When I was a kid, I did not like pizza. I wanted to, but I just couldn’t make myself like it. I remember going to a friend’s birthday party at a pizza place where I tried a slice and gagged. I couldn’t even fake liking it.
“You don’t like pizza?” others practically screamed with crazed bewilderment when they found out my egregious sin. “How could you not like pizza? I’ve never heard of such a thing. What is wrong with you?” they would continue in near shrill voices, shaking their heads at me as if I were on the jury panel that let the latest obviously guilty celebrity/murderer go free.
Uh, I’m sorry? Didn’t mean to ruin your day.
I am now no longer the hideous pizza-hating monster I once was. My love for the pie began my freshmen year of college, around midnight after a night out with friends. Beer, perhaps, makes a few too many things palatable, but in this case it helped in a not-make-a-really-stupid-mistake kind of way. Pizza and beer is quite a lovely combination.
Well into my 20s I also didn’t like any kind of seafood, another apparent horrifying truth for others to hear. I was almost ruined for life on seafood when a couple of men at a conference I was at dared me to try some raw oysters. “Knock it back like a shot,” one instructed. “It’ll be fine,” the other encouraged me. Oh.my.gosh. That was the nastiest thing I have ever tried in my life. Those men had a really good laugh at my expense.
Nowadays, I love shrimp with Old Bay and cocktail sauce. yum. yum. yum. I’ll also eat crabs, lobster, and some fish, but never again with the oysters. Never again.
In all seriousness, it was quite an uncomfortable thing for me to admit to not liking pizza and, to a lesser degree, seafood. Since we moved around a few times, I had ample opportunity to share, against my will, my little pizza secret. I was a pretty shy kid and the strong reaction I almost always got in response to others finding out, only ever-so-slightly exaggerated above, overwhelmed me. I mean, it was just pizza, what would they do if they found out that I had done something that was actually… wrong?
Growing up, I had a few rebellious moments here and there, but mostly I did the right thing because that was what was supposed to be done and it didn’t cause a big reaction. One of the most freeing moments in my life, however, came when I figured out that I didn’t HAVE to go to that night’s Christmas Eve service. I know it sounds silly, but it truly was a great, I-can-breathe-again moment in my life.
I also didn’t HAVE to go to church at all. I didn’t even HAVE to believe in God. I didn’t HAVE to follow Jesus. I didn’t HAVE to anymore than I had to like pizza as everyone seemed to think I should. I’m guessing He didn’t want me to anyway, especially since it was becoming such a chore for me.
Somehow, my faith had turned into something I had to do and a burden. Ok, I can check off the Jesus box for today. What kind of faith is that? I couldn’t fake it anymore. I wanted something different, something real.
Is it possible that maybe God wanted something a little different from me? for me? with me, too? maybe He wanted something real also?
As ridiculous as it might seem, things began to change when He gave me the freedom to not go to church that night. The burden of expectation was lifted from my shoulders. There certainly are times we have to do what we don’t want to in obedience to our Lord, so please don’t hear me wrong. But in this instance, He was beginning to address an issue within me of trying to meet what I perceived were other people’s expectations, and therefore His expectations, for me.
Since when did Jesus come and die on the cross so I could meet other people’s expectations? When did He come and die on a cross so that I could follow a bunch of rules or some kind of one-size-fits-all formula?
Jesus came and died on a cross and rose again because He loves me that much. And He loves you that much too. He came to set us free from the law of sin and death. To mend our broken hearts. That we may have life and have it abundantly. To allow us to drink living water. So that springs of life would fill up within us and overflow from us. So that we could know real love and never again be able to settle for a substitute. So that we could love Him freely in return.
It can take a while to unlearn the things that hinder us, but what freedom comes when we finally drop those unnecessary burdens.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30