"I Don't Like It When I Can't Get What I Want"

"I don't like it when I can’t get what I want." This is the new favorite phrase of my four-year-old son. He has reached an age, and a life-situation, where he is realizing how little control he has over his life. He is seeing the gap between what he wants in this world and what he actually gets, and he doesn’t like it one bit. And I totally understand. In the past I might have been tempted to write this off as childish ignorance about how the world works--a childish notion that kids just have to get over to live in the real world. After what I've experienced this year, however, I realize that James is not stuck in a childish power struggle with his parents. He is fighting his first battles with his lifelong nemesis: mortality. 
That may seem like an extreme interpretation, but let me explain. At our root, human beings are a paradox--we are part angel, part animal. We are dirt formed into the image of God. As Ecclesiastes puts it, "[God has] set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11) We have hearts and minds that can imagine amazing things, but we are stuck in these bodies that have limitations. We can only be in one place at a time. We can only run so fast, jump so high. We have to pause for sleep, for food, for water, for breath. As much as we want to be purely angels, we are stuck in these mortal, material bodies. And we hate it. This is exactly what my son is starting to experience: the limits of his body compared to the freedom of his imagination. He hates being mortal.
James is not being childish when he says, "I don't like it when I can't get what I want." He is speaking for the entire human race, every person in every stage of life, saying out loud what our hearts are feeling all the time. His complaints about bedtime and my complaints about paying taxes are two battles in the same war. His frustration with leaving the playground is the same as my frustration with missing that promotion. Neither of us like it when we can't get what we want. 
How can we win this battle with mortality? James' response is to fight for control of his life--to resist every limitation life puts on him. Sometimes that resembles what we might call a "temper tantrum." And of course the temper tantrum is the very definition of childishness. It is what separates the adults from the children, right? Children lose control and fight against the inevitable, but adults adapt to reality with calm acceptance. Right?
Well, it is true that we try to avoid outright tantrums, but I think that has more to do with pretending we've matured, rather than actually outgrowing our frustration. The truth is we adults are still constantly finding ways to fight against the world, to take what we want, to "win" at life any way we can. We are terrified of losing, of missing out. Our tempter tantrums look different: they look like dishonesty in our relationships, corruption in our workplaces, selfishness in our politics, greed in our finances. We are no more accepting of our fate than James, we're just better at hiding it. 
But Jesus offers us a better way, the way of resurrection. The first step is the hardest: you have to die. You have to surrender your war with mortality. You have to give up your quest to get "what you want." It is no exaggeration to call this surrender death, because it means giving up on every instinct of self-will and self-preservation you have. But the second step is easier, mainly because we don't have to do it ourselves: you have to be raised from the dead. This week I'm working on a sermon from John 6, in which Jesus says, 
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (Jn 6:35–40)
As we surrender our lives to Christ--as we give up our quest to get what we want--we entrust our lives to Christ, believing that he will raise us to new life. And that faith, that trust in our future, gives us new life today. It gives us the strength and the reason to live in a different way, freed from the desperation that so often drives us to sin. Romans 6 says, 
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Ro 6:4–7).
When we trust in the resurrection, we are dead to sin--we are immune to its power because we no longer need to win, we no longer need to conquer. We only need to obey God and let him look after our lives. 
This is a lesson that takes a lifetime to learn but maybe, if I can model the way of resurrection well enough for my son and daughters, I can give them a good head start.

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