What Works for Me, Part 5: Cleaning House

There are a couple of truths of my life that come into conflict fairly consistency. They are (a) The state of my IMMEDIATE environment (e.g., the room I’m in, or the desk I’m at which I’m sitting in) has a fairly strong impact on my state of mind, and (b) Day-to-day, I’m not the neatest person. 

Because of (b), I don’t always return things to their proper places, telling myself, “Oh I’ll do that later,” and as the days go by, my desk and office/creative space can get pretty cluttered. 

So occasionally, I have to “Press Pause” and do a more significant “house cleaning,” during which I go through accumulated papers and materials and sort them into things that are useful and things that are not. If they are useful, I find a place for them and get them there; if they are not USEFUL, I either throw them out, or (if there’s a chance that maybe they WILL be useful at a future time) at the very least place somewhere away from my immediate work space. 

When I finish, I tend to breathe a little better, and find my work space a little more manageable and peaceful. 

Cleaning House in our own lives isn’t much different than this. Cleaning my house starts with BEING WILLING to have an HONEST look at my own life and noticing the things—“things” here being mostly attitudes, ideas, and concepts—that operate inside me. After that, it’s a simple matter of declaring some things helpful and others not helpful (just so you know: usually there are more things that are not helpful), and “putting them away” as best I can. 

(NOTE: This is where things can get a little dicey. Because I am only human, I can only ‘put things away’ to a certain extent. After that point, I need help from someONE or someTHING that is outside myself, and more powerful than I am. Because let’s face it: If  I was capable of putting those things away, I probably would have already done it.) 

The first time I did this it was nearly overwhelming. I really didn’t want to be THAT honest with myself, and name the things—the really unnecessary, BROKEN things—that dominated my life. 

But this is ALSO where trusting God (not to mention the spiritual principles of OPEN-MINDEDNESS and WILLINGNESS) came into play. 

Could I trust that I was still lovable—deserving of compassion and human dignity—NO MATTER WHAT cluttered up my house? 

For me, when I was able to be very clear about that trust, I was able to clean my house to a degree that brought about a pretty profound realization and a change of heart and mind. I was capable of seeing so much of my life that was just not helpful—attitudes of shame, self-loathing, and also pride and selfishness—that were holding me back and preventing me from being the compassionate, present, joyful person that I was invited to be. 

In other words, cleaning house—just like cleaning my office—was incredibly LIBERATING and LIFE-GIVING. 

After that initial instance, I continue to clean house on an ongoing, rhythmic basis. First, I try to do it daily, reviewing my day (or, in some cases, just the last few hours) and naming/clearing away those things that have come up. 

Second, I try to do a more in-depth review every few months, or annually. Let’s face it: things just come up in our lives. I know I, at least, am far from perfect, so it’s good to just keep things clean for me. 

One final, but critical idea: THIS IS CLEANING MY HOUSE, NOT YOURS. 

The fact of the matter is this: The state of YOUR office is not really affecting MY creative space. I’m tempted to think otherwise. I really want to give you tips on your office, or why your desk organization is not as effective as mine. 

But that’s not helpful, and not the way it works. 

I’m called to clean MY HOUSE, not YOURS. I’m called to look at MY life, not yours, EVEN WHEN THE STATE OF YOUR LIFE EFFECTS ME (because it’s made YOU bitter, or angry, or manipulative, etc.). 

I cannot clean your house. I’m called to clean mine. After that I can, TRUST that God has you on your own journey, be OPEN-MINDED enough to believe that it’s more helpful for me to focus on myself rather than you, and—if all else fails—be WILLING to follow the advice those around me (because this whole thing is assuming that I’m in SOME kind of spiritual community) to be quiet and focus on myself first. 

The good news is this: Without even focusing on anyone else’s space or house, looking at ME and my own space has been one of the most paradigm-shifting and chain-breaking activities I’ve ever gone through. 

