The other day I was getting caught up with a friend who works in as aspect of the business world where he regularly interfaces with super wealthy people. Earlier that week, he’d been working with a guy who owned 22 different residences and vacation homes (all for his own use, that is), along with the “well, of course” private jet and luxury yacht.
After I got off the phone, my mind wandered for a bit. It wasn’t merely the predictable daydream of my money-ship coming into port, or of owning 22 personal residences, or having cash flowing out of my pockets. Since that daydream is absolutely, inarguably, most assuredly fiction, my daydream was more dangerous in its seduction.
The most dangerous seductions are always those within reach.
If I (happily married chap that I am) notice I have an attraction to a movie star I’ll never, ever meet; well, let’s just admit the inherent risk is low. But if I notice an attraction to my wife’s friend who seems to be flirting with me; yeah, that’s risky.
It’s the plausibility that greases the skids of destruction.
That daydream, then, was not risky because I might become obsessed with materialism (I don’t think that’s my current risk) or suddenly wealthy and not able to keep my priorities straight (the sudden wealth just ain’t gonna happen). The risk, instead, is the seduction of things being easy.
I remember a pastor I worked with complaining once that we’d been working so hard, for so long, to paddle into a wave (I live in California, and surfing metaphors are common!); and he felt we deserved to catch a wave and ride.
Ease in ministry means: the money pours in, the people flock to services and programs at inexplicable growth rates, the internal culture flows and everyone performs like a Formula One pit crew. It might even mean that other ministries start to look at the ease with which we do everything and think, “We need to be more like them!”
But all too often, ministry is not easy. Ease is elusive. In the surfing metaphor, the wave moves past us just before we get to our feet on the board.
So we paddle harder and harder, faster and faster. But it’s still difficult. And the moments when things seem to be getting easier are fleeting, appearing more as mirages than reality.
The aspect of ease that calls to me is sort of “no duh”: it seems like it would be easy. I like coasting. I might even think I deserve that sort of blessing (I mean, come on, I do a lot for God, after all).
No, I’m not being dreary – let me clarify. There’s a tension in this seduction. I long for ease – in ministry, in life, in pretty much everything – but know I’ve never experienced it as a place of great growth and transformation. Maybe that’s just me – maybe all of this is merely my junk, my dysfunction. But I don’t think so.
As someone who trades, professionally, in spiritual growth (wouldn’t that be cool on a business card?), I’ve seen my share of both what defines “the good life” and what leads one in that direction. The former is all about ongoing growth and newness, and has very little to do with wealth or ease of any sort. The latter – the road to the good life – is a road of challenge, disruption, striving, and stretching.
In other words (and this is, I suppose, the point of this meandering rumination), ease is the enemy of growth. And I think I’d prefer growth and struggle over ease and stagnation. In fact, I’m way more alive when I’m being challenged.
In my ministry context: gliding forward on a blessings hovercraft sounds pretty darn sexy. But – at last for me – I don’t think it’ll give me what I ultimately desire. It would only be a detour, a holding pattern of inactivity.
So, bring on the challenge, baby. You can keep your 22 personal residences and your life of ease. I want growth – so I choose a life of challenge.