Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Counting the Cost

In the story of the Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-30) we are challenged to count the cost of following Jesus.  For the eponymous character in the story, the cost was to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor.  "Then come, follow me," Jesus instructed him.  But the man went away sad because he had great wealth.  The cost of following Jesus was too much for him.

At least, we assume it was too much for him.  The story doesn't indicate that he ever did sell his possessions and give them to the poor and then follow Jesus.  The rich young man went away from that encounter with sadness, which indicates that he went away from that encounter with no intention of coming back.  But I'd like to believe that some people, maybe even the rich young man included, initially went away sad at the thought of the sacrifice required to follow Jesus, but upon counting the cost decided to follow Jesus anyway.  It's certainly not everyone's first reaction to jump for joy after counting the cost.  In fact, I'm inclined to think that most of us (myself included) are weighed down with a degree of sadness when we truly realize how much sacrifice is required of us.  I'd also like to think that despite our tears and hanging heads and outright sorrow, Jesus is still pleased when we choose to follow Him anyway because a willing heart is a heart that's able to be transformed to all He wants it to become, which is the ultimate reason for following Jesus anyway.

Here is my honest confession: I had a Rich Young Man moment right before we came to Kenya.  It was Easter weekend, two days before our departure.  We had traveled across the state of Michigan to spend the day with my dad's family and I knew it would be a day of mixed emotions.  My family was excited for us to be on our way, but also sad to let us go, and I knew it'd be particularly hard because of one final goodbye: my grandpa.  My Grandpa Clark was 90 years old and his health had been rapidly declining for awhile and I simply knew that once I said goodbye I would never see him again.  I kissed his cheek and said "I love you" and subsequently threw myself into my cousin's arms and wept.  Let me tell you, in that moment my heart understood what the rich young man felt like.  My wealth was not in material possessions like his, but I am incredibly rich in the blessing of my family and I counted the cost that day and felt an immense sadness at what is being required of us.  Jesus has asked us to give up the proximity of family and the opportunities for family gatherings and the joy of making memories with them.  And after all this He said, "Then come, follow me."

And we did.  We followed Jesus all the way to Kenya, where He's been busy molding us and teaching us and stretching us and transforming us.  I do not regret following Him, and I never will.  But yes, I got on the plane and followed Him with a degree of sadness in my heart.

Then, last Friday morning after being here nearly three months, I got the news: Grandpa Clark had died.  I knew it would happen, and I knew it would be sooner than later, but it still came as a blow.  I sobbed.  I ached for the loss itself, and also for the separation of an ocean as I attempted to grieve in isolation from the rest of my family.  I'm still aching because of this.  My grandpa is gone, I won't be at the funeral, and trying to grieve from afar has proven to be an odd experience at best.  I long to go home, to just be there and participate in the communal grieving with my family and also the celebration of a long life well lived.

But alas, I am here in Kenya and going home is not an option for several reasons.  And so I am grieving from here and trying to stay connected with my family as best as I can.  Friday was a rough day, and by the end I decided to take a bath to soothe my aching muscles.  As I sat in the hot water and thought about my grandpa, I penned a poem in my head.  It allowed me to put into words what I'd been feeling all day:

Knowing that the end was near
reflecting on the past
Watching, waiting, wondering
and then he breathed his last

Hearing from across the world
of his ascent to glory
Now we know the final chapter
of my grandpa's story

Grieving nearly all alone
far from those gathered near
Weeping for the painful loss
of a man held dear

Longing to go home again
and grieve collectively
To cry within a realm
of familiarity

Aching from the struggle
of what we've sacrificed
Clinging to the promise
of the hope we have in Christ

Knowing that the end was near
reflecting on our call
Submitting to the One who knows
the cost of giving all

What we have sacrificed is real, but it's a fraction of what Christ Himself gave up for us.  He has led by example and asks that we follow Him.  May any degree of sadness accompanied with counting the cost never be enough to keep us from faithfully following Him anyway!

Shortly after the rich young man went away sad, Jesus said this: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother [or grandfather or grandmother] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times more as much and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29).  That is our promise, and that is what I'm clinging to in these days of grieving and reflecting half a world away.

Grandma and Grandpa Clark with Asa last Christmas


We invite your prayers for us and our family during this time.  My grandparents' 70th anniversary is today, June 21, and Grandpa desperately wanted to make it to this day of celebration but was five days short.  The visitation will be held today instead, with the funeral tomorrow morning.