My friend Alan Hirsch was recently talking about growing up. He described his 50’s as “living in his own skin,” compared to the angst of his 20’s and 30’s which included much wrestling, struggling, trying to fit pieces of the puzzle together that don’t seem to connect. This trajectory toward peace sounds like a balm. There is something beautiful about getting older, settling in, becoming softer, less abrasive, less tortured.
I am somewhere between these seasons. I am on the front edge of a generation that deconstructs, turning new soil for the gospel in an increasingly post-Christian society. We assess the exodus as worthy of urgent attention, so we beat our drums and wave our arms and question the establishment. Much of the young generation emerged from organized religion with numerous wounds, and the healing process occupies the enormous brunt of our narrative.
Sometimes I reach cynical saturation. Sometimes I just cannot handle another lengthy dissertation on our hurt feelings. Sometimes I worry that our journey toward the kingdom takes on a disproportionate level of narcissism. Jesus the One and Only can very much get lost in the story of our personal angst, the latter usurping the former. Because while we may disagree vehemently on methods or doctrine, we can surely agree that we serve a you-first, me-last Savior. That is not even a gray area.
Yesterday, my girlfriend sent me a screenshot of a selfie collage posted by a grown man she knows. In every picture, he was looking pensively off in the distance while his less-tortured arm and hand took a picture of his deepness. This person is in his 30’s. This is not okay.
This display of self-importance wears a bit thin, and it goes to my concern with my generation regarding our spiritual journeys:
I wonder if we need fewer spiritually tormented selfies in the world?
Don’t imagine I’m pointing a finger; I’m first in line here. I constantly struggle to balance prophecy and humility, truth and grace. I could link you to multiple blogs of mine in which I am indicted by the previous paragraph. I have cleaned up my own relational messes as recently as last week. Where is the Servant Jesus in all that? you would ask. I don’t really know, but notice how pissed I am and how the church jacked me up and also notice the numerous things about me. My personal things. Because I have Big Feelings that should be noticed.
Last Sunday, my husband Brandon preached on the believer’s freedom in 1 Corinthians 10: 23-33. It is extremely beautiful theology, which underscores God’s bent toward freedom but our responsibility to steward our liberties carefully. The entire passage boils down to a simple habit:
I should prefer your history, your convictions, your predilections, your station. Assessing my words and actions through the grid of your conscience is the substance of Paul’s instruction. How will this sound to you? How will this make you feel? How will this affect you? How can there be less of me and more of you in this interaction?
This position is the height of Christian maturity.
The beauty of this theology is that it works in all circumstances. Sometimes, we prefer the conscience of a fellow believer, even if, for a thousand different factors, he doesn’t share our freedoms. This means we consider the weight of our words when we cast stones at Christians who’ve built before us, who build differently than us. We discern the cost of our stories, preferring to honor rather than always dismantle. There is a way to tell our truth without inflicting permanent collateral damage.
“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God…” (vs. 32)
Sometimes this means preferring the conscience of the unbeliever, respecting her baggage or fears, not projecting our convictions or weirding out the conversation. It means making space for different worldviews in the relationship, creating a safe place to belong over a place to be right. People were drawn to Jesus’ grace long before they understood his divinity.
“For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (vs. 33)
Preferring one another is truly the highest way to live, not just for the health of community but for ourselves. Honestly, it is exhausting maintaining the dissenting view all the time. The anguish gets old. There is actually more pressing kingdom work to engage than kicking everyone else’s tail constantly. Let the teenagers duke it out in the parking lot behind the Sac ‘N Pac in the glow of their headlights; they’ll settle down in a few years. How about the grownups sit on the porch together and pour some sweet tea? We’re old enough to know no one actually wins those fights.
Obviously, preferring others doesn’t apply to the context of abuse or terror, exploitation or harm. Scripture isn’t a template for victimization. That is a separate conversation entirely. But within ordinary relationships among Christians and atheists and agnostics and Old-Schoolers and Young Bucks and different denominations and cultures, preferring one another could quite literally change the world.
What would it look like to prefer your nemesis? Would it mean laying down a few barbs and finding a shred of common ground to capitalize on? What about preferring someone who doesn’t share your convictions? If being right took a back seat, would it change the way you communicated? If we preferred our spouses, marriages would leap back to life. If we preferred others, churches would regain their prophetic voices. Preferring one another is the first spiritual pavestone toward healing and mending, releasing and empowering, connecting and loving. It is the way Jesus came and the substance by which we are saved.
We can dismantle one another with precision, particularly behind the protective covering of the internet, but when all the dust settles, we’re left with carnage, and that is not a legacy worthy of a Savior who washed the filthy feet of his betrayer. May we be creators, not just critics, preferring building over deconstructing – building up people, communities, the church of God.
I’ll prefer you, and you prefer me, and everyone wins.