Next Up: Serving Others 

What Works for Me, Part. 4.2

Well, actually, BEFORE we move to “Cleaning House,” I wanted to circle back to something regarding trusting God that turned out to be pretty critical in my own journey.

This is challenging for me to communicate, on a couple different levels, but when I was learning to trust God, I first had to deal with a very unpleasant reality. Specifically, I realized that, although I trusted that God existed, I really did not/COULD not trust that He had ANY interest whatsoever in saving or helping me.

For me, this had profound effects in my life.

Without TRYING to fool myself, or trying to lie to anyone or misrepresent anything, I was living in two contradictory realities: I could TRUST that God existed, and that He was even absolutely loving… TO EVERYONE ELSE.

To me, my understanding of God (at one point, anyway) was that He was distant, impersonal, and uninterested in me… UNLESS I was doing something “awesome” for him.

Otherwise, I believed that essentially I was unlovable.

What I’m trying to say here is that, for me, before I could really learn to TRUST God, and to PRACTICE that reality on an ongoing basis, I had to be really honest, and be willing to NAME—on a very bedrock, sometimes even ugly level—what I REALLY believed and thought about God and myself.

It was only after I could be honest, and name the struggle, that I could start to “rehabilitate”, or correct, those ideas.

When I realized what I REALLY believed about God and myself, it was startling and distressing, but more importantly, it helped me make sense of unhealthy patterns and struggles in my life. “Oh, well, no wonder I have always struggled with shame!”

So, the simple thought is just to BE AWARE of your conception of God.

Trusting in God, to me, implies that (a) God exists, and (b) He is good and wants me—NOT just “everyone else—to be free of those things that would threaten to swallow me whole.

To get clarity on those two essentials, I really had to “clear the deck” of everything I THOUGHT I believed, and start from scratch. I didn’t have any problem believing that God existed, simply because I think I am somehow pre-disposed to be comfortable with mystery and the unexplainable. For me, that wasn’t that difficult to get past.

For the second idea, I decided to start with, well, PEOPLE.

I had just enough people in my life, that I could start to look around, and ask myself, “If I could not (yet) believe that God wants me to be free and ‘thriving,’ could I at least believe that (insert name of various friends here) wants me to be free?”

And if I could believe that my friends and family wanted me to be free, I could START to believe that God actually did. I had just let my brokenness cloud my understanding of Him.

And if I could start to believe that He wanted me to be free, then I could start to learn to TRUST Him, even when (not IF) life was difficult, and God (as I was coming to understand Him) was asking me to do rather difficult and stretching things.

Next Up (for real this time): CLEANING HOUSE.

What Works for Me, Pt. 4: Trusting God

I started this series off by looking at three spiritual principles that form a foundation for my life.

Now, I’d like to talk a bit about how those play themselves out on a daily basis.

I would sum up my tactical/daily approach to living with three ideas:

  1. Trust God
  2. Clean House
  3. Serve Others

For me, these three concepts are a powerful combination of action and reflection, intention and surrender, practical and ambiguous (in a good way).

Here are some thoughts on I work with them (or, more typically, how THEY work with ME).

TRUST GOD

For me, I had a hard realization at some point that, although I trusted God to “get me to heaven,” I really didn’t trust him in a day-to-day, moment-to-moment sense. For everything related to how I ACTUALLY lived my life, I preferred to remain in the driver’s seat, thank you very much.

But I ALSO knew, at some level, that I was/am WOEFULLY ill-equipped to run my own life. If I am incapable of being God in the cosmic sense, I am incapable of being God in the minute, intimate sense as well.

I had a TRUST issue.

Again, none of these concepts and principles are self-contained, they are all intrinsically inter-related. That being said, I often think of “Trusting God” as very closely aligned with being “Open Minded”. What I mean by that is that MOST of the time my trust issues are put on display when something happens in my life that is unplanned, or difficult, or simply not my preferred outcome.

It’s at that point that I throw some form of an adult temper-tantrum, and either lash out, seek revenge, or retreat and isolate.

