Church on Sunday was about the treasure. It seems like such a juvenile metaphor when I think about finding a treasure in a field, or the pearl. The whimsy, the luck, the certainty…all seem somewhat mythical. But our pastor encouraged … Continue reading
It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.
I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.
When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.
New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.
When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.
That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.
A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.
I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.
I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?
There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.
This week’s theme from the devotional I’m using for Lent is Origins. One day led me to Psalm 139.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
As a kid, I was uncomfortable with these verses. As an adoptee, I didn’t want to think too long and hard about being formed in a stranger’s womb, and whatever else it took for me to get to my parents on the other side of the world, as a 6 month old. I have always lacked curiosity and was very content with knowing basics about my biological, pre-adoption story. I was (and am) very satisfied with my family, and even after visiting the orphanage and South Korea at 11-years-old, I did not wrestle with many questions.
Now, as an adult and a mother, I have questions. I’m looking at documents as though for the first time. And now, I am getting better at appreciating the incredible weight of the psalmist’s words in my story, as well as all the stories of my 4 adopted siblings.
Being known and recognized, planned for, and remembered, are about the most wonderful gifts to ever receive. Psalm 139 is all those things. The triune Parent has given all of those things to each of us.
I do not know how much I will know in this life about my origins. But with every question, and every piece of an answer, I remain thankful. I am very thankful for the blessing and assurance that I knew as a very young child. For while I didn’t know what to do with phrases in these verses then, I knew I was watched out for. I knew I was cherished, by heaven and earth. For me, it feels like the inmost parts, the intricate weaving, the secret creating, was extended far beyond birth, because there is much we do not know. I find these verses and the creative story of scripture comforting even as I consider what I wish I knew. Even as I discuss new questions with my parents and the Lord.
Many have unconventional journeys to their families. They have gaps of life that are unaccounted for, either because of trauma, illness, depression, abandonment, displacement…so many things. Jesus also was convoluted. His birth was plain scandal. His attachment to his parents, complicated. He suffered lonesomeness. We know very little about some very formative years. I like that. I like that his identity, character, mission, and impact not only did not require these things to be explained completely…They in fact are stronger for them.
As people of the cross, we bear witness to the lonely places people find themselves in; we are compelled to be a friend for a time. I’m hungry to know and recognize the outskirts when they have not been planned for, or remembered, and they may honestly not even know themselves anymore. Part of this yearning for tethers, for being bound and close to someone else, is what motivated our baby book for our temporary daughter. I wanted to show her that yes, though strangers, we were there and her first tooth, her first crawl, and her cries are remembered. I hope that someday she finds her story in the psalms too.
He sets the lonely in families (68:6). He searches out our paths (139:3). From our mother’s womb, he has been our God (22:10).
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.
What complicated, restless hearts we have. In the heat of the moment when I face difficult relationship problems, I always hedge my bets and blame the other person first. They weren’t thinking about me. They are avoiding this. Their insecurities have shaped that. I’m very innocent in the court of my mind, as luck would have it. But, of course, upon further examination, nothing is so one-dimensional, and it further extends the hurt and separation.
There’s a theme I don’t like that the Spirit has been raising a little antenna to in my heart. Abandonment. It’s a tough one. Not a pleasant word or idea, so harsh, so final. I haven’t learned too much about this theme in my life so far so will spare you the rambling, but I know it’s there. And it has less to do with what actually happens to bring up my strong emotions currently than scars of my past and outstanding spiritual needs.
Today my guide for Lent directed me to the story of Hosea and Gomer. What a mess. I mean, really Lord? Here we see a painful marriage used to exemplify Israel’s abandonment of God, and God’s relentless pursuit and loyalty. Marriage, unsurprisingly, is great fuel for developing this abandonment theme in my life (sorry, Ryan…), and whatever the heck God wants to show me through it. I’ve said before, that to stay married is to stay a beginner. So this story of Hosea and Gomer, and his call to start over, and over, again, is compelling.
To Start All Over Again
v14-15 MSG “And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.”
v23″I’ll have mercy on No-Mercy.
I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’
and he’ll say ‘You’re my God!’”
