Don’t Ever Say These Three Words.

You. Just. Wait.

There you have it. If you stop reading now, you will have done yourself and the world an enormous favor.

Maybe you, like me, can quickly recall the last time someone said those words to you. I have heard that phrase so many times in my thirty years of life.

I still remember telling a guy who has no kids that it’s incredibly challenging to raise our son [now sons, and it hasn’t gotten easier!]. He was like, “you just wait until they’re in high school! It’s easy right now!” I was like…

squinty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’ve written on ageism in the past, a really important topic for me; feel free to check out this post from a few months ago.

But today I’d like to zero in on general condescension, a close cousin to ageism, maybe more like an uncle or something. When we condescend, we project a smooth disdain for others, making ourselves appear superior, often stemming from a harsh criticism of their failures or mistakes.

Years ago my mother taught me that I had to laugh at ourselves, we can make others laugh. That said, when I freely admit my own foibles, I free myself from the fear of condescension. Conversely, when we condescend, we create needless enemies and mindlessly look past our own faults.

The account we have in Christian Scripture is suffuse with examples of people making foolish mistakes. A cursory peek reveals Abraham lying about his wife to Egyptians, telling them she is his sister; Moses disobeying God by striking a rock instead of speaking to it; David committing adultery then murder after desiring Bathsheba; Peter disowning the Jesus he had come to know so well-and right after promising to always follow, no matter the cost.

Indeed, if the measure of faithful Christian living is never making mistakes, then apart from Jesus himself, no biblical character holds up.

When we say, “you just wait,” what we really mean is, “it might be going well right now, but in my experience things will not always be like they are now.” And when is that not true? This is a throwaway three-word phrase that helps no one while also making others feel like they were born yesterday.

It’s spoken to kids after they come to a joyous though childlike conclusion [I’m always going to do my best!].

It’s spoken to young married couples [you just wait until your partner does x/y/z!].

It’s spoken to new parents when they celebrate how their child is cooperating [you just wait until they’re rebelling in high school!].

It’s spoken to kids as their parents get scared they will make mistakes [you just wait-life will throw you around, and won’t always be there to pick up the pieces!].

It’s spoken to middle-aged people as they enjoy physical health [you just wait until you age catches up with you!].

It’s spoken to every demographic and at every life stage.

This phrase is toxic!

Consider this. A 70 year old man in average health says to a 5 year old girl, “you’re complaining about some aches and pains now? You just wait, your age will catch up with you!” Now let’s say the the next day the girl goes with her parents to the doctor and discovers she has an advanced stage cancer, and her pain has a cause far beyond the scope of the 70 year old’s experience.

Hopefully you see in this unusual example the vastness of room that exists for the condescending person to find themselves not only wrong for condescending, but also wrong outright in their perception. In this case, the 70 year old man was wrong both for telling her to “just wait,” but also wrong about his perception of her pain. It was greater than any pain he had experienced.

We all fail in our various ways, we all fail to see what is ahead, and we all at times fail to realize that when we celebrate a daily victory, something troubling may be looming in the future. And so often, we project our experiences on others, presuming they will live into exactly the same experiences we have had, encountering the same difficulties.

And one of the central problems here is that by saying, “you just wait,” what we are really saying is this:

“I want to bring you down to my level.” 

Consider how, when the devil tempted Jesus, he so deeply desired to access his humanity-but did so by trying to subvert his divinity? He tries to access Jesus’s divinity first by asking him to turn stones into bread. He’s thinking, “you just wait Jesus, you think it’s rough now-just wait until you’re really struggling!”

Next, the devil tests Jesus’s ability to overcome nature by asking him to throw himself off a tall cliff. It’s like he’s thinking, “you just wait until people don’t believe you’re really God’s Son!

Finally, he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus worships him only. Maybe he’s thinking, “you just wait, Jesus, I’ll bet your plan to lead people falls apart; I’ll bet they turn on you! Why not just take this little offer? it’s so easy!” Turns out people did, in fact, turn on Jesus-and we don’t know whether or not he knew that was going to happen. It’s complicated being God and a man, depending on the Spirit for communion with the Father.

The devil is clearly looking to bring Jesus, who the Father, through the Holy Spirit, was still shaping Jesus into the divine yet human Son he was always meant to be, down to his level. He’s saying, “You just wait. Things will get nasty, Jesus, so why not listen to me and wise up a little?”

Friends, I contend that condescending to our fellow person by telling them that they should “just wait” places us in a place of pride. It’s a pride that tries to mask itself as humility [I’m just trying to help this young person see what’s ahead! I’m just speaking as someone who has seen a lot, and I’m trying to warn them!].

