I once told a couple of friends while having a dark moment, and only half-jokingly, that my dream was to move to India, volunteer at the Sisters of Charity and die of the inevitable dysentery that would swiftly follow. I mean, my first world immune system would have all the resilience of wet tissue paper. That’d give me about, let’s say, over/under, two months of usefulness, but at least I would go out in a useful blaze of glory. It would certainly be good filler for my eulogy.
What’s that about? Simply, my desire to control my own narrative. We feel that all the more acutely when there is a long stretch of things not going the way we wish they would. I don’t actually want to die of dysentery in India, but I’d rather not die of ennui, either.
We are often so arrogant that our desire extends beyond trying to control our own story, but also into controlling the stories of others. I’ve talked previously about the concept of stewardship and discipleship being closely linked. We forget that stewardship isn’t top down, but mutual — we benefit each other. Where we tend to go wrong with the idea of stewarding the people the Lord places in our lives is when they end up as footage on our own personal highlight real. That can quickly turn into trying to control their narrative so as to improve the story line of our own narrative. There will, of course, be sacrifice involved, any good self-glorifying narrative involves sacrifice, but if we are honest, we think we can even Biblically use that to our advantage — take Mark 10 as an example.
I believe this is completely true, but the repayment always seems to come in unpredictable and unexpected forms. It comes in the form of grace, which is, by nature, always unpredictable and unexpected. This form of repayment prevents us from using our stewardship as a selfish investment and instead frees us to invest in our stewardship. This involves faith, which — for me — often becomes a fight against the safety and temporal security that I persistently think will be the source of my salvation and contentment. Security that is anything but secure. That security I seek is not the risky mutual investment of friendship, it is an investment in me, full stop. It tries to lure us, Pennywise the Clown-like (a character from Stephen King’s IT, an entire book about mutual investment and the evil of trying to control the narratives of others) waving balloons, luring us to certain awfulness. Anytime a clown says, “They all float down here,” it’s not going to end well.
And yet, friendship, which has to be the basis for discipleship, is not without risk. What you quickly discover in a life of mutual investment is that there are some debts that you can never repay. There are opportunities forever lost to thank people who sacrificed in the currency of tears and time. The motivation for stewardship simply becomes a reaction to grace, which is an acknowledgment of that which cannot be and will not be repaid by us.
This sense of undeserved grace also helps to highlight the source of my own sense of failure in the area of discipling others. With my own guys, there are things that I spent an entire decade trying to convey that I honestly believe I failed at conveying — particularly in the areas of faith and trust. I worry my own spectacular lack of worldly success obscured the message. I mean, how can I show them the sacrifice is worthwhile if it doesn’t pay off with a big house and even bigger bank account? Saying that out loud helps me spot the problem, helps me to spot those balloons, if you will. But walking it requires a gift of faith that I can’t muster on my own, and it is not reinforced practically by the day to day ineludible comparisons we do with and to each other. Stewardship is a sacrifice in reaction to grace, not a calculated investment. Lord help me, help us, because I am clearly, too often, an unjust steward and a bad friend.
But, like Eddie Kaspbrak’s character wisely says in IT, there is cause for hope:
Maybe, he thought, there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends — maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.