I remember when my brother and I discovered Easy Cheese. It was on a family trip to Disneyland and my frugal parents decided to drive all the way there in our crimson Astro van. Around noon, after we were saturated with Kirby’s Dreamland and Tetris on our Gameboys, my mother pulled out the red snack cooler. It was the Arc of the Proverbial Snack Covenant and in it was the Holy Grail of our childhood. My dear mother brought forth the elements: individual cans of “Cheddar ‘n Bacon” Easy Cheese and Chicken in a Biskit crackers--arguably, America’s favorite snack.
Our hearts leapt for joy for we had only heard of this snack in commercials. We dreamed of being able to spray the yellow streams of delight directly into our mouths and now was our day. For a shining moment in time, my brother and I shared his bench seat in the back for one time and one time only on our trip to Anaheim, California. Upon the curiously chicken-flavored “biskits” we made--slowly and with great care--smiley faces. Smily faces with eyebrows. Smiley faces with crazy hair. Smily faces with no hair. Smily faces with glasses. A Mickey Mouse smiley face. There was no end to the smiley faces we could create, admire, and devour.
My brother and I have always been good savers when it comes to things we really enjoy. So, we left a half-box of “biskits” and some squirts of bacon-flavored cheese product in the can for later. I went back to my bench seat in the middle and he returned to lounging in the seat behind me. We drifted in an out of dreams and through small, dusty towns until once more, the crackers and squeezable cheese beckoned.
I remember looking at the bottle of cheese and the crackers and feeling so conflicted. My mind was telling me to dive in, but my stomach was telling me seasoned crackers and ribbons of orange “cheese” were going to be problematic shortly. This was right about the time my dad pulled over near a gas station and told us to make sure all the windows were shut. At the very moment the Holy Snack Elements began to betray me, we were enveloped by a Saharan-sized sandstorm.
I didn’t have time to react in awe at this amazing event unfolding around me. I had to run 100 yards to that gas station and pray that they let me in while sand swirled around me. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, upon my successful return to the Crimson Chariot, I didn’t finish that bottle of Easy Cheese and haven’t touched the stuff since.
Why am I telling this story? Lately I have been thinking about doing difficult things. Maybe you are like me and you tend toward looking for an easy way out of situations. Take dieting for example. I am on a diet where I have basically decided to just eat healthy and exercise like you’re supposed to. Eating healthy is easy. I enjoy it and it makes me feel better immediately. Exercising is hard for me. I can’t seem to find the time or the exercise I like doing. I begin some crazy dance-aerobics group and soon find myself looking for excuses to not go and this usually happens about three classes in. It’s also difficult to prioritize yourself when you are a mom. Moms, do you ever think back on your day with a child and realize that you clothed, bathed, wiped, comforted, and fed that child but haven’t done a single one of those things for yourself? Or maybe you are like me and you work full-time so being away at the gym for an hour seems like torture when all you want to do is spend every millisecond with your child. In any case, it’s hard making decisions to do things that are difficult because it would be nice to have a little bit of easy every once in a while.
We live in a time where convenience is a commodity. If we can simplify, it feels like we are adding minutes to our lives when in reality, we are robbing ourselves of what’s good. I’m not talking about TV dinners and machines you hook up to your abdomen to give you a six-pack while you watch reruns of “Seinfeld.” I’m talking about making a decision to do difficult things because we know that in the end that’s what is good for us. It seems simple and we hear it all the time, but how many of us really do that?
Two stories come to mind when I think about doing difficult things. The first, is a parable Jesus told about two roads. He basically says that there is one wide road, and everybody on it is eating TV dinners and using ab-machines while watching reruns of Seinfeld. There are tons of people crowding it and more coming in droves. Then there is the narrow road and not a lot of people take this road because you actually have to do work on it. You will have to sacrifice a lot. You will probably sweat. And there are definitely no TV dinners included. But in the end it’s the wide road, the easy road, that leads nowhere. It leads to destruction. To carry out the metaphor, it leads to beer-bellies and your cable being cut-off. The narrow road leads to nothing but good things. It leads to life and that’s the one we all have a hard time taking because getting there isn’t easy, but Jesus promises that there is a great reward for those who take it.
So, what? Great, Katy I totally get it, like I always do every time I hear this sermon preached. Thanks for telling one more boring story about Easy Cheese to illustrate the same point.
I’m not finished.
The other story that comes to mind is when Jesus knows that he is about ready to be brutally killed. He asks his Father if it’s at all possible that he take the easy way out of this horrible situation. It seems reasonable, right? I would do the very same thing. But Jesus knew the will of his Father and he took the hard road because he knew the reward would be great not only for himself, but also for us.
Jesus died to take away the sin of the easy road. He knew that we would always want to choose it, so he made the decision to take the hard road for us. When Jesus asked God if he could take the easy road, he not only knew the will of his Father, but also knew his heart. He knew, like the prophet Jeremiah said, God had only good plans for him. He didn’t have plans to harm him, but plans to give Jesus--and us--a hope and a future. Jesus took the hard road for us because he trusted that there were good things to come.
Why have I been thinking about this lately? JJ and I are in the process of a huge decision for our lives. We are planning on moving to West Central Spokane (a place people call “Felony Flats”) this summer which is a scary prospect for me. I love our neighbors and this little house. I’m four minutes from my job and I know where to find everything at the Safeway down the street. I fee comfortable jogging in my neighborhood. Ok, I don’t jog, but if I did, I would feel safe doing it. There is nothing about West Central that would indicate to any person it is a great place to live. That is, until you start doing life there.
You see, God is asking me to take a chance and to jump over to the hard road anytime I choose. It’s funny, because there is no electrified fence or barbed-wire between the two roads. You don’t even have to back-track to begin walking down the hard road. It’s as simple as overcoming the barrier of making the decision to do difficult things that are maybe a little frightening. I worry about my son and our future children feeling safe. I worry that my stuff will be stolen or my house vandalized. I worry that one of us will be seriously injured. But there is a life happening there that God wants us to be a part of even if it doesn’t make sense to most people.
In his new book, Love Does, Bob Goff encourages Christians to not hide behind a veil of terminology like, “mission trip,” or in this case, “missional living.” We aren’t going to a mission. We are going to people. We are going to be absorbed by these people. So I’ve stopped thinking in terms of, “missional living” and I’ve started thinking the way Bob and his family do and really, the way Jesus did. We are moving to West Central to make new friends.
If you know me, you’ll know that loving new people isn’t a stretch and I’m still wondering why the grocery bagger hasn’t invited me to his son’s bar mitzvah come up on the 22nd. Still, I have difficulty wrapping my heart around how to let these particular new people love me back and wondering what my new life with my new friends will look like.
I know God is telling me that the easy road isn’t the way to go, especially with regard to this situation. I know that if I decide to stay here I will be missing out on some of the fun God wants me to have while I am living out the promise he made to us in Jeremiah 29:11.
God doesn’t want me to fill up on the Easy Cheeses of life, if you will. I have a feeling that if I do, my life will end up in a sandstorm of frustration and I won’t have to wonder how I got into that mess. So, it’s time to make the difficult choice and do the hard work on the path Jesus already chose for me. I feel confident that the end is better than a half-a-can of orange, bacon-flavored goo.
We will let you know how it goes.