Hosea was an imperfect husband, no matter how many times he went after Gomer. But, he is a great archetype for a perfect, loving God who powerfully speaks belonging and identity, hope and resilience, to the wandering. Even as I slowly start to wrestle with this word ‘abandonment,’ I sense His mercy. I sense that this is not a journey I have to go alone, and that He wants to show me that I was never alone, even when the seeds of these fears and trials were planted.
Fellow Wanderer, this is the Savior for us. This Jesus, this Good News, is the antithesis of abandonment. You’re the dear Somebody! The Gospel is for the Gomers. You’re the cause to start it all over again, which, really, is what Christ endured in a nutshell. A new suffering, a new courtship, an endless pursuit. Even as we prepare our hearts for the cross, no matter our sadness and suffering, we have the comfort of this loyalty and care. No relationship on earth comes close; this is not that which hurt us in the past, or repels us now. Likely, our experiences will only heighten our hunger for this, the original love.
I am praying for reminders for us of this perfect love. I’m asking to see glimpses of this extravagant faithfulness we so desire.
There is so much shame in sadness.
I was told by an unhealthy friend this past month that I have no reason to ever feel depressed. I’m married to a guy whose enneagram motto is “I want to have fun.” I have young children watching me, gauging my emotions, desiring my attention and steadiness and happiness. And then there are the comparisons. I see the people seemingly perfect. And I shrink in the shadow of the real struggles my other loved ones face. Potential loss of a spouse. Incarceration. Refusing to be served by a restaurant because of their race or language. Fear of deportation. Cancer. Struggles of poverty and addiction.
It’s easy to try and muscle through (unsuccessfully) sadness and grief when it seems so petty or unmerited, situational, and privileged. When it seems so un-Christian, and unwelcome, and inappropriate. History would show me that I don’t have many good solutions for moving on when I start by denying the truthfulness of my experience. Nevertheless, the cognitive gymnastics continue.
Today the devotional guide I’m using for Lent asked me what am I sad about. We also read John 16:16-24, in which Jesus is preparing his followers for suffering and deep sadness.
Both of these things, in and of themselves, whisper to me that my sadness is okay. In this personal time of donning Christ’s suffering and offering repentance, restarting spiritual rhythms, and opening to the holy, my sadness is okay. These things suggest that my sadness’ companion, shame, is not from God, and that the two must be divorced.
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice (v 20a, ESV).
Then fix this firmly in your minds: You’re going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness (v 20, MSG).
Jesus does not ask his followers to not be sad. He tells them they will see Him again. And in the meantime, be incredibly bold and blunt with their requests to God. It sounds like sadness is not incongruous with faith. It sounds like even though they know that God is God and that things will overall, ultimately, in that transcendent way be okay, there’s space for lament. For mourning, and missing Jesus (“What does he mean by a little while??”). For sadness and depression. And that out of that pain, they may be brazenly full of requests, pounding on God’s door, until they’ll “…no longer be so full of questions.”
Whew, that sounds good. ‘Cause I’m bringing a stack of questions and a well of tears this Lenten season–tears for me, and tears for you. And tonight, I’m feeling less bad about it. Sadness is a part of this preparation for the cross, and the tomb. Sadness is a part of living as foreigners in this land. Sadness is appropriate.
Lent welcomes our sadness and questions the shame. Calvary promises one, and denies the other. Hosanna.
It feels more radical rather than religious to hope these days. So perhaps we’re on to something.
The first week of Advent is themed hope. The beckoning yonder that has no interest in denying the bleeding wounds. Hope shines under tears. It is at its best paired with sorrow.
The subversiveness of hope was lost on me as a child, and in different parts of my adult life. It’s a common word in the surface use. I hope I can find a parking spot. I hope they have my size. I hope…
Hope was veiled to me before finding greater solidarity and firsthand experience with suffering. Much of the Good News was neutralized. Much of this season was rhetoric. Hope was pretty and nice, like me, and easily packable like a wooden Christmas ornament.
Hope does not have its roots in well wishes and merriment. Nor is its head in the sand. Hope is defiant though the night is deafening.
