupted those plans.) I didn’t want to practice piano, I wanted to be an immediate concert hall sensation…so I gave it up quickly when that evidently wasn’t going to happen. In elementary school, I felt the pressure to do well on math quizzes so that I could get the grades needed to get into the “best” prep school to get into the best college to get the best job…and so on.

While that may sound too obviously superficial and silly, there was always the goal in each endeavor to maximize my personal potential and achieve the most possible with the talents, abilities and opportunities I had been given. This of course required hard work, connecting with lots of people in the areas that could strengthen my skills and increase my opportunities and so on. It also required seasons of really examining what are my gifts and talents, what color is my parachute anyway and what are my aptitudes, work environment preferences and ultimate dreams for my life. Lurking in all of this, even if not as arrogant as a basketball t-shirt is allowed to be, is certainly the desire to win the most elite positions of influence, authority and in a non-sinister and very practical way, power.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Matt. 16:21-27

The idea of knowingly suffering, of walking right into it rather than avoiding it at all costs, is as foreign to me today as it was to Peter then. And Jesus reminds me as He did Peter, in those moments, that I do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. Interestingly, God’s concerns included the redemption of humankind, something far better than life in a luxurious hotel.

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. Matt. 4:2-11

Jesus was hungry. Bread would have been really yummy. When I have passed more than three hours between meals, I might take the tempter up on the offer. My discomfort is just that powerful. Hunger is wrong. Thirst means my body is in need. Sadness indicates something is broken. Pain is an indicator which demands a response. Losing is bad. An inferior wine is to be returned to the bar for a better bottle, an inferior product of any kind is to be returned for one that works. If you have the money and the knowledge to get the better product, get the better product. If you have the connections to get the better job, get the better job! If you have the ability to get into the better school, go to the better school! “Never settle for second best!” Is it any wonder that Peter didn’t get it?

I have so bought into the American dream that each step I take away from it feels like educational, social and future suicide. I do not have in mind the concerns of God. He does not need for me to be elite by being the winner of the most and the best, because He already is.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,

the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

But each in turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

1 Cor. 15:17-23

If this life is all I have, then it makes a lot of sense to grab what I can, die with the most stuff and biggest name, and make winning everything. But if, like Jesus, I am invited into the concerns of God for His entire people and creation and out of a singular focus on my own concerns, maybe walking away from “the best” for myself and my children and entering into messy, complicated and often losing circumstances is where I get to see Jesus most clearly.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luke 24:25-26

I want to skip the suffering and enter straight into His glory. He invites me into something so much better, richer and more brimming with life. As I reluctantly agree to carry my cross, to be crucified with Christ, it is then I begin to experience what His resurrection really promises and offers. And like Peter, time and time again, He restores me from my “never” and helps me to see, where else would I go but to and with the One who has the words of life?

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