Over breakfast this morning, two of my children were trying to come up with a strategic way of picking up household trash so that one would not do more than the other. I almost said something along the lines of, “What would Jesus do?” but instead I found myself telling a different story…
“There once was a town where everyone who had a problem (like you girls are having right now) would stop and ask themselves, “What would Jesus Do?” They would then do whatever they thought Jesus would have done. The whole town was like this. Every time something difficult would come up they would think, “What would Jesus do?” And then, they would do it. One night, a great tornado ripped across the land, utterly destroying the town and its people. And that night, they all found themselves sitting in hell.”
It is not enough for us to simply ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” And God-forbid that our parenting is reduced to such (damning?) theology. I do not want to raise my children to simply ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” Rather, I want to raise children who ask, “What did Jesus do for me?” The first question produces a self-help, I-am-a-good-person, man-centered theology; the second fixes our eyes on the author and perfector of our faith…a faith that demonstrates itself in a transformed life. If my hope in raising daughters was in the phrase, “What would Jesus do?”, all hope would be lost.
After the story, I looked one of my children in the eye and said, “God has forever stamped upon your forehead the words, “My daughter.” You are His. He has set you free from selfishness. He has even set you free from trying really hard to be selfless. You have been freed to enjoy Him. Out of this delight, you are freed to love and serve without borders. (You are freed to empty every single trash can in this house, and even the contents that have spilled out of them…without borders or containers). You are not your own but have been bought with a price. You are dripping in the blood of your Redeemer. You have been given a new heart.” She sat there quietly.
I spoke with such passion at the breakfast table, because, as a teenager, I had been involved with a group of “Christians” who figuratively liked to ask that question. I went to multiple retreats where were learned how to be “good,” to do “what Jesus did.” Good daughters. Good mothers. Good sisters. Good aunts. This “goodness” came in the form of “how to set a table,” “how to make your own makeup,” “how to make your own baby gifts,” and, climactically, “what to put in your hope chest.” While I am not bashing these skills by any means, the context in which they were taught was suffocating. To put it bluntly, I felt “yucky” the whole retreat. At the time, my piano audition for Wheaton College was only weeks away. Thankfully, the retreat center had multiple pianos from which to practice on, but rather than play on the piano that was adjacent to the building that housed the retreat, I had to sneak away to find a secluded piano. I needed to keep it a secret…the fact that I was thinking about going away to college. Good daughters would not go away to college. Good daughters stayed safely at home (is there such a thing as “safe at home”?), until marriage, of which, the whole purpose of the retreat was preparing us for. With this main purpose of marriage, the retreat breathed heavily down upon us.
I do not remember the name “Jesus” at those retreats. I do not remember anyone telling us that despite how hard we tried, we would never be good enough and that Jesus had already been good for us. I ever came away from those retreats thinking I had to do better at being better. Such heresy has impacted my life even in my struggle with bulimia.
So, back to the breakfast table. I do not see daughters needing to “do better” and “be nicer.” I see fellow sinners, in desperate need of Jesus. In desperate need to hear that even if our lives seem like they are “doing what Jesus would do,” that our hearts have a greater problem still. And that Jesus was crucified, was buried and raised to life to solve the penalty that we all deserve. A penalty even for those who ask religiously, “What would Jesus do?”
Our hope is not being able to do what Jesus would do. Our hope is in what Jesus has accomplished for us. And this faith works. It liberates us from needing to pick up the exact amount of trash that is “fair.” It liberates us to love and serve, not because we want to do what Jesus would have done, but because He has already done the work for us. And that is a hope better than any perfectly packed hope chest could ever dream of offering.