This Christmas, we are practicing and whispering hope with fists clenched and arms linked. We are fully feeling the brokenness. Our feet are wet with mud and blood of chaos, pain, fear, and disappointment. Suddenly, this innocuous word HOPE, has become a battle cry for the warriors. The shroud of comfort and convenience has been shed and the power of the chant, of the mere suggestion of hope, is blowing us over.
Here people are bullied with threats of eviction and deportation, shame and disdain… and we read about that unwed teen finds herself home to Hope, pregnant, highly favored and honored.
Here the guilty are acquitted, and the innocent shot in the back, unmourned… and we read the father is visited, assured of his integrity, protected and seen.
Here the immigrated and enslaved, the stolen and the shuffled, are hurting with new rejection… and we read the nation is gathered, counted, and answered by God on High, starting with the lowest.
Here the corrupt and evil are taking positions with less care and fewer caveats than ever before… and we read the heavenlies led the mystic and the mother to safety, denying the powers that be for the Power that was, is and is to come.
So we hope with our time. We pray and listen, though the lists grow long and the invitations scatter. We create things and say no to things because hope causes us to do differently. And is anything but automatic. We call on behalf of the voiceless. We sign on behalf of the unnamed.
We hope with our dollars. We give more than we have ever before. We invest and save in places that abide by hope in humanity and not exploitation. We buy less and we buy smart.
We hope with our hearts. We confess the ugliness beginning in us. We force quiet to hear the quiet forces. We share and hold each other when despair is choking. We open to people we don’t understand and we are watchful for those vulnerable.
Yes, we hope with wide eyes open and tears pouring out. It is our resistance, to the numbing injustice and the end of the story; it is our protest to the closed doors, plugged ears, and empire.
We hope hard though it is hard to hope.
This is advent–this is hearts preparing Him room. Though there seems to be no space, no possibility, we hope through the pain. We strain to see the empty stable’s potential. It is the labor before the birth. We hope hard because we are suffering and angry and upright. We hope hard because He came and He is coming.
There is no shortage of bouncers in the Kingdom of God. If only it were an actual job description in the model of Jesus.
Our stance in the threshold is awkward for He took the cross already, and He incinerated the measuring stick. So what stone is in our hand?
There are many openings in the Kingdom, vacancies galore, but the hyped-up voices seem distracted by those roles that do not exist. I confess that I get too wrapped up in issues and who is wrong, to the detriment of loving others. I am part of the problem of the Church being front and center in culture wars rather than announcing a different culture, resolutely and tenaciously, from the margins in.
A few things: let’s keep learning, being malleable disciples of the faith, and allowing others the same, God-given luxury. Let’s remember who the real victims of this storm are. And let’s refocus our attention on embracing not excommunicating.
Watching wise older people has shown me first and foremost that age loosens rigidity and judgmental reflexes. The aging whom I admire suggest that God’s invitation is a lot more gentle and wide than was thought of yesterday…and the day before. The Seers I’m taking notes on have roots growing in Grace, for themselves and others, and have less and less invested in who is wrong.
Meanwhile, I’m amazed when people disqualify others from God’s family. Jesus Calling is demon-possessed. Hillsong is a cult. Women leaders in general: suspect. And now the Hatmakers are popularity-crazed, lukewarm (FYI, for the jargon newbies, this is the worst insult) Christians-with-an-asterisk, who will soon deny the resurrection, I’m sure.
I’m very sad for Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, as many brothers and sisters feel infallible liberty to smear them at will. As soon as I heard that a popular Christian voice had lambasted them to Kingdom-come, I knew the source…low-hanging fruit for his brand. They’re not the first. They’re handling it with grace and class. Jen Hatmaker loves Jesus and isn’t morphing Him to be Jen Hatmaker. She loves the Bible and my guess is she’s spending a lot of time there these days. Maybe she’s changed her mind over the years, maybe she hasn’t. Are we honestly going to hold them on a pedestal just to beat the crap out of them? When did it become a spiritual gift and duty to criminalize others?
Our insistence on crucifying Christians is in direct contradiction to the crucified Christ.