Because I didn’t get what I wanted.

I didn’t get the gig I wanted; I didn’t receive the adulation for a “brilliant blog post.” I didn’t get the recognition I “deserve.” My friends/children are not behaving the way I WANT them too.

The list goes on and on and on.

And so, at some level, I determined that God/life has made a mistake, and it’s up to me to correct this mistake.

Except that most of the time mistakes resent and resist being corrected (especially if they are living, breathing, human beings).

But what if there’s a different way to react?

A way that speaks TRUST in God, in release, in peace, in a beautiful EXHALE of breath?

So what I have found recently is that, if I can be OPEN-MINDED just enough to entertain the possibility that what is happening to me is EXACTLY WHAT IS MEANT TO BE HAPPENING TO ME at any given moment, something gets released inside of me.

Because my personal belief is that there is NO PLACE, NO TIME, and NO SITUATION in which God is not present (else He/She would not be God).

So, if what is happening to me is what is MEANT to be happening, then it must mean that God is present in it… Which means I have an opportunity to TRUST God in that moment.

Again, for those of us who—at least on SOME level—are capable of claiming that we “trust” God for the “big stuff”, I think the challenge comes when the proverbial crap hits the fan.

THAT’S when trust becomes an issue.

(NOTE: This doesn’t necessarily mean that we just “whistle past the graveyard,” and refuse to take action when we see injustice or brokenness in the world; I believe we are called to DO and to PRAY all we can [in detached love], but at some point there must be SOME degree of ACCEPTANCE of reality as it is, because REALITY is the place to which we are called.)

So waking up in the morning, I make my first act of trust by declaring that I will—as best I can—TRUST God to give me the work to do that HE wants me to do. Hopefully, I have some sense of what that is, and can plan accordingly, but I shouldn’t freak out (or even be surprised) if/when my plans get blown up.

Just trust that He is taking me EXACTLY WHERE I NEED TO GO for that day.

One more thing: for me, this kind of trust, ideally, requires an ongoing connection throughout the day, as opposed to a one-time prayer/”quiet time”/connection in the morning. (It’s one of the reasons that I would encourage anyone who listens to be careful of the idea that ONLY having a “quiet time” in the morning is somehow sufficient to having or enlarging a “spiritual life”. I have often found that if I have a quiet time at 5AM, by 10:30AM I half-insane again with stress, selfishness, pride, self-centeredness and self-pity. Quite frankly, I need something more and ongoing. A relationship, you might say.)

Anyway: it’s not easy, but it’s simple.

Next up: CLEANING HOUSE.

What Works for Me, Part Three

After open-mindedness and self-honesty, the third spiritual principle that I lean on is WILLINGNESS. Taken together these three principles form a powerful paradigm for me to use to approach my life, and to provide some great boundaries as well.

WILLINGNESS

Willingness, for me, is simply a matter of desire.

How badly do I WANT to change?

(By the way, this is where the inter-relatedness of these principles really becomes evident.)

For most of us, change only comes as a result of pain—either pain that we experience ourselves or pain that we inflict on others. When we experience that pain or witness the results of that pain in others, we OFTEN (but, unfortunately, not ALWAYS) become willing to do anything in order to change.

We have a wake up call.

Being willing means saying, “I will do ANYTHING in order to stop the pain.” When I have been able to say that, it has been like opening the gate for the other two principles:

When I’m willing to stop the pain, I’ll look at myself with as honest an evaluation as I can. I want to see clearly who I am, in order to see how I need to change.

When I’m willing to do anything to stop the pain, I’ll open my mind up to say, “What I have been doing is obviously not working; what else is there to try?” (Remembering that the definition of insanity is simply doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.)

But to be honest, even when I suspect that I’m causing undue pain in myself and others, I’m really not THAT willing.

Being willing to do ANYTHING means that I’m willing to SACRIFICE, to LAY DOWN, potentially a LOT of things.

And that’s a big price to pay for a lot of us.

