The ‘My life is hard’ fallacy

by mendibpng


In the last few weeks, I’ve digested ‘The Prodigal God’ by Timothy Keller rather slowly. I’ve seen myself in the younger brother character some but more recently in the older brother character.

Let me explain how this applies to my life.

I am wary of preachers who exhort people to ‘take up your cross’ and ‘give up your lives for Jesus.’ I am wary of visitors who come here, not knowing my situation and who question the way in which we live.

Haven’t I given up enough already? Haven’t I left the comfort of the First World to be here, far away from my family, in order to do my part in spreading the gospel through Bible translation?  I left modern conveniences and entertainment/eating out options behind when I signed up. Oh and my stuff. I packed away or gave away a lot of my wedding gifts if they weren’t practical on the mission field. I grieved for the lack of stability while also seeing our life as an adventure. I’ve put myself voluntarily into constant transition and have dropped myself into a culture that I still don’t understand after 11 years of [cheerfully] trying to assimilate and understand. Some days I feel really comfortable, and some days I really hate the skirts I wear here. I really miss being able to walk around at night without worrying about encountering ‘rascals’ (thieves, rapists, etc.)  What I wouldn’t give for a quick trip to a bulk food store to stock up on things I’ve [again, cheerfully] greatly reduced in our budget to save money, like cheese, cereal, and meat. Oh and I will just give a brief mention about how the stress and burnout (in doing work for You) has taken it’s toll on our marriage and family life. I handed my husband over to You, God, keeping a loose grip on him, knowing that You had important work for him to do. I did it all for You, God. I am [mostly] content in all of these things!!!!! (or am I?)

Please Don’t Ask Me To Give Up Any More. PLEASE.

It might be obvious where I’m going here.

The two brothers in the prodigal son (you can read the story here) came from two perspectives, the older brother (which Keller refers to as the way of moral conformity) and the younger son (the way of self-discovery).

The person in the way of moral conformity says, “I’m not going to do what I want, but what tradition and the community tells me to do.” The person choosing the way of self-discovery says: “I’m the only one who can decide what is right or wrong for me. I’m going to live as I want to live and find my true self and happiness that way. Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live. If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God)

I had always thought that the story exposed raw jealousy that the older brother had for the younger one…maybe that is true in part, but Keller says that the older brother in the story had even deeper sin issues. By ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘avoiding wrong,’ he really was trying to control his father to get what he thought he deserved. I can see how I’ve leaned towards the same thinking. When something unexpected comes along (or when we meet with our own prodigals) I look at God and say, “Haven’t I been doing what you asked me this whole time? Why is this [bad] thing happening?” A lot of expats I know here in PNG would not even fault me for having this perspective because they get what I’m talking about, I think. At least the people I’ve talked to recently do! But let me go back to Keller, because he explains it so well:

 Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself–in order to resemble him, love him, know him, and delight him. So religious and moral people can be avoiding Jesus as Savior and Lord as much as the younger brothers who say they don’t believe in God and define right and wrong for themselves.

Here, then, is Jesus’ radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God, Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God)

My prayer now is, “Jesus, please help me see where I have put myself in Your place. Help me see where I have tried to ‘follow the rules’ and ‘do good’ to use you to get what I want (comfort, peace, contentment). I’ve tried to control my circumstances by worrying about them. I’ve allowed my mind to circle through things over and over without giving time for You to come in and restore me. Help me to rest in the fact that You have everything under control.” And echoing Peter, “Help me in my unbelief!”

I know that the more I release myself to this way of thinking, the deeper and richer my walk with God will be. He speaks. He gives wisdom. The distractions I dabble in will never satisfy me like He does. I love how the Message translates this verse I learned as a young child:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7)

p.s. Friends, if you have persevered to the end, thank you. I do want to insert a caveat here: all of the things I listed above are true and I have gone through the grief and loss cycle for some more than others, particularly the one about leaving my family behind. I don’t want to minimize the grief/loss side of this, and I still expect to feel the grief from those things from time to time. I just want to make sure that my attitude towards God is right when I’m doing that.


8 Comments to “The ‘My life is hard’ fallacy”

  1. Mandy, You have written about something that challenges every honest believer, no matter in what cultural situation they might find their self . It’s true that even in “doing everything by the book,” some of us humanoids can still unknowingly play the idolater. The deception is great. It’s so good that The Holy Spirit talked about BOTH brothers in the parable….because they both had need of Father, not just the one who overtly ran off and did the “sin things.” I recall the Dean of Women at Christie dorm ,where I lived during my undergrad years at Nyack College. Mrs.Elizabeth Jackson had gone to WW 2 Borneo with her missionary pilot husband as a brand new bride. After only a few months of married life and ministry together, he was captured and killed by the Japanese. (Indonesian Christians saw the whole thing.) Her WHOLE life was a mystery to me….how could God let that happen to people who gave up everything for Him? Then, after years of humble service as a Bible College prof. and Dean of Women, she suffered and died with cancer. I could only embrace the theology that God suffers when we suffer. He wants us to move from “why me” to “surrender to The LOVE” AB Simpson’s hymn “HIMSELF” says it all. Love, Mom.

      hi mom,
      thanks for reminding me about the hymn! I remember singing it a lot as a child. I’m going to post it here in case anyone else is interested.

      by A.B. Simpson

      Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord;
      Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.
      Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own;
      Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.

      Once ’twas painful trying, Now ’tis perfect trust;
      Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost.
      Once ’twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast;
      Once ’twas constant drifting, Now my anchor’s cast.

      Once ’twas busy planning, Now ’tis trustful prayer;
      Once ’twas anxious caring, Now He has the care.
      Once ’twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says;
      Once ’twas constant asking, Now ’tis ceaseless praise.

      Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
      Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me.
      Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One;
      Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.

      Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He’s mine;
      Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine.
      Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail;
      And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the veil.

  2. I’ll be processing what you’ve written for quite some time. Thank you Mandy.

  3. Mandy,

    I don’t always have the opportunity to read all your entries, but when I do I’m very moved by your transparency. You are a wonderful writer and one day you will review your entries to write a powerful book. The Lord won’t waste one minute of what you and your family are doing to advance His Kingdom and in fact, I’m sure you are touching the lives of people who receive your updates. ☺

    May the Lord continue to provide all that you need and that you see His blessings in everything.

    Much love,


    Global Outreach Associate – Communication & Mobilization
    Please note my office hours: M-Thurs. 9:00am-4:00pm
    Wheaton Bible Church

    “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV

  4. Mandy, I love you! I’ve been thinking again lately about the reality of suffering and grief and loss, and how much I want to learn to just throw myself into the Father’s arms, pain and sorrow and all, trusting that He is my Redeemer, that He still lives, that He still loves me, He’s not frustrated with me, that He’s shepherding me Home, one careful step at a time.

    • Kay, I am endepted to you for the recommendation of The Prodigal God!! I didn’t even know it but I had it on my shelf for quite some time before I actually read it. Thanks for your words about grief and loss–they are so hard to navigate on one’s own. I like that picture of throwing yourself into His arms. love you too.xoxo

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