Rascal Does Not Dream of a Lost Singer, the latest novel in the Rascal series, begins with Sakuta attending a college mixer. You know, one of those events where college students in Japan hang out at an izakaya, sipping on beers, ordering appetizers, and
flirting mingling with each other? Sounds like fun, right? While it has its charms, a mixer doesn’t seem worth the effort, awkwardness, and anxiety to me, and much the same can be said for Sakuta. Yet, by the end of the evening, it’s led to something good, resulting in a valued new friendship for the lead character of the Rascal series. His whole experience, from awkward beginnings to a good end, brings to mind one with a similar path that’s happening right now all over the world—an event, in fact, that you might be experiencing this very weekend.
That’s right—I’m speaking of Easter. It may sound strange, but reading chapter one immediately brought Easter weekend to mind and especially the theme of invitation. Because, you see, someone invited Sakuta. Someone made the mixer happen, and although he or she goes unnamed, this character’s actions are significant, because they created the situation that brings Sakuta and his new friend together.
Making all this happen isn’t easy. It takes hard work and perhaps a bit of courage, too. Think of the possibility of failure, for instance. What if no one shows up? What if it ends up costing more than anticipated? What if you don’t have the charisma to pull it all together? What if, what if, what if? There are so many ways that an event featuring dozens of college kids could go wrong—and probably will, if I remember my college experience correctly! But the organizer put aside whatever insecurities he or she may have had and chose to move forward.
I can relate. Just a couple of weeks ago, I did something similar, setting aside my concerns and self-doubt to invite friends to church this Easter. Like our mixer hero, I couldn’t be sure how it would turn out, but I took a leap of faith anyway because I felt it was important to do. In the past, I would have hesitated and maybe not gone through with extending an invitation. There’s a natural fear, after all, that accompanies this kind of ask, where we might worry about damaging our relationships by introducing the often private topic of religion into the conversation or being ridiculed for our deeply-held beliefs.
But this time was different. How so? Well, let’s look back at that mixer again. The organizer didn’t just invite Sakuta and everyone out of the blue. Instead, he or she prepared the way—finding the location, contacting the establishment, calculating the costs, and getting dozens of
grown kids adults on board. It took effort, and it was the same for me. I’ve been spending time contemplating, praying, and discussing with my wife as I prepared to ask my friends. In fact, I’ve actually been preparing for this moment with many people over many years, building up relationships through conversation, meals, encouraging words, and in this social media age—tweets and DMs. An invitation to church was just the next natural step in loving several of them as I seek to share the hope I have for life now and into eternity. There was a confidence that arose knowing I’d laid the proper groundwork. This time, even though I had no idea how my friends would respond, I felt secure in making the ask itself.
When you’ve done the groundwork like this, that “leap” of faith feels more like one largish step, maybe more in line with what faith really is: “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Confidence in knowing that your hope lies in a creator whose word is secure and true is a significant part of faith. It reassures us that we’re not jumping into these obedient and loving tasks blindly.
So take heart, all you out there who, like me, fear asking your friends to come to church! As you love those around you and continue to seek the things of God, you can have faith in doing what he desires for us to carry out while in the world. And for you, that might mean inviting a friend to an Easter service this weekend.
But this story is about more than just extending an invitation. The faithfulness of the organizer of the mixer is important, but the story is only fully expressed once Sakuta accepts the invite, against his better judgment! To unpack that, I have to admit something: there was once an Easter weekend when I was like Sakuta, invited to something I was a bit reluctant about, but which ended up changing my life.
Back when I was a college student like Sakuta, a classmate from my Korean language class bravely made the pronouncement that she was going to church this Easter and would welcome any of us to go with her. What she didn’t know was that God had been working on my heart. As a teenager, I had a prideful faith based more on self-justification than the love of Christ. By the time I graduated high school though, I’d drifted even from that flawed faith, becoming agnostic and then in college, a seeker of Eastern religions. I later realized that God was leading me away from legalism and toward a place of authenticity and genuine openness. My classmate’s church invitation was the culmination of these years of searching.
Still, I’m not going to lie—that first weekend at the church was extremely awkward. I really enjoyed the music, found the sermon to be excellent, and was treated with kindness by the congregants, but I still felt out of place.
I was a lot like Sakuta, who went to the mixer because he knew he should be sociable, but who didn’t exactly enjoy being there. Like me, Sakuta is an introvert. It’s not that he doesn’t have great friendships and can’t manage well in social situations, but they’re just not his thing. Parties and other social events drain him. Being surrounded by people he doesn’t know in an environment that’s supposed to be all about having fun doesn’t bring the same dopamine rush for him as being alone with his girlfriend, Mai. Oh yeah, and there’s that. As the co-eds get busy flirting, Sakuta likely feels awkward at the prospect of dealing with girls who may have romance on their minds when he’s already in a committed relationship.
My church experience was somewhat similar: I felt the pull to attend but didn’t really want to go. I knew God was tugging at me. I immediately felt the need to respond, “yes, I’ll go” to my classmate, but I also hated the idea of visiting a new place filled with people I didn’t know. It was scary and uncomfortable. Why go when my bed was beckoning me: “Sleep in this Sunday! Stay here where it’s safe and comfy!”
However, I ended up listening to a different voice, to the one that told me I should go try it out. I didn’t know what to expect (I’d grown up in church but had never been to a “contemporary” one), but I did feel that I should attend.
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Lost Singer is bereft of details about Sakuta’s thinking beforehand, but during the evening of the mixer, we know he’s not feeling it either. He’d talked to a friend, avoided temptation, and was then abandoned by said friend. But before he’s able to abscond for the night, a young woman, Miori Mitou, comes and sits across from him. The two strike up a conversation and, both being glib and overly honest, they become fast friends. Miori then meets Mai just a few days later and becomes friends with her, too, gluing Sakuta and her together even more tightly. A friendship is born out of an event Sakuta wanted to run away from.
Sakuta receives something unexpected from the mixer, but something that’s good—a new friendship. My church visit was weird, too, and even as I kept going, it was uncomfortable for a long time. But as with Sakuta, my attendance led to an important new connection. I’m not referring to relationships with other congregants, though those were made, but one that was even more significant—a friendship with God.
It turned out that we’d just been acquaintances before, but beginning with this first “mixer,” I started walking the path toward my most intimate and meaningful friendship. As I learned more about him, I discovered that he knew me in my heart of hearts—the good stuff as well as the bad—and despite my shortcomings, he wanted to draw nearer to me. I learned that like the earthly friends that most impacted my life as a child, his actions and words defended me and gave me the courage to become a stronger person. And as I indulged in my sometimes weird interests (see anime), I learned that God would watch along with me, too, encouraging me to use my passion in a way that would put me exactly where I was meant to be. This friend changed my life forever—and two decades later, the relationship is still going strong.
All this was the result of an invitation extended and accepted. That’s what happens when someone takes a chance, stepping forward in faith and courage, and another someone pushes away feelings of resistance and takes a similar gamble in saying, “yes, I’ll go.”
My prayer for you is that you’ll respond today. That you’ll answer the call of Easter this year. Whether you’re facing fear, questioning, or discomfort, I encourage you to end your resistance and choose to do something different. I hope that this weekend, you’ll take a step in friendship, and you’ll take a step in faith, and in doing so, you’ll come and see what God has in store for you.
If you’re looking for a church this Easter, send us an email and we’ll try to help you find one close to you. If you’re not quite ready for that step, why not join our Discord server? In addition to being part of a community, you can also join our Saturday or Sunday bible study.
Featured illustration by ますお (reprinted w/permission)