Now, an alternative. 

Writing as a 30 year old, I get that this little post can easily be cast off as the nonsense of someone who has no life experience. Yeah, I guess I’ve only seen what I’ve seen, and I can’t fast forward the years. But I can humbly submit another way to see things.

I wonder if, as opposed to saying “you just wait,” we could get more creative. What if we tried something along the lines of, “so I know it might just be my experience, but sometimes [insert your wisdom here] happens. Who knows if it’ll work this way for you, but that was what I experienced.”

I wonder if we could trade condescension in for humility, actually admitting our failures and mistakes as we gently offer a new insight to a fellow person. To a college student stoked about her new freedom though possibly unaware of the financial challenges: “yeah, I can tell you’re excited about college. It’s a pretty awesome experience! And yet, for me, it also had its share of difficulty, especially when it came to money! I felt like I never had any! What’s your thought on the job scenario for your time at university?”

Ok, my examples are probably not winning literary prizes anytime soon. And sure, I’ll bet we could probably find a case where “you just wait” might somehow be helpful to someone out there.

But we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about that.

It’s a lot of needless work, and it may be more helpful to invest our time into the creativity that leads us to helpfully speak into the lives of others instead of alienating them with those three unhelpful words.

Or, keep doing it. See what happens.

You. Just. Wait.

***

 

I Lost My Job [But Not My Calling]

A number of months ago, I reflected on the intricate steps that led to my family’s first cross-country move. At that time, I was incredibly thankful, encouraged that while I had connected with a strong, mission-oriented church in San Francisco, Kaile was accepted at a very selective master’s program in clinical counseling. She would study and learn, I would lead and shepherd students, and we would together collaborate in raising our two tiny boys, Silas and Maelin. For a year, this is exactly what we did. We slowly learned about our new child, our new church, our new community, our new city; and having just passed our one-year anniversary of living in San Francisco [April 23rd], we both celebrate God’s goodness and God’s presence with us at every step of the journey. 

On Monday, May 8th, I learned that my job will not continue into the Fall. I am laid off. It was hard news, overwhelming news, news that I will surely still be processing for months to come. City Church is restructuring its staff roles, and after some serious discernment, my former pastoral role is becoming a part-time position. With the expenses of a family living in a major urban center, a part-time position simply doesn’t provide enough income to exist-or subsist.    

As I sat face-to-face hearing the bad news from Fred Harrell, the pastor who planted City Church in 1997 and who presently guides the community as its senior leader, I was shocked. But it wasn’t the news about my role as a youth pastor that shocked me, as difficult as this was to hear. Instead, I was shocked-surprised and taken in with a deep sense of peace that permeated my soul, my mind, even my body. The conversation was tangibly gracious; my heart rate was no quicker; my palms were dry; my words were slow and measured-and equally gracious as Fred’s, I hope. 

During our conversation, this moment that neither of us discovered to be easy or natural, I was pervaded by the same sense of peace that I sensed God giving me on October 15th, 2015 [read that story here if you haven’t]. Then, it was a 3am divine intervention, a wakeup call from God that quelled my burning anxieties that stemmed from facing an unknown future. This past Monday, it was a morning conversation with a trusted leader and coworker which featured some very tough news. But the same peace pervaded me, a peace that comes from God’s Spirit. I even mentioned this peace to Fred. I told him I was surprised by it, perplexed but thankful for the sense of centeredness that I was experiencing. 

Going forward, the same realities exist: when severance pay ends, I need new employment, and I don’t want to just do the next thing in front of me, to simply find something that works. Instead, I want to serve God using the very best of my abilities. During the challenge of transition, we need stability and support, and as we look forward, we require equal parts wisdom, courage, and perseverance. I’ve never been let go from a job before, and it’s a new feeling. Though my situation stemmed from budget changes and restructuring, it’s still difficult for me to sit with the reality of the leadership’s conclusion. 

IMG_2785

Sunday night I drove with my family to the home where our community group meets. After only a few minutes, the conversation turned to our situation. One of our church’s leaders was there, and she was closely involved with the difficult decisions that City Church has been forced to make over the past few months. Listening happened that night, and some really honest sharing of our burden. Hard as it is, I was reminded that evening how everyone in our group has challenges. One family is looking for more stable employment; another has a child with very pressing medical needs; yet another is recognizing the nuances of parenting are more difficult than they had imagined.

During our time with our community group, reflected on Psalm 31, especially the first five verses:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. 

