The Idol of Convenience: How We Treat Strangers and Others Shows Our True Hearts

   

Image by Less Lincoln

A man, trembling and afraid, running from heaven-knows-what, screamed for my help.  His cries pierced a cold, dark side-street in San Francisco’s Mission District, a seedy, industrial neighborhood in gentrification. His name was Quinn; and Quinn, in his pressed black slacks and dress shoes, shared something in common with the homeless man across the street, a friend of mine in need of a mentor, and the outreach director at church: they inconvenience me.

Sure, someone should help Quinn.  Someone should aid the homeless man. Someone should mentor my friend and help out at church.  Someone, just so long as it isn’t me; or, maybe I’d help—when convenient, of course. I value service, love, and courage—the whole shebang. I want someone to help the Syrian rebels. I want someone to capture Joseph Kony. Ask me my opinion on any need, and I tell you I want someone to help—just so long as it’s not me.

You see, I really do value service, love, and courage. More than any of those, I adhere to a value I seldom recognize and never admit. This deeply held conviction takes precedence over all else; I value most of all my own convenience.

Don’t point fingers. It’s not just me. Remember last weekend when you canceled on a friend last minute?  You never expected those concert tickets.  A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, right?  Or when you ignored that long-scheduled phone call from a distant friend to join an impromptu party? Just like me, your convenience trumps your word, your honor, and your love, all the time.

Our obsession with ourselves keeps men like me from helping Quinn. It also keeps men like me from keeping my commitments. The idolatry of convenience—the grotesque result of self-love unpaired with God-love or other-love—creates what many would call a good life. I pursue what I want, and I get what I want. I never miss out, never get hurt, never take detours, and never get shanked by strangers named Quinn. The idolatry of convenience, however, destroys my soul. The idolatry of convenience destroys my soul because, in its practice, I never truly love.

“Love is patient and kind… It does not insist on its own way… Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).  “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Only he who places his beloved before himself truly loves. Only he who serves his friends before himself truly gives. Only he who serves his neighbor truly bears, believes, and hopes.

To dispel the lie of convenience and its preeminence, we only need turn to Jesus. He sacrificed himself for his friends, not for obligation but for joy. His sacrifice betrays that our primary need lay not in pursuit of selfish convenience, but rather in devotion to selfless sacrifice. It’s better to give than to receive, and our Lord’s gospel destroys our selfish virtue of convenience. Jesus saved us from the need to serve ourselves. He knows our every need and shepherds us. He leads us beside quiet waters. We find freedom to ditch our selfish virtue and convenience, knowing that we trust Jesus to meet our every need.

Quinn, that dude screaming and running towards me on a cold San Francisco night, actually needed help. Thankfully for Quinn and for my soul, we stopped, called 911, and waited with the distraught restaurant server until the cops arrived.  Earlier, some punks jumped out of their car and chased Quinn until he tripped. They piled on top of him and took his tips from the night.  For once I actually inconvenienced myself for another. Let’s hope I keep it up.

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