I was away from home with my husband and children, celebrating Christmas with extended family. Before the big family gathering on Christmas Eve, we attended an area church service. The focus of the service was on the ways Jesus’ birth had disrupted the lives of specific biblical people, Mary and Joseph among them. One common element in their stories stood out—Jesus’ birth did not make their lives easier. In fact, in some ways his birth and his life—and eventually his death—introduced new forms of suffering, making these people’s lives more difficult than they otherwise would have been.
At the end of the service, the pastor announced everyone in attendance would receive a free book. My family picked up our copy on the way out, and as I leafed through it, I was struck by the way the book’s message contrasted with the theme I had just followed throughout the service. The book’s main point was essentially this—knowing and following Jesus makes our lives completely satisfying. We simply need to accept that satisfaction, and live as if it’s true. For me, the claim was almost laughable in light of the ways Jesus’ presence disturbed the lives of people who loved him as a baby, a child, and a man. After 40-plus years of knowing and following Jesus, I can testify this is a false message.
People who proclaim this message often do so with good intentions—they want others to consider a relationship with Christ, and they draw people in by pointing to benefits that have wide appeal. Ironically, like every false message finding its way into our churches, this one has the power to lead people away from the truth and serves as an obstacle to genuine relationship with Christ.
As church leaders, it’s important that we question this message and consider what we’re leading people to expect from a relationship with Jesus. Our churches and popular Christian media frequently give the impression that knowing and following Jesus involves simply reorienting our desires from the world around us to God—thereby finding he fulfills us completely. We speak of people as having “God-shaped holes” that simply need to be filled with Christ, suggesting all our longings and needs will be met through that relationship.
Perhaps because women are often honest about our relational needs, we frequently send this false message to women, implying—or blatantly claiming—once they wholeheartedly give themselves to a relationship with Jesus, they will no longer need the friendship, love, or companionship of other people. Self-help books aimed at Christian women seem to focus on finding satisfaction by expecting God to neutralize our desires and meet our deficiencies—so we don’t have to live with unsatisfied cravings or wishes any longer.