It is a common expression, usually uttered with more than a little exasperation. Someone has been an irritant in our lives with what we deem ongoing and unreasonable demands, and we wish they would just take a pill. Somebody is fretting and fussing over things they cannot change or wishing people around them would change according to their demands and we sigh and suggest they should just take a pill. If only life were that easy.
I was watching TV the other night and a series of ads were on telling me of the latest, greatest pharmaceutical advances. I can just take a fat-burning pill and all my excess poundage will just melt away. I don’t have to change my diet or life style. I don’t have to get off my derriere and exercise. I don’t have to take any responsibility for my poor habits. I just need to take a pill. If only life were that easy.
Please, do not misunderstand. I am not on an anti-medication crusade. I thank God for the medical advances that have pioneered all sorts of treatments that are crucial for health and well-being. I have a son whose daily injections of insulin keep him alive.
Unfortunately, we can also get caught into the wishful thinking that everything distasteful or difficult can be handled just by taking a pill. We are always tempted to believe that there is some quick and easy, no fuss and no muss, and especially no sacrifice or hard work solution, wherein we can just take the proverbial pill (or as with the story in Genesis 3, eat the forbidden fruit) and all will be well.
The longer I journey with God the more I have grown to appreciate that wonderful classic, Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan understood clearly what most of us want to deny: that our growth in faith and understanding, our progress in holiness and sanctification, is a slow, life-long, arduous challenge of being tested, strengthened, stretched and molded into a closer likeness to Jesus.
My track coach from years ago used to remind his aspiring runners: “no pain, no gain.” While I truly believe the spiritual journey is filled with endless delight, blessing and joy, it is also one of disciplined endeavor in prayer and in growing in the faith and knowledge of Christ. It involves diligent striving after deeper intimacy with God and it demands the hard work of letting the Holy Spirit go to work on all the areas of our life that are the most un-Christ-like. It is those sin-ridden, shame-inducing, stubbornly resistant to grace areas of our soul that we generally try hardest to hide, ignore and deny and which we most tragically fail to surrender to Christ’s healing and transforming mercies.
When St. Paul prayed that his friends in Ephesus would be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:19), I suspect he knew that there was no easy pill, no simple self-help formula by which we who were slaves to sin would come alive within the freedom of Christ and learn to live as the new creation we are through the Master’s grace. Perhaps you remember the old commentary on the story of the Exodus that it only took a few weeks to get Israel out of Egypt but it took forty years to get Egypt out of Israel. That is, it took a whole generational change for God’s people fully to embrace their identity as the chosen and redeemed of the Lord, rather than as helpless and hope-starved slaves. In the same way, the journey into spiritual maturity and strength will take our lifetime of working out this salvation in fear and trembling.
I believe that is why Jesus told us to pick up our cross daily and follow him. Sanctification, growth in grace, becoming the full and free and whole and holy new people that we are meant to be will require our whole hearted focus and all our determined devotion to letting go and letting God truly have his way with our souls.
I suppose growing in grace is like fine wine. It takes time to age, mellow and develop its perfect bouquet. Or else, growing in discipleship and joy is like becoming a top level athlete. It takes years of effort, sacrifice, training, perseverance and straining after the prize. It’s like anything of value. There is no quick and simple pill.
Praise God! Because if all such transformation required was a pill, it would not be much of a prize.