In a recent op-ed piece called “The Tyranny of Convenience”, Tim Wu reflects on the potential negative dimensions of convenience. What happens to us when we have nearly everything at our fingertips? What expectations does that breed in us? How do we deal with difficulty when what we primarily experience is ease? Convenience, he says, for all its benefits, can also makes us selfish, can make us impatient, can make us lazy. What makes convenience tyrannical, Wu says, is that once you know convenience, it’s hard to break out of it; it’s hard to embrace difficulty once something has been made easy. But we must resist convenience,Wu concludes, and he ends his article with this admonition, “So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.”
I read that and thought, “This is positively Lenten!” What I mean is that purposely embracing things in our lives that are slow and difficult could not be more countercultural, and yet also could not be more in line with Jesus’ own admonition to us that we must pick up our crosses and follow him daily. And yet we will never be able to embrace such inconvenience in our own power. We need help. We need God. We need his grace.
Wu’s reflections on the “stupefying” power of convenience reminded me of a phrase from this Sunday’s Epistle reading, Ephesians 2:1-10. Paul says that in a state of deadness, in a state of sin, we follow “the course of this world.” We take the easy path, the way laid out for us by the world, the road of convenience. The only thing that can break us out, Paul says, is the richness of God’s mercy, being made alive in Christ by the grace he gives us in his son.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. After drawing our eyes upward to the “immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness toward us”, he has his own admonishment that we should walk in good works. If we have a certain view of grace, it’s easy to see it as its own kind of convenience. If there’s grace, then that’s it, I’m done. But for Paul grace itself is the motivation for us to embrace “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should talk in them”.
For me, this is what Lent is all about, remembering grace, leaning on grace, in order to be spurred on to good works. On the basis of grace, I can purposely embrace inconvenience for the sake of my soul. On the basis of grace, I can step off the course of the world so that I can pulled upward by grace and onward to good works. If that’s true, then my own admonition is, let’s embrace inconvenience together as we walk the Lenten path!