Am I willing to sacrifice my pride? My job? My prestige? My POWER?

How about my CONTROL?

Luckily, the principle of willingness has one additional layer to it:

When I am not WILLING, I can be WILLING to be WILLING.

It’s the desire before the desire. The hope before the hope.

And somehow, I think the universe—God—can work with that.

So practicing willingness means laying it all on the line. It means trying my best (because NO ONE is perfect), and not holding back.

It ALSO means that I am willing to listen to others (i.e., to be utterly OPEN-MINDED) EVEN WHEN I THINK I’M RIGHT OR I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO LEARN.

Practicing also means that I take an unvarnished, even-handed look at my character and my behavior in order to know myself as objectively as possible (being SELF-HONEST).

(It also means being open (minded) to the possibility that I HAVE NOT been objectively honest enough about my character, and I need to look harder or deeper.)

See how this all works together yet?


I like simple things, mostly because I have an intense tendency to over-complicate EVERYTHING, particularly when it comes to spirituality and life.

So coming back to the idea that there are just these THREE THINGS that I can start with is such a gift to me. When I feel like I’m getting sideways and out of sorts, I can start here:

Am I open-minded?
Am I being honest with myself?
Am I willing?

(Or, even more likely…)

Am I WILLING to be open-minded?
Am I WILLING to be honest?
Am I WILLING to be willing?

Somehow, and I cannot explain it, God and grace works with “willing to be willing…” In fact, I don’t think God “meets us halfway when we are willing to be willing; I actually think He comes ALL THE WAY TO US as soon as we are willing to be…

And life can begin to change; I can begin to heal. I can begin to SOMEHOW become the human being that I am meant to be IN the world and FOR the world.

What Works for Me, Part Two

This is the second part of a little blog series I’m writing called “What Works for Me,” in which I’m sharing the ins and outs of my spirituality. I hope you find it useful.

Last time I talked about “Open-Mindedness,” one of the spiritual principles that I try to live by. The second principle (but again: these are not linear, but are inter-woven and inter-dependent) is self-honesty.

SELF-HONESTY

Being honest with myself means that, before I complain about other people and their behavior, I take a look at ME.

And I mean a REAL look.

It’s so easy for me to let, well, ME off the hook. I make excuses for the same behavior in my own life that I normally scream about in others’ lives.

(In fact, the longer I live in this life, the more convinced I am that when something REALLY infuriates me, it’s usually an indication that, somewhere, somehow, I am guilty of doing the EXACT SAME THING.)

Self-honesty means owning my own thoughts and behaviors on a very deep and sincere level WITHOUT SHAMING myself (because, to the degree that PRIDE is about distinguishing myself from everyone else—”I am the best” OR “I am the worst”—SHAME is just another expression of pride).

Self-honesty means that I am always willing to ask myself, “okay but what did I do?” BEFORE I dwell on what someone else did to me.

Because, the truth is (if I’m being honest), my motives are practically ALWAYS mixed.

(NOTE: that question above does not address issues of abuse or victimization. There are many times in my childhood where I have not done ANYTHING to “deserve” the treatment that I received. But as an adult, I have had to be at least willing to entertain the thought that I have a part in a lot of the difficulties in my life.)

Already you can probably see the relationship between being open-minded and being honest with yourself. CLOSE-mindedness can very easily conclude, “It’s THEIR fault,” while being open-minded introduces the idea that maybe, JUST maybe I had some role in whatever is going on in my life.”

(Which, by the way, means that I have AGENCY—response ABILITY—to do something about it.)

Practicing self-honesty, to me, means that I normally reflect on my behavior in a day, and ask myself about my thought life and behavior. Was I selfish? Was I fearful? Did I over-react to a situation? Was I ambitious and prideful?

There’s nothing damning or too damaging in these answers. They are meant to remind me that NO ONE (including/especially me) is perfect.