After reflecting on this Scripture, our group prayed for us. Hands were laid on; the scene reminded me of what I picture of the early church’s meetings in Asia minor. These people know us, at least as much as they are able to know us, and they are praying for us still.

All of this reminds me of how God has always been faithful to us, and we trust that this will continue to be the case as we plunge into whatever is next for our family and our livelihood. I say this to be true not as one who has found a new and meaningful job, as one a weary traveler wading through the muddy waters of unknowing.

During our transition, the same challenges that existed for us before the loss of my job continue in the present. Our two tiny boys are as energetic as ever, with just as many needs. They are sensing our stress, and we can see how it is affecting them. It hurts Kaile and me to know that the stresses that we are doing our best to hide from Maelin and Silas are having their effects on our infant and toddler.

Through these challenges, we are leaning into God’s direction for our life journey together. My days have turned to searching for employment, awaiting answers to email inquiries, and grooming my LinkedIn profile. Instead of commuting on my bike to an office, I work from my home office, investing the time I used to spend fostering direction for a ministry into something new: seeking a new place to serve. Since we have grown so deeply attached to our church community, this is especially difficult; it is not only my place of employment, it’s our people

As we walk on, our prayers are just as much with City Church as we perceive their prayers are with us. I lost my job, not my long-term call to pastoral ministry. And now, the elders and pastors are doing their very best to continue in the mission they sense God has directed them into, and I respect them immensely, even though things didn’t go my way. If I could resume my former work, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And yet, this is not how the story is unfolding, and it is time to allow space for the community to proceed in the next chapter.

When it’s hard and when it’s easy, we are resolved to take refuge in God, just like the Psalm says.

After all, we’ve been here all along. 

***

American Christians vs. Christian Americans

A number of years ago, I was chatting with a friend about the military. Even then, I was a pacifist, but I still admitted that if I were forced to enlist via a hypothetical draft, I’d comply. I’ve become even more of a pacifist since then, but I’ve been mulling over what it means to be an American Christian.

There’s a wide chasm, I think, between American Christians and Christian Americans. Recently someone I follow on Twitter compared the “America First” brand of American Nationalism to an alternative kind of worship, an alternative to the worship of Yahweh, the God who we know best through the Son, Jesus.

There are Americans who baptize their unwavering nationalism with Christianity, seeing at as a means to support American ideals. Conversely, there are Christians like me who try to somehow make sense of their nation-state in regards to their faith. I realize this is a gross oversimplification of the matter, but it’s a starting place nonetheless.

With the premise that every nation-state is merely a construct, an invention, and that the red/white/blue flag represents a narrative that means very different things to different people groups-allow me to attempt to navigate the intricate link between Christian faith and identity and one’s sense of place within the world as it is currently divided into continents, countries, and districts.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 12.23.43 PM

I remember one Thanksgiving when we went around the table, naming one thing for which we’re thankful. Various siblings, aunts, and uncles, named things like freedom, enough food, a solid job, education.

When it got around to my  grandmother, her answer came without pause: “I’m thankful to be an American.”

I was not yet twenty at the time. Now I’m 30. And yet, as I relive the moment, her words strike me in a very similar way. How many people sacrificed for her to be able to be thankful to be an American?

Native Americans immediately think about a long history of displacement.

African Americans may think about slavery and the civil rights era, and maybe about police violence toward young black men, or about the centuries of marginalization that underlines their American experience.

Japanese Americans might think about the not-so-distant American internment camps where Japanese families were sent during WWII.

Mexican Americans may think about the 8 US states that were formerly territories of Mexico, then again about the irony of “crossing the border” to get “into” the United States. I’m typing this article in formerly Mexican land.

European Americans‘ thoughts might drift naturally and ethnocentrically toward Washington, Jefferson, JFK, Lincoln, or other celebrated American leaders who happen to be white.

Any one of these people groups could recall family members who served in the military at any stage of American history. This applies to my own family, and I’m thankful for the sacrifices both my grandfathers made to serve during WWII-an important war even from the vantage point of my pacifist sensibilities. But that is only one dimension of the multitudinous sacrifices made by numerous ethnic groups.

If we’re really honest, we might all be just a teensy bit ethnocentric-and that can be just fine or it can really fog our vision. But my point in bringing up the various ways various ethnic subgroups might understand American history is simply to note how much has happened in this swath of land over the millennia.

So many people have lost their rights, their dignity, their lives in the long journey toward America becoming the nation it is today. So many have gained unfathomable riches from the systems that exist in our nation-state. And yes, of course, the United States has participated in some very good things too-of this there is no doubt at all.