But I’m more sad for the observers of this all-too-familiar back and forth–the overlooked whom this is actually about. The observers who have been personally hurt and harmed, bullied and belittled, because of this conversation in which we are soooo cavalier. The LGBTQ community need only the slightest hint of insensitivity or anger to tear open wounds of bigotry and shame inflicted by we people claiming Jesus. Those brothers and sisters who are in the Church and those who were approaching the front steps are first and foremost souls. This, this mailing back of books, name-calling, sexist judgmental pandering, and hell-condemning is about them. It is personal and fragile and the opposite of flippant. The Hatmakers are suffering public scorn for answering hard questions and for engaging in really controversial, complex parts of culture…but I’m confident they have the spiritual resources and community to care for them during this time. The LGBTQ onlookers and overlooked whom they have defended and invited, however, are once again, or more so, made “Other.” To our deep detriment.
I am so sorry for the fits originating from the pews. My heart breaks for my friends and not-yet friends in the LGBTQ categories that are watching the chaos and hurt all over again.
Our faith’s love campaign took a hit, becoming further concealed, further calcified and conditional…far from the places Jesus would be were He walking earth today, I believe. We are fractured and broken, and oh, if we could only abstain from this hell-raising. We’re digging our own grave.
I’m the first to say I don’t know all the things. And I’m liable to change my mind, like I have on many other topics. And I’m liable to be wrong. I don’t know all about the Bible and homosexuality; I’m learning and in a process on this tender topic, again. And, thankfully, I don’t rely on people’s agreement/approval (i.e. support raising) anymore so I can share my own uncertainties and learning process more openly (how bizarre). Check back in if for some reason you’re wanting my personal “answer.”
But regardless of where I land, if I do, my attitude towards those who identify with different lifestyles is not affected. My ability to learn from and love those who are different from me, especially those who are less privileged, should not ebb and flow. I know that in any of these conversations, I try to listen to those with less power, and I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to err on the side of love and humility. And I have the privilege of not being asked by Jonathan Merritt, in front of a salivating Matt Walsh, what I think about every hot button issue—as though really, people had buttons, ready to drop the floor out like Edward’s old sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
The buttons are lies. For the love of everything that is holy, back away from the buttons. It’s easy to become more about removing people from the flock than inviting everyone in. It’s easier to be cloistered and confident than serving and susceptible.
God help me the day I wake up and feel so confident in every doctrine and belief that I am wonderfully justified in spewing vitriol at a fellow person. The day I have so much time and energy to start dissecting devotionals and other churches because my work amongst the orphans, widows, prisoners, hungry, lonely and marginalized is so complete. Why do we have so much energy to kick someone out of the church when we were commissioned to adopt people in?
Let’s get back to work. Let’s return to the job descriptions and postures of learning and loving that Grace handed us, not the ones our fears inflict. Jesus is not here; He is the living and this is the dead.
Sometimes the fragility is so suffocating. So ending. For so long, it feels like I am living on the verge. Of change, of heartbreak, of rage, of tears, of breakthrough. Of it all. And I hate heights and edges. As I kid, I thought I was one misstep away from falling through those staircases with no backs. It may have been physically impossible but it made me focus on the next step so hard. Clutch the railing so hard. That kid is not too far away.
The cracks in my cool also make me more tender to the beautiful notes, to the moments — and there really may just only be moments — in a day with children that delight my mom heart. The cracks make me painfully aware of my need for a Savior and that can’t be all bad. The cracks make me so grateful and relieved by small things. Coffee. An open parking space. A friend’s dropping by.
My life is so small and I think so big. I am professionally poised while constantly compelled to reveal, unearth, and challenge. It is a strange, exhausting stretch. Do you know it?
My short walk with foster care has so far shown me that our grasp on reality is very, very weak. The hours of certification classes do not make sense of the process we are in now. The barrage of comments on our “daughter,” on how she looks like me, on our family of five, are bittersweet and strange nods to the mystery of family. The confident assessments of her visiting family, of how she is and what she likes and what I am thinking. The reports turned in to court by strangers describing a child’s situation they have never asked about. It all nods to the mysteries behind any appearance, any situation, what we see and think we know.
