Monday over Coffee: "How Will I Be Different?"

Published April 11, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different?
— Rachel Held Evans

In March 2014, Rachel Held Evans visited Houston to talk to our church. Rachel grew up in Tennessee, and upon graduating from college, took a job with her hometown newspaper. At the same time, she was also writing a book about the tension she was feeling between the faith of her past—one characterized by religious certainty—and the one she was growing into—one in which doubt and questions were becoming a fundamental part. Encouraged by how her book was received upon its publication, she kept writing, soon developing an influential blog which explored the contours of a faith that might instruct her more on what she might be wrong about than one which simply reinforced all her own preferences, prior positions, and theological claims. When she visited our church that spring, she had several books to her name and I'd just finished teaching a short study on her writings with some of the younger members of our congregation. For this reason, I especially enjoyed the opportunity to speak with her about both her faith and her work. She was, as I expected, curious and thoughtful in conversation, and engagingly self-effacing yet confident in front of the big crowd which had come to see her.

In April of 2019, Rachel was hospitalized with a bad case of the flu then suffered an allergic reaction to the antibiotics she was given. Experiencing severe seizures and brain swelling, she was placed into a medically induced coma, then tragically passed away on May 4, 2019 at the age of 37. In addition to feeling terrible for her husband, Dan, and their two young children, I was also struck with a deep sense of loss—not because she was a close friend—but because it was clear the world in general and Christianity in particular would be, in the wake of her passing, sadly deprived of her uniquely winsome, yet always challenging voice.

The enduring message of Rachel's short life as I see it was how followers of God must earnestly endeavor to live authentically in a modern and contentious world in a way that is both obedient to God and still full of divine grace. While many believers, myself included, are quick to erroneously use the term prophetic to simply describe a person we agree with who also effectively puts those we oppose in their rightful place, Rachel's voice really did seem prophetic in the true sense of the word. That is to say, while she said many things I heartily agreed with, just as I'd start to cheer her on, she would turn and shine a light on my own hypocrisy, or just as readily, her own. Then often, after stretching my own definition of grace to a place I might have earlier resisted, in the next breath, she'd urge those to whom I'd just struggled to extend grace—to exhibit a more expansive grace themselves. She was kind of fearless that way.

One of the things Evans seemed to take quite seriously each year was Lent. As we enter Holy Week, I was reminded of a question she encouraged her readers to wrestle with a few years ago, and here it is: When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different?

My Lenten practice this year I regret to say has been a bit spotty—a little self-denial here, some marginal steps forward in praying more contemplatively there, but I can't really point to any truly transformative change that's occurred inside me. But, as always, with God, there's a wide grace here. A second chance. An opportunity for redemption—for Holy Week itself provides a landscape over which we may complete our Lenten journey even if it hasn't been the wholly sacred adventure we set out on back on Ash Wednesday.

This week, finish your trek through Lent by asking yourself Rachel's question: "When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different?" Her whole life seemed to turn on such inquiry—where am I now and how am I trying to get closer to God? Who am I becoming? What kind of witness am I? They are not questions that can be answered in six or seven days, six or seven weeks, or even six or seven years. But they are questions we ought to at least get started on this week.

God — When I wake up on Sunday morning, help me to be different than I am now. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk