Last summer a comment from an avid swimmer in British Columbia reawakened a valuable truth. When I mentioned a scrape on her arm, Kathy nonchalantly explained, “I get some every summer from the sharp-edged barnacles on the rocks. When my grandson started swimming with me I told him he was bound to get these cuts. One day he called across the water in a proud voice: “I got one, Grandma!” Her grandson obviously accepted this as part of the price for a free-spirited frolic in the ocean. Kathy’s comment reminded me that hardly any of us find something rewarding without also having to accept the effort, hardship, challenge, steady determination and vulnerability that often accompany what we desire.
Today’s culture suggests that if we have enough money, the right social connections, sufficient information, the appropriate or the best this or that, then the work and discipline will not be necessary. Good things rarely happen all by themselves. There is almost always a cost underneath what one enjoys or finds beneficial. Something might look effortless or seem to have been easily developed, but usually this is not so.
It’s natural to want the benefits of life without having to pay the price for them. I find this to be inherent for most people and I find it true for myself. There are days when I wish I could have a deeper relationship with the Holy One without getting up early for meditation. A desire to avoid the price to be paid comes forth when I whine about the time it takes to prepare talks or pack my suitcase for air travel. At the same time, I relish being with kindred spirits, discovering fresh landscapes, and teaching what I find to be helpful for spiritual growth.
When the Women’s March occurred I heard remarks indicating how little price some of the participants wanted to pay for the social change they desired: “I’m not going. I don’t like to walk in the rain… We stood for hours and couldn’t march…The speeches were too long… We were told there’d be food and there wasn’t any… We had to sit on the bus forever… There was no drinking water anywhere…”
After hearing those comments, my thoughts turned to a book I’d recently read about the endless, determined and difficult actions by those engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. In Across That Bridge, Georgia congressman John Lewis describes what he and others experienced in their non-violent and persistent efforts: spit upon, beaten, humiliated, jailed as criminals. Some were killed. They paid a great price, as do many who stand up for human rights. So now, Lent is upon us and I ask myself the question: “Am I willing to pay the price for the transformation I seek in my personal life and in the society to which I belong?”
Jesus paid the price for his desire to create a world of loving kindness. His death came about because his teachings and actions challenged religious and political establishments. He spoke of peace, not war; of forgiveness, not vengeance; of kindness, not judgment; of mercy, not condemnation; of love, not fear. He urged his followers: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mk8:34) The willingness of Jesus to pay the price for his beliefs inspires me to do the same for what is truest in my heart.