There was a time when truly anything seemed possible. I was young and the world was laid out before me. I was sure that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. Imagination was the limit.
There was very little to hold me back. Most big life decisions were still in the future. I was free to make massive changes at the drop of a hat. I went to live abroad in Mexico, worked at a bank as a bilingual teller, and headed off to seminary – all based on little more than a hunch of what it might mean. My existence was flexible in ways that seem almost incredible now. Every few months brought a new revolution, a total re-working of my focus and direction. It was an exhausting, and exhilarating, way of life.
Over time, my choices added up. I made those big life decisions, committing myself to people, places, and work. Little by little, I found what all young people are looking for: An identity, purpose, and place to call my own. My dreams came true. I made it.
I lost something, too. Before, I enjoyed a flexibility and daring that comes with starting from zero; now, I have responsibilities. Taking off for foreign adventures, trying out a new job, pursuing more education, or making any other big life change isn’t as simple as it used to be. These days, I’ve got a lot to lose. My commitments constrain the choices I feel comfortable making.
That’s not so bad. I like my life, and I’m grateful for the gifts I’ve received. I don’t need a lot of choices and changes, as long as my life is on the right trajectory. If I’m generally headed in the direction that God has prepared for me, an occasional course correction will probably do the trick.
But what if the Spirit wants to do something truly new with my life? What if all the commitments and decisions that I’ve made so far are blinding me to the path where God is calling me? What if my comfort with the status quo is discouraging me from accepting the discomfort of revolutionary change?
The whole thrust of Jesus’ ministry is a call to lose everything, so that we can act decisively to usher in the reign of God. He tells us that if we are to follow him, we must abandon wealth, family, profession, and comfort. The path of discipleship is one in which we are called to surrender everything for the sake of the new life and family we find in Jesus.
The new order of Jesus presents a radical challenge to the society we live in. To follow Jesus means questioning everything – the way we live our lives, do our jobs, govern our cities, and raise our families. This kind of fundamental upending of the powers and principalities is impossible for those of us who are still beholden to the world as it exists. It’s hard to abolish Wall Street when our money is still invested there. It’s tough to work for a new world of peace when our livelihoods are based in war. The truth is difficult to embrace when our daily lives are permeated with convenient lies.
The radical, world-changing activity of the Jesus community can only be carried out by those who have nothing to lose. The reign of God is for those who renounce the world as it is in favor of the world as it could be. For those of us who want to become followers of Jesus, we must be prepared to lose our lives – to surrender everything we think we have – in order to participate the new order that is being born.
This is a disturbing proposition for those, like me, who have begun to find our place in the world. As much as we may desire to see the reign of peace and justice that Jesus promises, it seems like an awfully big leap to renounce everything for the sake of a vision that seems impossible by the standards of the dominant culture.
Yet I am also reminded of how joyful it can be to live in that state of radical openness. Being young was painful in many ways, and I know that I scratched and clawed to find a place I could call my own. Yet there is beauty in such an exposed life of uncertainty. There is a fearlessness that comes when we have nothing to defend, only the promise of a more true and beautiful future together.
Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the reign of God. I think this probably applies to everyone, rich or not, who has found comfort and consolation in this broken and unjust order that we live in. It certainly applies to me. And yet he also says that all things are possible with God. It’s not too late for us to be roused from our self-satisfaction and rediscover the challenge and power of the gospel.
How would it feel to re-embrace the fire, joy, and uncertainty of your youth? What would it mean to start from zero again, this time as a grown adult who has chosen to surrender everything for the sake of a more beautiful, just world? At age 25, 45, or 95, what does it mean to live with nothing to lose?