Trying to Get By


This evening I was struck again by a thought that comes my way about once a month. It’s not a provocative thought. It may not be worthy of a post. But I think there’s some truth in it that we needHomeless to consider before we set the barrels of our collective Gatling guns on “blazing” mode.

Most people are just trying to get by.

It’s easy to paint great swaths of humanity with a specific color of sin that’s apparent to us. I know I do it with relative ease. As Christians, it’s almost second nature for us to scrutinize some group of people and candidly tell others exactly what that group’s besetting sin is. We’ve got it down to an art form.

Americans get painted with plenty of those wide brushes, especially by other Americans. We’re greedy, materialistic, the-world-revolves-around-us kind of people. We’re loud, stage-hogging, patriotic zealots who drive insensitive gas-chugging vehicles. And we’re fat, too. See how easy those labels come? How many of the seven deadly sins did I just name? I lost track.

I like to watch people. As a writer, people are my domain. Restaurants are an essential place for this. Just last week I witnessed a family that consisted of a young dad and mom that had three girls and a boy. The dad was dressed in a mechanic’s uniform, while mom wore one of those unfortunate summer outfits that heightens the very things she wished no one noticed about her. The three girls had nine months of spacing between each of them, bam, bam, bam.

But then there was the boy. He was probably fourteen, at least eight years older than the next-oldest child. You could almost envision mom and dad as sixteen-year olds finding out they had a male heir on the way. Years of struggle put off any chance of having more children, but when times got modestly better for a season they came one after another. The boy looked just like his dad and has a shared destiny, knowing how those things go. The girls mirrored mom, each unique from the other, yet all their mother’s daughters.

I watched how they interacted. Obviously drained, the parents poked at their food and exchanged few words, parenting relegated to the older boy in that moment. The girls were all bright smiles. Still, you could tell they were just getting by.

No one wakes up in the morning and contemplates how they’ll be materialistic. The CEO of the company wants to get his kids into the best school possible—and so does the company’s janitor. The brazenly loaded patron of the arts shops at Wal-Mart, intent on a good value, just like the starving artist. The dad looking for a birthday present for his son wants to get something that will put a big smile on the little chip’s face, not thinking he could feed ten Sudanese kids for a year with the amount of cash he’s going to drop. Meanwhile, mom isn’t considering how the birthday party’s wake will result in sixty pounds of trash. And a worn set of young parents of four kids is deliberating whatever blow tomorrow will bring, worry carving gouges in their faces.

You can say what you will about any of these people. All of them are trying to get by using whatever means seems best. All them will die some day. Some are destined for glory and some destined for the second death.

I aspire to great things, but when it comes down to it, I’m just trying to get by, too. My eternal hope is that I’m always plugged into the Lord and that nothing I do is outside His perfect will for my life. I also know that I fail miserably in that regard as I suspect that most people, Christian or not, do. Life is hard whether you’re surrendered or not.

When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
—Mark 6:34 ESV

Some people feel compassion for dumb animals, but not for their fellow man. Those folks confound me—and not in a good way. I hope that my view is like the Lord’s. People are just trying to get by, but what confusion attends them!

If it’s hard for the righteous to live daily in the world, how much harder is it for the lost? Is it just me or are we tougher on them in the midst of their clouded existence than we are on ourselves, we who know the Truth and yet still have a difficult time of life? Despite the fact that we’ve already been taught many things, most of us do a terrible job of incorporating that teaching into our day to day reality. What should we expect of those who have no such teaching?

This is not a post about excuses. No one has an excuse before God. If our stories were all that important, then salvation would be like the old TV show, “Queen for a Day,” wherein the biggest sob story wins a pedicure and the washer and dryer set.

Yet grace is still present. Are we dispensing it? Are we making it any easier for people, both lost and found, to make it to the finish line? Are we helping the persevering saints become more than conquerers or have we forgotten them in our own attempts to muddle through? And what about those additional burdens that we so easily load on the backs of people already struggling? Do only the strong survive?

God, help us.