A few week ago our Life Group was studying Philippians chapter one, a gem of a passage where Paul says, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (:21-24).
This is a profound mystery. God wants us to love the life he’s given us, to love the people around us, to love our ministry. On the other hand we see Paul, a guy we’re supposed to imitate in the faith, saying he’d rather be in heaven with Jesus. At first our group got hung up on this either/or scenario. If you had to choose, then what? Should we feel guilty if we’d rather stick around and raise our kids and build a deck off the french doors out the back of the house?
Even the legendary Paul didn’t know what he’d choose if it came right down to it.
The key word, I think, is torn. He felt deeply for both options, which created an inner tension for his soul. His heart, quite literally, was torn—pulled in both directions. It sounds like pain.
If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know that Shauna and I spent the last nine days in Maui. I’d never been to Hawaii, so the whole experience was pretty magical. I was hypnotized by the tropical scents; stunned by the pristine coastal collisions between rock, sand, and water; wide-eyed at the circus of fish orbiting the reefs; romanced by the sunsets; massaged by the beaches; charmed by the shells sprinkled along every shore.
Strangely enough, though, by the end of the week, I wanted to go home to snuggle with my kids (while desperately wanting to stay in Maui). I was genuinely torn.
And now that I’m home, even more so. Right now I can honestly say, “I wish to depart and be in Maui, which is better by far. But it more necessary for my kids that I remain here in Calgary.”
The point is, how could I not be torn? On one hand, Maui is so beautiful that you’d have to be a dead-head not to miss it dreadfully. I was born to live there, I’m sure of it. 😉 On the other hand, I’d have to be a cold-hearted, selfish shell of a man not to want to be here with my family, church, friends, and neighbours. I’m torn. I should be.
More to the point, there’s something wrong with me if I’m not.
Back to Paul. If I don’t ever feel torn between going to heaven to be with Christ, which is better by far, and here, which is a chance to serve the Jesus I love, there is something wrong with me. If I’d only rather be in heaven, I’m missing God’s heart for this place. If I genuinely don’t want to go to heaven because I want this life and only this life, I’m truly not grasping the inheritance waiting for me.
Torn is the sweet middle ground, the sacred pain of the cross of Christ that roots us in eternity and bears fruit here on earth.
Jesus, show me the way.