She hugs me so tight and that is real, but knowing that she could also never know about me is also real. Praying for her is one of the most real things we can do for her, because our feet are planted in Now and our vision is nearsighted, and yet, I cannot tell, I cannot perceive, what is real about it. What it is doing, what He is doing, what They will do, for her life, for mine. What is praying like this, for this, doing in me, the pray-er and what on earth is it doing in the heavenlies. I am the pray-er afraid of the gaps, afraid of falling through and falling small. The pray-er of brokenness and poise, of long-winded comments and wordless wants.
I am so here. I am so temporal and human and here. Heartbroken over the unknowns facing my children, clutching the railings for fear of falling through. Heartbroken over the recent losses in the Church–my extended family–and the lost ground of the Kingdom. Heartbroken over my own inadequacy and mistakes. And so I am heart-surrendered. Heart-surrendered to more–to more than I can see, to more than seems so real, to more than the graves of today. Heart-surrendered to more than here.
Whenever I think of here, I remember that sweet, divine line of poetry: “And here in the dust and dirt, O here // The lilies of His love appear!”
Maybe there is room on the verge to dangle my restless legs. To sit and rest from the climb. Somehow, with all the loose pieces of my heart and all the sensitivities in my soul, I still hope there are lilies to be gained. I am banking on that poet’s forecast. That even though I could be on the verge of insanity and even more grief, I could also be nearer to love, to grace, that I have not learned, not lived, before.
Not because I have transcendent powers of reflection or meaning-making, no. I have these suspicions because Jesus is known for coming to the edges and ledges; He is the relentless Shepherd of my story that goes to the verge and enters the graves and finds the ones. The alones. The heartbroken. The sinners elevated and isolated as special. The children with gaps in their past. The big-thinking unavoidably-regular moms climbing scary staircases. Only because there is the I AM, the YHWH, the God with us here, the Counselor, could this space–this fragile verge–be redeemed. Not the end, but the middle.
When you are afraid of what other Christians will think if you love someone, you have probably identified a place where the church has led you astray from the Christ.
If you hold a doctrine up to the light to see through it better, and are rejected, you have challenged the auto-pilot, in your self and in your former group. And maybe, just maybe, allowed someone the grace of going after you.
Should you feel weighted by an identity you both cherish but continually causes you to grimace, I am at your side. And I have often felt afraid and I am a regular at the misfit table. Because I am not an expert on this New Life thing.
Let’s add a leaf, because it seems to be a good place to be.
When we read the story of the man at Bethesda, the one Jesus sees and knows has lain there for a very long time, the question echoes: do you want to be healed? When you say “yes, but…” and He pronounces YOU up, He pronounces YOU free, well, there is nothing to do but to walk. To walk on the Sabbath and face the red tape. To walk alone and to walk away from the conventional pools of healing you could never get to. You, like that walking man, may not even know for a while that it was Jesus who healed you. He may have to visit again before you get it. But that is what He does. That is who He is. A visitor. A pursuer.
He changes our account of things.
If our account of things hasn’t changed very much, it is a scary book we wield as holy and an aging lord we announce. Isn’t the Story living and active? Isn’t He characterized by always working, the One who never had to learn, the Creator of tenderness and justice and possibility? So why are we so still. So still on our mats. So stuck in our thinking. So notorious in our reactions.
Brothers and sisters, he said after Bethesda, “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
Here at the misfit table, I know one thing right now: THIS IS NOT LIFE. Policies and pulling money and tantrums and cyberwars and accusations and flip flopping and ultimatums and fear are not life. They are manipulation. They are power. They are controlling and they are not Him.
His work will never be based on temporal categories. His generosity has never been contingent upon agreement. The life He offers and lived is and was never about majorities.
We are all becoming. We are all scandalously healed on the Sabbath. We all miss Jesus when He is right in front of us and we all may think what’s in front of us IS Jesus when He has left.
These are the true things that I have to remind myself of when I am so embarrassed. So sad. So wanting to give in to anger-pride and flee the scene, writing my own one-dimensional stories of others. These are the broken pieces that make up the Church. Church is a community that is all about being wrong and helpless. Sometimes I forget and think we are together because we have the same mission, or we have the same priorities, or we have the same united love.