In full disclosure, I benefit greatly at a personal level from the personal and systemic losses of many other people groups. I benefit from the gains too. But at this point, I’m trying to figure out how to be thankful for what I have inherited while rejecting oversimplification and glamorization of the American story.

It’s in only seeing one side of the American story that we become complacent, self-righteous, and unhelpfully angry.

Now, I want to attempt to make a connection. How does allegiance not to country but to Jesus calls us out of this slough of ethnocentrism and national identity? How do we quell the tandem voices of racism and xenophobia? How can live and participate in the world’s unfolding narrative as Americans even as we’re confronted with the bloodshed that laces our history?

I believe transformation comes when we hear our deepest identity: we are sons and daughters of God [Galatians 3:26], made in God’s image [Genesis 1:26-28], sisters and brothers with Jesus himself [Hebrews 2:11]. More than Americans, more than members of a particular demographic, more than members of a particular orientation, we are united in Jesus. 

Whether or not we believe this matters, I think. It’s too easy to get swept up into the push and pull of nationalist political rhetoric if we lack a deeper spiritual foundation. We Christians believe God has extended us a massive amount of grace and that Jesus has paid an extremely high cost-his life-to conquer death, create reconciliation between God and humanity, and atone for sin.

If we genuinely believe God is at work in the world, and that God invites us to partner with him in renewing the earth, matters of American identity quickly fade in terms of importance.

This isn’t to say our national stories are unimportant or trivial. There are very meaningful narratives that can give Americans a sense of togetherness and build bridges of solidarity.

Just a couple weeks ago I was at the DeYoung museum here in San Francisco. On the second floor, there is a room filled with American art. One piece is especially moving to me. It features John Brown, a radical abolitionist who was on his way to execution for leading a slave rebellion, kissing a child, presumably his own.

That day a couple, presumably from another country [they were not speaking English], were observing the piece. I certainly could be wrong in my language-based assessment. Ostensibly, they misunderstood the gravity of the painting, for they proceeded to take smiling pictures in front of it. As they continued taking smiling pictures, the woman backed right into the painting, her hair and shoulders brushing up against it, moving its frame against the museum wall.

Soon, the museum security was on the scene, firmly admonishing her to maintain at least 24 inches between herself and the art.

Of course they gently complied.

The feeling within me as I observed was a mixture of incredulity and frustration. It seems that a middle-aged couple would know typical rules for an art museum. Much more, taking these kinds of pictures in front of a painting that features an execution is simply disrespectful. And the content of the painting made the picture-taking even more unnecessary.

All of that aside, the narrative of John Brown reminds us Americans of the suffering endured by generations of African American slaves. Yes, John Brown was violent, and we can sit comfortably and have a conversation about how he could have responded, but history is history and this is the desperation Brown felt. Some vilify him as an unthinking terrorist; some consider him a hero and martyr. But regardless, he is an important character in the drama of our nation-state.

In that moment, I felt very American. But I didn’t sense that American sentiment because I’m adoring the image of a country that stands as a shining beacon of hope for the rest of the world to see. I felt American because I have a unique personal connection to the people, places, and experiences of this country; I have lived here, loved here, and am raising my family here. And I don’t think I should be faulted for appreciated the country that has shaped me so deeply.

It’s romantic, this grouping of mountains, rivers, plains, fields, and deserts! The contours of my childhood included the vast forests, fields, and rivers of Northwest Michigan. I remember family trips to Colorado, Washington, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas. I dated an African American for a couple years and felt the tangible difficulty of the American story as our relationship eventually faltered. I live in an area now where one can procure food from just about any remote corner of the world including Eritrea [and there are numerous Eritrean restaurants, not just one!]. This reminds all of us that America can indeed support and include people groups that differ from the earliest European settlers that have culturally and governmentally stayed in power.

As the current political season wanes on, as we do our best to shape our country into the kind of place we think it should be, I pray we remember our long and violent history. And there is no need to compare America’s violent history to other nations, this is unhelpful. Looking past our nation’s many sins can quickly lead us to an unchecked and one-dimensional nationalism that turns us into automatons who worship at the feet of the leader with the most braggadocio. Focusing too much on America’s many problems, on the other hand, can overwhelm us and turn us into self-righteous sidewalk prophets with no sense of gratitude for the good that is, by default, mixed with the bad.

It’s better to know the American stories of heartache and loss, of overcoming and transforming, commending them to honest, realistic memory while searching for true and lasting hope from our Lord, Savior, Brother, and Teacher: Jesus.