Additionally, practicing self-honesty ALSO means that, because I am prone to making mistakes, I am likely to hurt other people. AND if I have hurt other people, that means I can also be open (and willing) to going to them and apologizing, and trying my best to make the situation right in some way.

But that’s getting into WILLINGNESS (which is next).

What Works For Me, Pt. 1

To me, there is no “spiritual life.”

There is only MY life, and it’s up to ME as to how “spiritual” it is or is not.

This means that washing dishes can be as God-infused as a worship gathering.

(Though what is missing in dishwashing is often the gathered people of God.)

Someone wrote once that we live in a “God-bathed world.” I like that. I believe that there is no place or no time that God cannot inhabit, and so I seek to make my life as thoroughly spiritual as I can.

(Pssssst: before you think that somehow I’m a “super-Christian”, please know that I seldom get this all “right.” In fact, it’s not about “getting it right” or being perfect—sorry over-achievers—it’s about PRACTICING a spirituality that actually can work to change you.)

So, for the next few weeks, here’s how I do it. It’s about spiritual principles, a simple program, and some basic actions.

I wonder about the significance of the fact that I did not learn these in seminary, or from a famous pastor or Christian celebrity, but rather hanging out with people whose lives—like mine—were tremendously broken, dominated by obsessions, compulsions, and behavior over which they seemingly had no power. Somehow in our desperation, we reached out for ANYTHING that had the power to save us, and somehow we found something that works.

I was thinking this morning about the beginning of Jesus’ “beatitudes” in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5, when he proclaims that “blessed are the poor in spirit”—or, as I’ve also heard it said, “blessed are the spiritual losers.”

It seems to me that if you think you have it all together in any sense of the word, maybe you just can’t get desperate enough to try something that seems so simple.

It’s only when our illusions are completely and utterly shattered that we get the clarity and humility to say, “Maybe I should try something different.” For better or for worse, it seems that it takes some kind of significant failure of whatever systems of maintenance and happiness we use to get us to be open to a new way of living in the world.

(And for some of us, even that’s not enough; we seem too stubborn and dug in—to our theology, to our emotions, to our tribalism—to be open to the idea that life might, JUST MIGHT, have more for us than what we are experiencing. In the meantime, we go on hurting ourselves and the ones we care about the most, cultivating more pain and more isolation in our lives.)

But… IF you find yourself at the end of SOME KIND of rope, and want something MORE, here’s what worked for me.

Let’s start with PRINCIPLES. I base my life, as do millions of others, on three spiritual principles: open-mindedness, self-honesty, and willingness.

They are very simple principles, but I hope a couple of things will stand out. First, I have found them to be extremely powerful, almost limitless in their potential. I can “go back to the well” again and again, and find something new. Also, to me they are inter-related, and in fact it actually undermines their impact if I sever them from one another.

OPEN-MINDEDNESS

For me, open-mindedness is closely related to concepts like humility and wonder. To be open-minded is to be willing to say, “I don’t know,” and (furthermore), “It’s OKAY that I don’t know.”

Open-mindedness means that I am willing to let SOMEONE or SOMETHING else—whether it’s God or a trusted friend, or simply a FACT that I haven’t considered before—impact my life and shape my behavior and my thinking.

To be open-minded is for me to ALWAYS consider the possibility that I am being blinded by my ego, or my background and brokenness. These things tend to warp my view of reality, and to convince me that I am more important than I actually am.

(HUMILITY, by the way, does not mean treating myself bad, or with shame. Humility means that I am willing to be “one of the herd,” neither more or less important than anyone else.)

Open-mindedness is also about being willing to believe that there is more to life than what we can see; that there are realities (and even beings) that may be “more real than real” and “more true than true.”

Practicing open-mindedness means that I have counselors (professional as well as informal) that have access to my life and can speak into it. (NOTE: It ALSO means that I LISTEN to said counselors, and am willing to change.)

Practicing open-mindedness means also that I am placing myself before facts and spiritual truths, and being willing to admit when I need to adjust my perspective.

