Thursday, January 04, 2018

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life

(Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting some material here from a new project I'm working on--a satirical self-help book, somewhat in the tradition of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, that offers insight and encouragement in the life of Christian holiness by having my fictional narrator, who wants to adhere to the most popular form of Christian practice, advise the opposite.)

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life


So you’re a Christian. You’ve started to experience the love, hope, peace, and joy that come with faith in Christ. What more could you ask for than the thirst-quenching, soul-satisfying river of life that flows from the cross and empty tomb?

But perhaps, on looking around at your fellow Christians, you begin to notice something else. Something you don’t have. You notice that a few of them, despite their inheritance of joy in the Lord, have somehow found ways to be cold, narrow, and strangely grumpy. At first, you write this off as an exception. But then you start to see a little bit deeper into the lives of your fellow believers. You’re shocked to find that even some of those who seem the happiest at church are deeply discontent the rest of the week. Many of them, in fact, are downright miserable.

The fact is, a great many Christians nowadays are choosing to be miserable. You can’t always see it on display on Sunday mornings (one of the primary rules of Christian misery, of course, is that it must be hidden from one’s brothers and sisters in Christ for as long as possible). But if you dig a little bit, just below the surface, you’ll find that it’s one of the most popular forms of Christian life out there right now. And if it’s popular, you should probably be doing it too. This book will teach you how to apply this wildly prevalent form of Christianity to your own life.

Watchman Nee once said that “the normal Christian life” (by which he meant the abundant life of total identification with Christ) is not the average Christian life. And he’s right: the kind of rampantly hope-ward life that seeks to find Christ’s joy in all things is not as common as you might think. In fact, it’s so uncommon as to be a little unseemly. Wholehearted fanaticism for anything, even Christ, is usually out of fashion. And if you’re like most of your contemporaries, then you don’t want to stand out from the crowd. Wouldn’t it be better to understand and practice the most popular form of Christianity out there, the kind that lets you look normal and stressed out, just like everyone else? Let the wisdom of the crowd guide you, and you too can find the deep, under-the-surface misery that so many are opting for nowadays.

You see, many Christians are choosing to follow Jesus by moderate half-measures instead of an all-out commitment. Instead of letting go of sinful habits and devoting themselves to the joy-making obedience of living as citizens of the Kingdom of God, they are choosing to keep their options open, trying to hold on to the best of both worlds. The reasons are obvious: if you can follow Jesus without having to give up your pleasant gluttonies and lusts, the many eye-catching diversions our culture has to offer, then you’ve got it all. The end result of this kind of lifestyle is what we’ll call “Christian misery.” It might sound bad at face value, but if you think about just how many Christians are choosing to live this way, I think you’d have to agree that there must be some magic to the misery. It’s clearly the most fashionable choice nowadays for how to live as a Christian.

But we need to make one thing clear: when we say “Christian misery,” we’re not talking about terrifying levels of sorrow or pain—such things would actually be more likely to motivate us toward distasteful levels of full-blown devotion to Christ. And we’re not talking about unchosen sorrows, like depression, illness, or the death of a loved one. Such things can be deep wells of heartache and pain, but they do not necessarily keep one from experiencing the depth and power of Christ’s joy in our hearts. No, we’re talking about the miseries that we actively choose to bring upon ourselves by keeping God’s call on our lives a marginal concern.

This is the kind of misery that’s so popular nowadays: the low-level angst and discontentment that becomes the pattern of everyday life. It is the hidden but irksome melancholy of a heart that tries to claim the benefits of the abundant life without giving itself over to the source of that abundance.

We Christians who aim for the fashionable misery of a halfhearted faith are in the difficult position of having to deal with God in the same way that we would deal with a marketing company. Imagine that the company had promised you a prize, but when you go to claim the prize, you find that they want you to sign over your whole life, give up all your information, and enroll in their particular program. Annoying, right? We should be able to have the abundant life without living abundantly Godward lives. So we stand up for our right to live the way we want to, and if that means that we end up being miserable, well that’s what we wanted anyway. It’s what everyone is doing.

And, as we all know very well in our enlightened age, the popular lifestyle must necessarily be preferred. Halfhearted Christian misery has more adherents than any other denomination, movement, or practice within the entire Christian landscape today. So if such a large swath of Christians are choosing spiritual misery as part of the experience of their faith, you certainly don’t want to be left behind.

But how do you do it? How does one attain to these widely popular levels of misery?

The answer is surprising: it’s not nearly as hard as you might think. A lot of people are fooled into thinking that it’s difficult to be miserable as a Christian, what with all the hope and joy and whatnot. But the truth is, it’s actually pretty simple. All you have to do is follow a handful of very basic principles, and apply them to your daily life. There are even multiple different avenues for becoming miserable in your Christian life. Halfhearted Christians have come up with hundreds of successful tricks to distract themselves from full-blown devotion and to limit their chance of growing into stable, deep-running, persevering joy. So if you want misery, the possibilities are limitless.

In this book, we’ll explore some of the most popular forms of Christian misery. Many readers of this book will probably find that they are already practicing some of these methods. They are so common that there is seldom a Christian who has never tried at least a few of them. And if that’s you, you’ll find out how to maximize your misery to an even greater extent.

Your humble author, your guide along the way, has practiced many of these forms of misery during his life, and can testify to their efficacy. All you have to do is try them out, find your way to your own miserable lifestyle—the one that fits you perfectly—and you’ll be part of the fashionable majority of halfhearted Christians.