Four years ago, I rode in the backseat of a van through the Mongolian countryside. Gany and I had joined an American mission team to visit the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue. Gany brought up a topic her church had recently discussed.
In Shrek, the Gingerbread Man’s legs are ripped off and crumbled into cookie dust, yet he spits in Lord Farquaad’s face and yells, “Eat me!” when asked the location of his friends. It isn’t until Farquaad reaches for his purple candy buttons that the Gingerbread Man caves, saying, “No, not the buttons! Not my gumdrop buttons….I’ll tell you.”
Gany said, “Before we say we will follow God, we have to give him even our gumdrop buttons, the things we value the most.”
Because I live a privileged life in America, I don’t often think about the cost of being a Christian. No one has ever attacked me for being a Christian or threatened to harm me. The worst I have suffered is awkward silences and a few insults. Becoming a Christian did not cost me my family, my friends, or my job.
But there is a cost to following Jesus, because although his yoke is easy and his burden light, his way of life is radically different from what I consider comfortable. Jesus constantly put others before himself: emotionally, physically, and financially. He exhorted his followers to do the same.
In my deepening relationship with God, there have been moments that felt like my legs were being ripped off. There were nights when I comforted a friend long after my compassion had worn out and my eyes were heavy with exhaustion. There were financial donations given when I stared with horror at my depleting savings account. There were decisions to move to foreign countries with no promise of friendship or support. But I haven’t yet had my gumdrop buttons threatened.
During my conversation with Gany, I quickly identified physical violence (especially rape) as my gumdrop button. If I knew that God would call me to a place or a ministry or a friendship that would result in significant bodily harm, I would….doubt. And avoid. And fear.
I want to specify: I do NOT think God is a sadist. I do not think He intentionally harms anyone, not even for sanctification purposes. However, we live in a broken world where violence and misery abound. I DO think God calls His people to minister to the brokenhearted, the poor, the prisoners, the miserable. The people who suffer the most are often found in dangerous places.
God loves them so much that He sends His people into those dangerous places to show His love. After all, that’s exactly what He did when Jesus came to earth to live as a human and allowed himself to be murdered. As our example and empowerment, God asks us to live and die for Him. When we follow Him into the scarier parts of the world to befriend and serve the scarier people in the world…we risk violence, rape, and murder.
But God is NOT Lord Farquaad. He does not delight in our pain given in His service. He hates injustice and suffering, and He mourns for those who are hurting. He also, because He is God, goes a step further. Jesus died, but that was not His end. He rose again! The Christian God is redemptive, and He delights in taking the worst things of the world and spinning them into something beautiful. There is life after death and healing after pain.
I’m still not comfortable saying that I will do anything God calls me to do. I still cling to my gumdrop buttons. I think I always will. But as I learn more about God, a God who delights in goodness so much that He will redeem the most horrific of circumstances, I can take one step further into a more trusting relationship with Him.