Practicing open-mindedness means that I adopt an internal perspective that says, maybe, just maybe I don’t know exactly what’s going on, or even exactly who I am. Maybe, just maybe I can LISTEN at least as much as I speak (preferably more).

Maybe I can be open to input from others.

There’s a power and a freedom in open-mindedness. It means I do NOT have to have all the answers and, because it’s actually IMPOSSIBLE for me to have all the answers in the first place, I can be free to be imperfect, and to be human just like everyone else is.

Next Up: Self-honesty.

Truths

I’ve been doing an awful lot of deep work lately. 

After receiving the gift of a very painful wakeup call that I could neither cover up, deny, or ignore, I chose to start facing the truth of who I REALLY am, both in all of the positive ways as well as the negative ways. 

During this whole process I have been taking a hard look at the truths that have governed my life—again, both for good and ill—up until now. These are the truths that have driven me forward, often unawares. They truths have spurred me towards greatness, and also into very dark places. 

My counselor recently had me do a writing exercise that addressed a deep wound that I have carried virtually my whole life. As I wrote, two of these deep truths spilled out of me. Without going into too much depth, I share them here:

1. WHEN THE TIME FOR TESTING COMES, YOU WILL BE FOUND WANTING…

2. … AND THERE WILL BE NO CONSOLATION FOR YOU. 

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that during recovery, “Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces (of our lives) are suddenly cast aside,” and new ones set in, and begin to guide behavior. 

These two ideas and attitudes—amongst others—have guided my life for virtually 45 of my 50+ years. And I can see their pathology, the damage they inflict on my soul (and thus, the damage that they indirectly inflict on the people I love and care about). Even as I can ALSO recognize the strange gift that they have brought to me—hours and hours of pursuing and honing my craft and clarifying my vocation—I also wonder, “What ideas and attitudes COULD or SHOULD replace them?” 

Just taking the opposite, maybe they could read like this: 

1. YOU ARE ENOUGH. FURTHERMORE, THERE IS NO TEST; JUST LIVE YOUR LIFE KNOWING THAT YOU ARE ENOUGH…

2. …AND WHEN YOU FALL (FOR ALL OF US SURELY FALL), THE GOD-WHO-SUFFERS IS THERE WITH YOU, AND SO ARE OTHERS WHO LOVE YOU. 

It will take a while to fully live out these truths. But for now, maybe the place to start is to just be able recognize them, and remain AWARE of them as I move through life. 

All of us have these guiding ideas, emotions, and attitudes, and to the degree that we wish to experience healing in this life, there is a beautiful and spacious invitation to discover for ourselves what they are, and then seek to embrace their opposites. 

That Time When Jesus Wrecked My Ministry (Well, sorta)

English: Wrecking ball in use during demolition of the Rockwell Gardens housing project in Chicago, Illinois, February 2006.

English: Wrecking ball in use during demolition of the Rockwell Gardens housing project in Chicago, Illinois, February 2006.

I’ve written before about where my ministry shoulders are “broad”, meaning the areas that I feel competent and trained and able to execute fairly easily. When I began to teach and preach regularly a few years back, that started developing into an area of confidence and competence as well. I never thought of myself as a preacher, but I knew that words mattered to me, and somehow (for better or for worse) I was able to string together series of them into phrases and thoughts that seemed to matter to people. It seemed like I could do some good; people came up and affirmed me, and told me how much these thoughts and phrases had challenged them, or helped them to see God in a new way, or comforted them.

A part of me loved every minute of it.

My ego soaked it up, and began to believe all of those words that I heard. Each time I walked up onto our little platform, I desired to be poignant and clever; I wanted to shake people up, to invite them to see God and His world in an awe-filled and worshipful way. I continued to do some kind of good, and accepted people’s compliments with the requisite, “aw shucks” attitude that pastors are supposed to have.

But in retrospect I think that I was rotting inside.

When I began my sabbatical back in January, Jesus started dealing with me in some very serious, foundational ways, and one of the truths that I’ve had to deal with is how full of myself I can be.

