Part 1: Christian Enemies with Smiling Faces
1. Quick-Fix Faith
2. Feeling-Only Faith
3. One-Sided Faith
4. Spiritual Superiority
5. Depreciating the "Image of God"
Part 2: Worldly Enemies with Smiling Faces
8. Character without Design
9. Privatized Faith
Part 3: Learning to Relate to Enemies with Smiling Faces
10. Dealing with Diversity
11. Balancing Conviction and Compassion
12. Dignifying Cultural Differences
13. Global Citizenship
14. Global Engagement
Part 4: Strategies for Living Among the Enemies
15. Self Care: Nurturing a Mature Spine of Identity
16. Soul Care: Scripting My Story in God's Story
17. Outreach: Making Meaning of God's Gospel Story
18. Social Care: Pursuing God's Justice Story
A s we talked on the phone, I could feel the emotional weight my friend was carrying. Then came the lament of his soul: “Life is a pretty disappointing affair.”
Two tragic episodes had scarred my friend. In both instances, Christian people who on the surface deserved to be trusted had deceived and betrayed him. And though his faith and health are strong, and though he is vocationally competent and professionally successful, for Craig life is a crushing disappointment.
“So what’s the big deal?” some people will say. “Welcome to life. It sounds like Craig is better off than most of us. Life hurts some of the time. Tell him to stop moping and move on.”
Craig will move on. He’s strong enough to regroup and try again. But next time he will be more careful. He’s been damaged. He will be reticent in forming relational commitments. He’ll no longer be so ready to trust in the apparent integrity of others. The painful memories will never be completely erased.
Life is not what Craig expected it would be. The love of his life and a cherished friend had turned on him. Intimacy and trust and laughter and expectation collapsed on top of him. The same people who had given him the best moments of life now were inflicting deep torment.
They became his enemies with smiling faces.
All of us have been hurt by others. If we are honest with ourselves, we know we have also hurt others. Sometimes our words have been intended to cause harm. Other times, without our awareness, our actions have wounded people and afflicted them with sleepless nights.
Our experience with pain is not limited to human relationships. We are also familiar with spiritual pain. While we may have difficulty admitting it out loud, there have been times when we were disappointed with God. Most of us are careful not to blame God directly. Instead we harp on the shortcomings of the church, the inadequacies of the minister or the hypocrisy of Christians who claim more than they live. That is how some of us tend to express our disappointment with God. Others who are more self-blaming reason, “My disappointments reflect my spiritual incompleteness.”
Since I have known Luke, he has always been serious about his faith. In fact it is hard to think of him without immediately thinking of the Christ he knows and loves. That’s why I was so surprised at a recent casual meal we had together. Having just handed our menus back to our server, he blurted out, “Frankly, Don, I’m tired of covering up for God.”
Believing that friendship includes uncensored acceptance, I let my silence be the signal to tell me more. “I’m tired of claiming God answers my prayers. I’m fed up hiding my doubts in silence. I’m weary of pretending this faith stuff is as real as I’m told it must be. Frankly, I wonder if I’m being duped. But whether I am or not, one thing is certain—some of the pieces are not fitting together. Sometimes I feel so shallow I start thinking about giving it all up.”
When I did respond to Luke in words, there was no temptation to feel spiritually superior. Doubt has always been mixed with my faith in Christ. My years as a serious follower of Jesus have raised questions that continue to be unresolved. The interface between the theory of my faith and my behavior is still being examined. Sometimes my theory gets refined, while other times I must face the reality that some of my attitudes and behavior are simply sinful and unacceptable. Luke and I spent the rest of the evening probing each other’s inner sanctuary.
I didn’t understand everything that was going on that evening, but what Luke and I were trying to grapple with were some of the Christian enemies with smiling faces. His frustration with his faith and his anger toward God were rooted in well-intended assumptions about God and the gospel. But Luke’s version of the faith was incomplete. It wasn’t that it was totally wrong, but neither was it totally right. The church he was attending was not out to deceive him into believing he should always be able to discern how God answers prayer. His pastor never overtly taught, “Thou shalt always hide thy doubts.” Still, Luke’s faith community did nurture expectations and create fictitious images of reality that eventually turned on him. Too much of life was left unexamined. There was too much superficial goodness, too much rhetoric about victorious Christian living, too little honesty about the days and nights of real living.
People who live without regard for God live with vulnerabilities too. The world parades and preaches promises that form another ensemble of enemies with smiling faces. We live in times when it is easy to confuse dreams with reality. In the sober light of day we acknowledge that unending progress is in fact a myth. But technological advances, the dazzling allure of cyberspace, scientific breakthroughs and important medical findings all feed our expectations. We are affected. But when we are told that we can become whatever we want to be, that we can do all that we want to do, we are being set up for a tumble.
If we buy into the dream that first-class living is about having enough money to do whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want, with whomever we want, we will discover it is not enough. There is no virtue in lugging around the consequences of years of undisciplined eating. But although we feel better when we look better, losing weight does not transform us into new people. Success is a worthy aspiration, but we will pay too high a price if we end the day without self-respect. Sadly, life does not come stamped “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.”
Whether we live as Christians or people who have come to other conclusions about life, disappointment and dissatisfaction are not life’s only destinations. God is present in the world. God has allies that we often do not recognize. But still the world is a dangerous place. It is dangerous because it invites its inhabitants to specialize in self-construction. And in the end, self-construction is a seductive enemy with a smiling face.
I don’t believe there are easy answers to these harsh realities. But surely we can access a little more divine light for the rest of the journey. I continue to wonder: Why wasn’t Craig wiser or more protected so as to end up less damaged? And surely it wasn’t necessary for Luke to be so spiritually shattered, especially since he had such God-loving intentions.
Even though the world is a dangerous place, that’s where we spend most of our time. God must want us to be as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Surely the God of creation, the resurrected Jesus and the guiding Spirit can grant us the discernment we need to deal with enemies with smiling faces.
God has used the Prayer of St. Francis to help me not only deal constructively with my struggles but also gain insight into the aspirations and anxieties of others. Thus phrases adapted from “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace” introduce the four parts of this book. The array of enemies with smiling faces can be met with responses of prayer and invitation to live with new resolve, in the spirit of St. Francis:
Grant that I may seek not so much to believe as to discern.
Grant that I may seek not so much to be understood as to understand.
Grant that I may seek not so much to be right as to relate.
Grant that I may seek not so much to outwit as to outlove.