But no, we are together mostly because we are broken and it took unconventional means to heal us. We are together because at some point in our lives, we didn’t have all the answers–we just had One. Why does that change so much after donning this so-called faith? Over and over, we lie down in old ways, adopt our old accounts of things, and He comes and says, “Do you want to be healed?”
If you are broken too, will you join me? If you want a new Life, can I be your company? It would be less scary to answer “yes but…” and walk away together. To see what it is like outside the stagnant pools that are surrounded by mats that have been there a very.long.time. To find the misfit table of questions, invitations and new accounts.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
(John 5:2-15 ESV)
Almost daily I lift my children to a small sink and wash their feet. Our outdoor trampoline is a hospitable magnet for the sticky, freeway dust and scrubbing floors and carpets is the pits. So I try to intervene. When I catch one of them after a rendezvous with city nature, I swoop them up to a perch on my lap and swing their feet under running water.
The brief, basic moment of rubbing their boy toes with my hand, watching the dirty slip off with the bubbles, having the weight of them on me, is a sweet one. I cannot help but be thankful for those seconds. So human, so sacred. I need those pauses in these heavy days.
At the sink, I am reminded of a kind Example who loved His followers “to the end” and showed it in a memorable way. Only He could know what that even means. John 13 retells how Jesus was overcome with both a love for the disciples and a profound understanding of Who He Was and where He was going. And so He rose from the table. Rose to kneel, to wash their feet. To upset the flesh, to reveal the real, to demonstrate His tenderness, to break a barrier.
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
He does not tell them to do things that they cannot. He does not tell them to do things that are not for their good.
Years ago, when I was much more confident, and much less wordy, I was a resident advisor for a small group of women who lived, hiked, learned, and played (along with some mountain men) in the high sierras. There had been a particularly dramatic couple of weeks with one young woman, myself, and a couple of the people in charge of the satellite college campus. Risky situations, manipulation, emergencies and confusion overtook the pine horizon. The air indeed seemed thin. It really wore on me. Somehow, during a moment of peace and worship, He gently, miraculously reminded me of His example in John. A tiny piece of His heart colored my own staunchly right-or-wrong heart so that I could feel a sliver of compassion. It was strange but compelling and I knew that sometime I would have the opportunity to literally wash her feet and it was in our best interest for me to do so.
On a moonlit porch one night I was that crazy, extreme person, awkwardly trying to emulate my Lord, praying that somehow, in the space between my hands and her feet, He would move and it would be good. It was a short, unceremonious ceremony. We embraced. The moon did not become bigger and stars did not stream out of the sky. But something budged, and we were better for the interaction. It was more real than debate. It was more true than self-preservation. And I gave thanks.
Today as I think upon that strange scene, I realize that there was little else to do except to kneel. That in asking me to do that, He helped affirm who I really am. He helped me be less attached to standing up for myself. My warped perception of myself. There was little to do except kneel and remember Him, remember that she was a sister, and that I was here to serve her. That the problems were peripheral. That time was short.
The more I am faced with difficult situations, the more I realize that most of leading a life of love involves kneeling, bending, groundwork. The more I appreciate that my parents have rarely raised their fists when challenged to a fight. There is little to do with marriage, with childrearing, with sharing Good News, learning new cultures, with dealing with people, with dealing with loss, than kneeling. More and more I come to the end of my self, my answers, my abilities, and all I am left with is the truer self He gives and the posture He demonstrates.
Sure there are times at the table. Times to look each other in the eye. Times of celebration and health, confrontation or unity, and no surprises. But the real issue, the heart of the matter, and the crux of life, is the floor. The lowering. There we pray. There we learn not to fear the grime. There I meet myself, I know what I am truly thankful for, and I see the other better. He knows I am such a slow learner. That for me, there is a lot of standing up for myself, that I have been pleased with the results in the past, but that in the realest of circumstances, it is almost always settling.
Now, at the sink, He has given me a regular, grace-filled reminder of Jesus’ example and ending-love. That is, the love and presence that sees us through, to the end. Through to the end of the heavy days. Through to the end of the weeping, the fighting, the loneliness. He is here, and He is there. Raising the lowered. Beside the bending.