My pride can be horrific.

For the past 10 months or so, I’ve been journeying inside myself to find all these nooks and crannies where destruction lives, and attempting to bring them out into the light where God can deal with them in a loving but firm way.

As a result, I’ve begun to feel somewhat like a normal human being.

But what’s been interesting—and even a little scary—is how it has impacted my ministry.

Because I have less confidence than ever.

Because I stumble over words more (maybe our congregation doesn’t notice, but believe me, I do.).

Because I feel empty. (Not in the spiritual way; in the “Watch-me-I-can-get-this-done-just-fine” way.)

Because I feel mostly like I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.

All because Jesus showed up. All because he showed up to show me how ill I truly was, how my ego was destroying me, how my inflated and false sense of self was keeping me from knowing healing and some semblance of love.

He showed up—not because he wanted to tear me down as a pastor—but because he wanted to build me up as a human being. He comes to do that, you know: to turn us into full human beings, like we’ve always been intended to be.

He’s still working on me; I’m still speaking and playing music, and I’m growing used to the idea of not being in control of everything.

He’s better at it than I am.

Lent Reflection #6 :: Jesus Uncomfortable Healings

I’m probably alone in this, but sometimes I feel like Jesus has a funny way of healing people.

To my eyes and ears, Jesus’ healings have a hard edge to them.

For instance, we are told that one time Jesus heals a man with a “withered hand” on the Sabbath, and the religious experts are pretty ticked off about it (Mark 3v1-6). There are some interesting aspects to the story:

  • according to the text at least, the man hasn’t asked Jesus to heal him; in fact, Jesus initiates the whole process (in front of the community in the synagogue)
  • the man’s life isn’t at stake (even for Pharisees, saving life on the Sabbath was actually permitted)

There’s a sense in which Jesus is standing there, and commands the guy (who is not supposed to be in the synagogue), “Get in here and stand up in front of everyone so they can see what’s wrong with you.”

Can you sense the social awkwardness?

What begins to emerge is the possibility that Jesus is essentially using this man’s affliction and subsequent healing as an example, as a way to push the religious authorities into a corner (and to begin to plot Jesus’ death).

And all of this happens very publicly, in front of everyone. The man is healed, but first the man has to stand up in front of his community.

To me, it’s very tense. Why couldn’t Jesus have privately healed the man? Why couldn’t he have pulled the Pharisees and the Herodians aside and performed this act of political theatre in front of them alone?

Why subject the man to this public scrutiny?

A few chapters later, Mark relates the story of a woman who has been suffering—”bleeding”—for twelve years. Without going too deeply into social laws of the time, the cultural laws maintaining purity at this time were quite strict; this poor woman would have been strictly and severely ostracized.

So in a way you can understand her desperation to get to Jesus; to be made whole again. She reaches out her hand and grasps the edges of his cloak (or prayer shawl) and, “immediately”, we are told, her illness is gone.

Awesome. And then she goes away and is restored to life and community, right?

Almost. Not before Jesus very publicly calls attention to her. 

Before her ultimate restoration, Jesus makes sure the entire group of people knows that she is there, and that she has received a healing.

Again, part of me wonders why Jesus didn’t pull her aside, privately bless her and then restore her to the life.

Why the public display?

The last healing story actually comes out of John’s gospel. Jesus finds a man by a pool believed to have healing properties. The man had been there for thirty-eight years. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The man explains why he can’t get into the pool in time, and Jesus responds by saying, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

For some reason, on top of all the very public displays of Jesus’ healings, this one has been sticking with me.

And it’s all because of the mat. 

I don’t know the mat looked like. If it was comfortable; if it was threadbare and worn; if it was donated. I don’t know any of the details.

But I do know what it represented.

It represented the man’s weakness.

It represented his brokenness.

It represented his need for restoration; for health.

And Jesus tells him to pick it up and take it with him. 

