REMEMBER THAT OLD EXPRESSION, "I never promised you a rose garden"? I can't help but think of it when I read about followers of Jesus who weren't interested in the challenges that being a Christian sometimes bring. They may have followed him with a bed of roses in mind, but not for long. As soon as he said, "Take up the cross, and follow me," Mark 10:21 those rose-garden groupies were out of there!
No, Jesus didn't promise a rose garden but he did equip us well. He came preaching the gospel (the good news) of the kingdom of God. It's now, he taught—not waiting in the hereafter; not up in the sky, but here—within you. And his healings proved all this.
I've given a lot of thought to this because I, too, used to be a rose-garden Christian, though I didn't realize it at the time. I thought I was following Jesus' teachings. I would read the weekly Bible Lesson Found in the Christian Science Quarterly each morning, then go about my day, hoping for no waves! But it didn't work that way. I still had problems. Some of them big. For a brief while, I put my Bible and Science and Health on the shelf, thinking, "Why bother if I'm going to have problems anyway?" But troubles increased—my own, those of others near me, and throughout the world. Finally, feeling desperate and overwhelmed, I took the books down off the shelf.
Opening my Bible at random, I saw Jesus' words to his disciples: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:13. That t word—Wouldn't you know I'd open to that! I thought. But, "be of good cheer"—a quick 180-degree turn—was hopeful. And "I have overcome the world" rang with authority, conviction, strength, love—joy, even. It said to me, "And I've given you all you need to do the same!"
To promise a rose garden, I saw, would be like saying, "Follow me, guys, and you'll never have to use these teachings." But Christ Jesus was the Saviour that God sent to free humanity from sin, sickness, and death by giving us a practicable understanding of God, omnipotent good. That mission he fulfilled, equipping us well and promising, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32.What more could I want? I asked myself.
This realization prompted a big shift in my thought—away from the problem side to the solution side, from the demand side to the supply side. From "How big (or many) are my problems" to "How great is God's love here, now, to meet them!" This was a Christly perspective, impelling in me a Christian willingness to meet challenges, instead of a wimpy, willful wanting only the proofs without the proving.
Taking up the cross, I've learned, may not be easy, but it is always doable and rewarding.
Continuing to ponder this lesson, I thought back to math class in elementary school. The teacher would teach us a rule, then send us to the blackboard and give us problems to work, problems that involved applying that rule. How we loved doing what we'd just learned how to do! Christianity, I was beginning to see, is no different. It's not about just reading a "nice little lesson" on God, but taking what I learned there of Him, and applying it all day long to everything that came to my attention, both in my own life and in the world.
Then I was given a biography of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded the Church based on its teachings. In her life she overcame "mega-tribulations"—physical, financial, and relationship challenges. But what impressed me most was her prayer. Each morning she would open her Bible and read whatever she opened to with "a mental invocation that the divine Love give me grace, meekness, understanding and wisdom for each hour of this day." L12892, Mary Baker Eddy to Edward D. French, July 10, 1907, 1907, The Mary Baker Collection, Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity . There was no wish for "no waves." No willful outlining of the day to come. No list of all she had to do. No rehearsal of problems. Just a wholehearted, humble petition (full of expectancy) for those four precious God-derived qualities—meekness, grace, wisdom, understanding—that equip us fully for every circumstance.
What a change this Christian attitude/altitude of thought sparked in me. Immediately, my thought was more proactive, purposeful, productive. My Bible study was joyful, special. The God-promises I took from it continued to feed me throughout the day—directly and specifically. I found myself hugging the whole world in them. For instance, one morning while reading the Bible Lesson on the subject "God," this promise spoke to my heart: "The king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more." Zeph. 3:15. I noted that it didn't say evil wouldn't insist on being seen. Rather, what it said to me was that because God, Love, is always present and almighty, no in-your-face picture of evil could disturb me.
All day long, I held to this assurance of God's tenderness and might. It armed me with such a deep conviction that only good is real, that even that day's three challenges together couldn't overwhelm me: The kids' school notified us of a measles epidemic; a close friend was in a car accident; heart-rending photos in the news showed starving African children.
I wasn't oblivious to these needs. Far from it. But to me, the certainty of one universal Father-Mother God, ever present and ever active at each of these points of need, was so much greater than any difficulty. I knew that my prayer—affirming Love's constant care of His universal family—was an active influence for good, as were the prayers of others.
Jesus' instruction to his disciples regarding "bad stuff"—pestilences, famines, wars, and so forth—equipped me. "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up," he said. "Know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." Luke 21:28, 31. This I was doing the best I could. And in the end, no further measles cases occurred in our school district. My friend's recovery from injuries sustained in the car accident was complete and quicker than physicians had expected. And regarding the famine, news bulletins reported fewer casualties than anticipated. And despite bureaucracy, food was reaching those in need.
For me, this was an important beginning. No longer have I entered the day wishing for a rose garden, but with the conviction that each moment is already God filled before I get to it. Full of His care, full of His blessings, full of His lessons. And true Christianity, I'm learning, is acknowledging His care, receiving His blessings, learning His lessons, which always lift us up, never pound us down. Taking up the cross, I've learned, may not be easy, but it is always doable and rewarding. It's a moment-by-moment Christly perspective God gives us when we listen—a willingness to meet each challenge, and an assurance that we're equipped by God to heal. TCSJ
Judy Olson is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Westport, Connecticut.
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