So many of the lessons we learn and the tasks we attempt in life are seemingly simple. Losing weight is just a matter of burning more calories than we consume. Being punctual simply requires us to leave a bit earlier. Christianity is just being like Jesus. If the incongruity in these statements hasn’t become clear yet, let me try these examples: All it takes to be a tightrope walker is to stroll a length of wire and all it takes to win a football game is to push an oblong object across a line more times than the opposition. Simple, right?
Yes, the goal in all these examples is simple, at least as stated. But this is a false simplicity, one that fails to acknowledge the underlying complexities, obstacles, challenges, motivations, and personalities that are in play. The formula for losing weight may be simple but doing so can be tremendously difficult. And “live like Jesus” is an easy enough explanation of Christianity, too, but it is no easy mission.
To label something in “simple” terms often leads people to believe that doing it is easy, which is just a set-up for disappointment, frustration, and even despair. They set out to accomplish a “simple” task and find themselves unable, thwarted at every turn by difficulties and unexpected, often complex, challenges. Instead of significant progress toward a goal they find themselves inching along—if any progress is made at all. So they give up.
Sadly, this confusion of terms often arises out of good motives. We seek to motivate someone by making a task seem achievable, using a simple explanation to imply ease. And by trying to make something seem attainable we have unwittingly set the other person up to fail. We do this in the Christian life. All it takes to be an obedient Christian is a few simple steps: pray regularly, spend time in the Word, and seek to honor Jesus with your actions. Except none of these steps is simple or easy, let alone all of them combined. So we end up in a state of guilt and confusion. We can’t even do these “simple” tasks—what failures we are.
Simplicity is certainly valuable. It is easy to remember and makes for good goals. So it’s good to give big principles or goals in simple terms: “Live like Jesus,” or, “Exercise 30 minutes daily.” But it is imperative that within those simply stated goals we acknowledge and prepare for the complexities and challenges. We must acknowledge that progress may be slow and difficulties many. We must remember that failure, even if repeated, does not make a goal unattainable. No, this isn’t as inspiring. But it’s true. And if the goal being pursued is of real value, then doing the hard things to achieve it are worth it.