When "I Have To" is Hard
By now you’ve read the title, so you know this week is about what happens when “I have to” hurts. There’s a big part of me that wishes I didn’t have to center our last week around the word hurt. I wish I could call it “when ‘I have to’ is wonderfully easy and simple.” But if I called it that I would be leaving you with a lie, and for a Bible study author that would just be bad form. So here’s the hard and difficult reality that we must face together before we close our journey: there’s a distinct possibility your “I have to” is going to hurt. But don’t trust my word, trust God’s Word. Here’s what Jesus says about this matter to his disciples.
“If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you” (John 15:18, 19, MSG).
When you have an “I have to,” it’s just another way of saying you’re living on God’s terms. We learned this last week about Noah, Peter, and Gideon and how their “I have to’s” compelled them to do things they never, in their right minds, would have done on their own. In this way, they were living on God’s terms. Now, the bad news, as Jesus explained, is that when you’ve been picked to live on God’s terms (I would venture to say we’ve all been picked; we just haven’t all said yes), then the world isn’t going to like you much. Jesus uses an even stronger word to describe how the world will feel about you. With Jesus there was no sugarcoating things. They are going to “hate you,” Jesus says. So yes, there’s no avoiding it when you have an “I have to.” There’s a good chance it might cause you some discomfort, discord, and even pain.
I wrote in last week’s introduction about the Wright brothers, the first men to fly an airplane. Both men were fascinated by and naturally gifted in the understanding of mechanics. Orville (still in high school at the time) opened his own printing press. Having served as an apprentice in a print shop two summers earlier, he had observed enough about the inner workings of the press to create his own through use of a discarded tombstone, a buggy spring, and scrap metal. And so the ability to build something from practically nothing was born. In the spring of 1893 the brothers would open their own small bicycle business, selling and repairing bikes. The business was successful, ultimately leading them to open a street-level shop with enough space on the second floor to begin producing their own bicycles. All this was well and good, but they still ached to find that one thing they had been put on this earth to do. They were on a search for their ikigai, on the lookout for their “I have to.” It would come, as we all know, in the form of a dream, a dream to fly. On Tuesday, March 30, 1899 Wilbur Wright would draft a letter, one of the most important personal correspondences in history. Addressed to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., he would request any and all research on the topic of flight and would boldly claim that he was completely convinced “human flight is possible and practical.”
Of course, this week is all about how our “I have to’s” can be hard. For the Wright brothers this proved exceptionally true. They built their own glider-kite, having studied and read all they could and, perhaps more importantly, having given themselves to the careful observation of birds in flight. They then made their way to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the winds that whipped off the Atlantic Ocean created the perfect opportunity to test their newly constructed glider. They set up camp, literally sleeping in a large tent, which did very little to shield them from the elements.
Many nights the wind was such that they had to leap from bed to hold the tent down. “When we crawl out of the tent to fix things, the sand fairly blinds us,” Orville wrote. “We each have two blankets, but almost freeze every night.”
They were mocked by the locals, who thought these bird-studying loonies trying to take flight themselves had lost their minds. It would take several trips to Kitty Hawk, and all kinds of failures, injuries, and sleepless nights, nearly freezing themselves in the process, and obscene amounts of hours building and rebuilding their gliders before they would finally arrive at the needed solutions. Still, it would be years before anyone would believe that these two unlikely brothers had cracked the seemingly uncrackable code of flight engineering. And all of this was accomplished with very little support and funding. To give some perspective, there were others chasing the same dream. One man was Samuel Langley, whose experimental project had cost $70,000, mostly public money, and had failed entirely. Between 1900 and 1903, including materials and travel to and from Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers spent a little less than $1,000, all of that coming from the proceeds from their bicycle business.
The Wright brothers had an “I have to,” and it was hard; it cost them something. But it also gave the world an incredible gift. They proved, as they set out to, that “human flight is both possible and practical.” I am grateful they didn’t give up, but instead persevered through the many trials and tribulations.
Our “I have to” very well might hurt as well. So this week let’s lean in instead of leaning away. Let’s work hard to push through the pain and struggle so we can say, as Timothy wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).