I came to a full stop a few weeks ago when it became apparent to me how dissatisfied, disappointed, and frustrated I’ve become during this season of my life. A bucket of cold water was suddenly thrown in the face of my stupor, and I awoke to the reality that signs of dysfunction dominate my attention.
Dysfunction is all I notice. An obsession, maybe. I’ve become (and have been for some time) an expert in deconstruction – a certified, professional critic of everything wrong with the religious, theological system around me. In a way, my body is primed – sensitized – to the slightest indication that something is wrong.
Over time, too, my environment has become a wasteland of inevitabilities. Of course people are confused; wasn’t it inevitable since we lack vision? Of course she ended up getting her feelings hurt; wasn’t it inevitable since we failed to provide proper counsel? Of course Mrs. Johnson is angry; wasn’t it inevitable since we aren’t careful about how we talk about sacraments?
Did you know that I have a better approach for everything? Better ideas. Better words. Better plans. I can show you if you’d like.
The irony is that it makes me miserable. I’m addicted to dysfunction, yet I desperately want to escape it. I am unable to sit in it without being in bondage to it. Although it doesn’t always happen consciously, I am choosing to embrace discontent. I need it, in fact. I feast on it but am never satisfied.
What I’m really struggling with is spiritual pornography*: fantasizing about something that God has not offered by ignoring what God has already offered as sufficient for abundant life. Paul’s announcement that we have already been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ” seems foreign to me. I simply don’t know this in my body.
In my body, all I know is scarcity. I believe deep down that there is not enough. I lack what I need to be okay. “If everyone just knew … if my supervisor would just listen … if I just had more time … more freedom … more people on board … if I just had more, then ….”
At base spiritual pornography says, “what God has made available to me is not enough for my well-being; I need more, something else.” Like other forms of lust, my mis-ordered desire incapacitates me from noticing the seams of God’s grace that run through the ordinary and mundane, and especially through the dysfunction that seems so grotesque.
Ingratitude is the appropriate word, I’m learning. If there is anything that consistently shows up under the category of “warning” in the Scriptures – any place where biblical authors are prone to making moralizing arguments – it’s in the realm of ingratitude. The Psalmist, Paul, John and the author of Hebrews, to be specific, picked up on the tendency of God’s people to grumble as a paradigmatic sign of their inability to trust God as God. “Don’t let your heart be calcified in ingratitude!” they exclaim (see Psalm 95, John 3 and 6, 1 Corinthians 10, and Hebrews 3-4).
Ingratitude is a failure to recognize who God is and who I am. God is life itself. In Christ, God offers himself, his life, as free gift. To be Christian, Barth said, is to be grateful. Gratitude recognizes that, if we are in Christ, there is no lack. There is enough. I am okay today because everything I need for flourishing is available to me in Christ – even amidst legitimate dysfunction and brokenness.
The point is not that dysfunction is a mirage. Rose-colored glasses won’t do. The point is how we’re learning to relate to dysfunction. When we believe there’s not enough, there will never be enough. People who run on lack – who feed on it daily – will never find fullness.
In this vein is where I’m also realizing that mission cannot and does not run on dysfunction. Mission runs on the reality that there is enough in Christ – the fullness of truly human flourishing. If we want to be witnesses to this fullness in Christ, then we must heal from our spiritual pornography. We must learn to see beyond dysfunction and embrace gratitude.
For some of us, it’s far too easy to be the “prophetic guy” – constantly lobbing criticism from a distance – stirring up others who are looking to commiserate and gather around discontent. It’s easy to allow our frustrations and disappointments to metabolize into ingratitude.
How much of what we do – what we say – is fueled by lack? Are we led along by a vision that is dominated by problems and dissatisfaction? Can we imagine going an entire day without actively or passively expressing our discontent or dissatisfaction? Are we afraid of letting it go – letting the dysfunction lie – even once? If yes, then let us beware!
I’m learning that it is a more difficult, but more fruitful, task to allow my frustration to be met with the fullness that is God’s grace – to be present amidst the dysfunction embracing grace and allowing frustration to metabolize into gratitude.
Allowing our frustrations to metabolize into gratitude isn’t something that happens accidentally or unintentionally. We have to practice this. We have to learn how to notice grace and make the choice to trust in it – to feast on it – as our daily bread.
Cultivating gratitude – practicing it – is a fundamental missional posture. As witnesses who embody the fullness of Christ, we go out with a new vision – the ability to “see” what others do not see – bringing the scandal of joy into a world of dysfunction.
Like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, we are those who, participating in the new creation, have the ability to see through the lens of where God is leading the world in Christ – to have our attention dominated by a vision for the reconciliation of all things in Christ.
What might change about what we said, how we said it, and how we inhabited our various contexts if we let go of our addiction to dysfunction and embraced gratitude?
* I picked up this term from Christine Pohl, Living into Community, 20-21. [Photo by Dmity Kichenko, CC via Flickr]