How to do the impossible

When I was in high school, my friend Roger and I got into an argument. It was an odd argument that took place over our lunch trays one obscure day. We were discussing television and I mentioned that on Saturday night, I had stopped watching “The Carol Burnett Show” in favor of “The Love Boat.”

That was the beginning of a heated discussion about which was the better show. Roger had long been a fan of “The Carol Burnett Show” (as was I), but I enjoyed “The Love Boat” and was rather passionate in my defense of its quality.

Frankly, Roger was right. I am actually embarrassed about my position, but I was in high school, so what did I know, and Roger always had a better sense of quality in the arts, as he still does. I was thinking about this the other day when I heard that Tim Conway had died.

Just hearing the news instantly took my mind to sitting on my parent’s couch and watching “The Carol Burnett Show.” I took a little time that afternoon by honoring him as I thought best, by watching some of the old videos of his comic genius and simply being grateful that this gift was a part of my life.

And let’s be honest, there are few things better than watching Tim Conway make Harvey Korman laugh; seriously, just watching the two of them makes me laugh every single time.

One of the tributes that were posted on Twitter as the news of his death spread was from a fellow comedian, who gave an interesting description of Tim Conway’s talent, he said his comedy was “effortless.” I had never thought about it that way, but reading the words, I knew they were true.

Now, it is obvious that he worked hard at his craft, spending time behind the scenes honing his talent, because that is what a person striving for greatness does. Because the talent was there, it never seemed as if he worked at being funny. He was funny, naturally, and we responded naturally to him because there was a sense that nothing made him happier than making others laugh, and that is enticing.

When a person is struggling to accomplish something, trying too hard and not being quite successful, it can be uncomfortable to watch. We can sense when someone is “acting,” and the performance suffers. When a person tries too hard, all a person watching can see is the “trying.”

This is, perhaps, why calling Tim Conway’s performances “effortless” is such a compliment. All we had to do was sit back, enjoy and let a naturally funny man make us (and Harvey) laugh.

As Christians, we know that the Lord has given us a mission, things to do and ways to be in the world. Anyone who takes this mission seriously knows how difficult these mandates are, the call to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to cherish the poor, and to love, above all to love. We are called, over and again, to love like the Father, liberally, without borders or hesitation; to love as Christ loves us.

A daunting challenge? Definitely. Impossible? Probably.

Yet, I do not think the Lord Jesus gave us these mandates just to enjoy watching us try to do the impossible. I think He gave these mandates because He expected us to do it.

What makes it possible for us to do the impossible? The gift of the Holy Spirit, poured over us, sealed within us, alive through us, this gracious gift we celebrate and renew each Pentecost is the great reminder that the Spirit does the impossible through us. It is not for us to simply struggle and strive and fail. It is for us to be alive to this gift and let it flow.

It does not take a person a long time to discern a person who is trying to live Christianity with their own power and abilities. Occasionally I will watch some news program and there will be a Christian invited on to talk about some relevant issue, and sometimes I simply stare at the screen in horror as the faith we love and brings us life is used to justify casual cruelty.

So much effort being exerted to wrap personal desires and cruelty in the mantle of Christianity can be painful to watch, and even harder to accept.

We know what Christianity is supposed to look like, sound like, act like. We know what the Lord has asked of us. No, it is not easy, but embracing the Spirit’s power within us, this power that is already there, we can find ourselves doing it; all we have to do is relax, embrace the truth of who we are and what we possess, and then it is always Pentecost.

“Without me you can do nothing,” He said to us; but with Him, we can do everything, even the impossible.

We can even do it, effortlessly.