If I put myself in the man’s place, I would have longed so deeply to leave the mat behind. Who wants to carry around the reminder of our past? Our brokenness? Our shame?

But instead, Jesus tells him, “No: actually this is the thing you have to bring with you. I know you’d like to leave this part of your life behind, but people need to see this. They need to ask, ‘Hey what’s with the mat?’ And you have to tell them your story.”

Looking back over these three stories, Jesus’ there’s always another agenda operating around Jesus’ healings. They are never “the endpoint.” If they were, it’s possible for Jesus to be considered more of magician—a first century “House”—than the Messiah. The healings are there to make theological points, to tell stories, to point people towards God’s restoration agenda for the entire world. Not to say that it’s great to be healed, but we need to remember that God’s (and Jesus’) agenda is always bigger than our own individual situations, and the healings are always a part of that agenda.

So maybe Jesus has done something for you. Maybe there’s some brokenness in your past (gosh I know there’s some in mine).

And maybe what you really want to do is to leave your mat behind. 

But instead Jesus is telling you, “Pick it up; pick up your past. Pick up your brokenness, the things you’ve seen, the things you’ve done, and even though I have restored you, tell others about them.”

Obviously, just because you carry your mat with you does not mean that you’re still crippled. But somehow you still have to tell people about it.

Live your life in such a way that people go, “Hey what’s with the mat?”

What does your mat represent? Have you left it behind? I think in so many ways Jesus is saying to us, “Go back and get it; carry it with you. Not in a shaming way, but in a way that helps others.”

peace

*e

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It’s Still About Surrender

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Soul-work is hard.

Since my Sabbatical began, I’ve been going inside myself to see more, learn more, and ultimately heal more.

What I’m finding hasn’t been pretty.

For now, I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but this one thing has been coming up, over and over again. This one aspect of my life that, even though it is essentially Christianity 101, I have managed to radically lose sight of. 

It’s the idea of surrender.

It’s the question of who is ultimately in control, not just of “my life” but of the pieces of my life as well.

Does that make sense?

Long ago, I’d bowed my head to the idea that my life is in God’s hands, but what I’m coming to terms with now is that even though I’d done that on a grand scale, on a day-to-day scale I still very much prefer to remain firmly in control.

And that wasn’t working anymore.

Right now, seemingly everywhere I look in my universe I see evidence of how I’m attempting to play God and stay firmly in control of people, situations, ideas, myself. When I can’t (because, um, I’m not God), it brings up such destructive thoughts and ideas.

I’ve really come to understand Paul’s words: “I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?” (Romans 7:24 CEB)

Fortunately, I’m also on the road to understanding the second half of that thought: “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Even though I thought I’d gotten this a long time ago, I’m learning (again?) that the beginning of freedom and peace is to release of the idea that I control anything in the first place.

If I could, I could save myself.

My job is not to control anything—it’s to cultivate the deep presence of God within me, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Guess what #1: it feels like dying. 

Guess what #2: dying is what we’re called to do in order to let Jesus live his life through us. 

For me right now, the only anecdote to pathological control is to seek God ruthlessly each day and cast myself on Him.

I’m finding that this doesn’t occur in a shotgun prayer as I hurriedly get in my car.

It doesn’t happen between shots of espresso.

It doesn’t even necessarily happen in the moments of desperation when I’m careening off track.

It happens in slowness. Stillness. Purposeful silence. Prayer. Meditation.

Which is, I guess, the way it’s always been.

God is our refuge and strength,

a help always near in times of great trouble.

That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,

when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,

when the waters roar and rage,

when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,

the holiest dwelling of the Most High.

God is in that city. It will never crumble.

God will help it when morning dawns.

Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.

God utters his voice; the earth melts.

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

Come, see the LORD’s deeds,

what devastation he has imposed on the earth—

bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,

breaking the bow and shattering the spear,

burning chariots with fire.

‘That’s enough!

Now know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations;

I am exalted throughout the world!’

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

(Psalm 46)

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