I was on summer break at some point in college and a friend back home asked me about whether or not I used this thing called Facebook. At that point, Facebook was only used by college students and only on certain campuses that allowed it. I did not understand what he was talking about. I imagined clicking through pictures of people’s faces. It didn’t sound like a lot of fun. I didn’t understand what the hype was about. Once my college had access, it changed a little bit. I think statuses started to become a thing. Of course, it evolved from there. College students became “everyone on the planet” and now all kinds of media is shared there. It became so large and so ubiquitous, it changed the way we thought about connection. This has all happened in less than ten years. And now? Things are changing at a rapid pace. Facebook isn’t really as cool anymore. Who knows where we’re going?
I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed these days is filled with sales people. It seems that more and more people are trying to start businesses of one form or another. And Facebook makes perfect sense for people to get going with their sales pitch. You can effortlessly pitch hundreds, maybe thousands of people, without actually talking to them. It’s cost-effective, for sure. Half of my newsfeed, it seems, is people enthusiastically selling one thing or another. I sort of just blink and scroll past it now. The promise from all of them is the same: This product will change your life. It will give you more time, more money, more freedom. It will change your life.
Election season is coming around the corner, but it’s never too early to complain, right? The Republicans are doing their “we hate all poor people” thing and the Democrats are doing their “we hate babies and personal freedom” thing. Or so I’m told by various political tribes. The disdain for one another oozes off my screen like slime. Even the ooze is the other guy’s fault. There is one simple problem in the world: My political party does not have enough power. It’s a very similar message. This political ideology will change our lives. It will solve our ills. Everyone will be rich and happy and unrestricted. The party will change your life.
Life-change sales pitches comes from religious people, too. There’s these piles of stereotypical religious inspirational photos that fill the screen. Sunsets or mountains or a baby laughing or something, combined with a sentimental line or two that seems so simple but so profound. People saying they’re on day 12 of 40 days of praying for 40 seconds or recounting 100 blessings or blah blah blah. Some simple religious product, some little thing that requires so little effort will change your life. It will leave you thankful and happy and fulfilled. This little bottle of religious elixir will change your life.
It’s all a scam. All of it. At least the life-change part.
There is no magic thing that will change your life overnight. You can have more money, more individual freedoms, even more prayers, but having all of those things for a minute or two won’t change your life. Your life is complex and entangled with a whole lot of other people’s complex lives. There are caverns to your soul that you have yet to explore and none of them are going to be filled or excavated by having more of x or less of y. Lives don’t get changed that easily, that simply, that quickly.
You can sell all of your products and create financial freedom and have no debt. And you know what? You’re still left with yourself when your head hits the pillow. You still have the simple truths of human existence that will bear down on you in the silence. You think that rich people, like truly wealthy people, don’t have those things that haunt them in the night? Financial stress is real and, sure, you should try to earn money to relieve that stress. Go for it. That’s great. But the stress of being human isn’t going away. You have relationships and longings and loneliness and disappointment that will not be relieved by bigger paychecks, or even bigger paychecks for your friends. That product will not change your life. It will change how you live parts of your life. But your life is still what it is.
You can have all your political power. The “good guys” can have all the votes and pass all the policies, but at some point, you’ll realize that as much as you’ve fixed your eyes on the theatre of the political world, your neighbor still lives right next door to you. They’ve not gone anywhere and nothing about them has changed. You can rant and rave or celebrate and boast but your neighbors don’t care. Your groceries may be easier or harder to buy, you may have more or less rights than you think you deserve, but your mundane life isn’t viscerally changed by the drama that you involve yourself in via that screen. Politics is big and important and you should care and participate. But fixing what’s on that stage won’t change what haunts you at night.
Your cheesy religious practices and inspirational posters may give you temporary thrills, but they are not addressing the gaping holes in your soul. There’s nothing wrong with being positive or trying to make small, simple life changes. Go for it! But you feeling happier for microseconds does not change the status of your being. It does not actually change your life. It just makes you feel better about living your life as a broken, discontented person. When you package down religious life into products, that religious life will be merely a temporary emotional comfort. That sort of product will not save your life. It can’t.
Products do not change lives. Bought and sold products don’t change lives. Political products don’t change lives. Even products with religious packaging don’t change lives. Products quickly bought and sold will not save your life, even though our culture primes us to believe that they will. We’ll package and market anything. Even Jesus. But nicely boxed Jesus-product will not change your life.
Life change is one of the primary questions in human history. Philosophers have kicked around what “the good life” truly is and how we might obtain it. People everywhere who turn towards introspection are wondering how exactly to exert some force on their lives to change it for the better. To be more honest or courageous or loving or whatever. People want to know how to change their lives and Western culture is obsessed with packaging that down and telling you you can do it quickly. But it’s a lie.
There is incredible momentum in your soul. There is so much weight behind the direction you’re traveling. You carry freight not just from your life, but your parents’ life and even your entire culture. There is so much momentum that you have to stall and reverse that life change simply cannot happen quickly. Not deep and radical life change. All those products? They’re not going to slam the brakes on the aircraft carrier that is your life.
But Jesus can change your life. Unchained and uncaged Jesus.
Jesus knows what’s in the abyss that you hide from people. Jesus can look into the murky basement of your life and see all the skeletons hiding there. Jesus knows the things that haunt you. Jesus knows the weight that you’re packing on to you that makes slowing down so difficult.
And Jesus can set you free.
Jesus will trade you the burden of a life that revolves around you for the burden of a life that revolves around him. You’re too small and the world too big for everything to revolve around you. More money, more power, more systems are too small a power to change the truth that you are a sapling caught in the edges of a hurricane. But Jesus is big enough and kind enough and sturdy enough that, when everything revolves around him, everything fits right.
As simple as that is, the process of Jesus changing your life will take your entire life. You and I are complex and our frailty spider webs to every crevice of our being. We’re not broken beyond repair. We’re not hopeless. We’re just a mess. And Jesus handles messes with time and care. He unfolds and exposes the darkness we hide relentlessly, but gently. He will change your life. And he will take your whole life to do it.
Those products will fail you. You know they will. You’re afraid of how true it is that those products can’t really change you. That thing you want? The quick life-change? It’s not coming. Those things will let you down.
But Jesus keeps coming. He’ll keep coming after you. He’ll relentlessly sweep you out into the sea of his mercy and set you adrift in his love. Slowly, slowly, slowly he’ll teach you to let go of the shore. He won’t put a box on it or package it nicely or sing you a jingle. He’ll just calmly and quietly tell you to let go, to trust him, to bend a bit more his way.
Those products will not change your life. They won’t.
But Jesus will.