“We imply, and often believe, that habitual vices are exceptional single acts, and make the opposite mistake about our virtues – like the bad tennis player who calls his normal form his ‘bad days’ and mistakes his rare successes for his normal.” — C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
For most of the first twenty-five years of my life, I had a singularly undistinguished love life. I consistently found myself imagining a life with this one or that one, most of whom barely knew I existed. The thought often loitered in my mind: “If she only really got to know me, she’d realize that I’m perfect for her.” I would imagine the most improbable situations that would cause them to spend time with me, at the end of which they couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with my charm. Patrick Dempsey in Can’t Buy Me Love was my regular inspiration.
I have often felt something similar about various celebrities: from an article, an interview or a performance, I decide that “we would totally be friends.” The idea is that there is some sort of kinship based on that snippet of their lives that matches something in mine. I would see the Barenaked Ladies in concert and think, “They’re kinda nerdy and funny, just like me. We should hang out.” Bill Simmons loves pop culture and sports, so we would obviously have plenty to talk about. I am sure that William Lane Craig would want to hear my thoughts about how I know God exists because I’m fat. (Unfortunately, I am not making these up.) Of course, sticking with the previous theme, there were also some actresses and singers that would find my humility and traditional normality a welcome break from the fakeness of celebrity culture. This time, it was Notting Hill that gave me confidence.
Somehow, I was never dissuaded by the many times one of my desired dames actually did get to know me, but surprisingly didn’t fall head over heels. And while I never really spent significant time with anyone famous, in my most honest moments I can admit that I wouldn’t likely have much to say. My mistake was imagining that a solitary point of identification could be extrapolated to a kinship with people that I didn’t even know. I liken it to a fanatic who could hold his own on a Monday morning sports talk radio show in the middle of football season, but finds that a Thursday in early July requires a greater level of knowledge and ability. Making my friends laugh from time to time doesn’t make me a comedian, and isn’t even an indication that I ever could be one.
Keith Green was fond of saying, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” In other words, a particular act or behavior doesn’t make you anything; rather, your regular behavior demonstrates what you already are. And what I am, is not what I appear in my best moments, as Lewis points out in the quote above. It is an awful sort of pride that assumes that my faults, my failures, and especially my intentional transgressions are merely aberrations that are in contradiction to my true self. It is the pride that characterizes those Christ described:
“’Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” – Matthew 7:22-23 (NIV)
I have moments where I can almost hear the words spoken: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But I realize that there are moments where I may be closer to hearing, “I never knew you.” I love my wife, and there is not a question in my mind (and hopefully hers) that I would gladly give up my life for her. But I think that maybe that is the easy thing to do. The more difficult thing is not to give up my life for her, but to simply give my life for her: the daily moments that I put her needs above mine, that I work for her good and her benefit, that I demonstrate my love for her in the mundane, rather than the exceptional. When I tell her at the end of the day that I love her, I hope that she would know it just as well had I not said a word. When I stand before Christ, will He recognize without a word that I did His work, that I demonstrated my love for Him daily? If I sometimes (often?) fail my wife – whose face I look into every night – how much more do I fail my Lord, who keeps enough distance to allow me the freedom to ignore Him?
Of course, while I always wanted the girls to “really know me,” and I imagined the opportunity where some celebrity would see that I could fit in, I am in the opposite situation with Christ: He really does know me. I want Him to see my best moments, and to judge me based on the minute kindnesses and occasional charitable graces, rather than the swath of selfish acts. I want Him to know the me that I try to present – the façade that plays out in public. But alas, He does know me – all of me. And He loves me. He wants to spend eternity with me. He doesn’t expect perfection, yet He demands it. And because He knows I am incapable, He has credited His perfection to my account. He has let me in the back door – paid for my admission Himself – and asks only that I accept the invitation.
There are no velvet ropes at Heaven’s gate, merely a crimson thread.