The Taser's Edge


Which Is Easier?: Divorce, Forgiveness, and Healing

The Gospel According to Luke 5:17-26 (ESV):

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

In the wounded state in which the end of my marriage left me, my friends brought me to Jesus, and I knew that I wanted Him to heal me. But when Jesus looked at me and said, “Your sins are forgiven,” I realized that that was what I had most wanted. The desire deeper than my desire to be healed, a desire I had not known I had, was to be forgiven.

Why, consciously speaking, did I have the desire to be healed, but not the desire to forgiven? I wanted His healing because I could feel my hurt every day and every step and almost every breath, a spiritual nerve damage. I did not want forgiveness because I did not believe it was possible for me to be forgiven.

Many people have noted that evangelical Christians tend to focus on certain favorite sins, especially those with any connection whatsoever to sex, while mentally marking others as less important or less harmful. I thought I was good at avoiding this particular trap until I found myself getting divorced, and I found I was incapable of believing that God forgave me. When I tried to believe, my imagination sputtered, died, and rolled to a stop. Loss of imagination is more than a foggy, moonless night. Loss of image-ination is the definition of blindness.

How broken was the body of the man whom Jesus forgave and healed? Was he born this way? It’s hard to believe that he could have survived into adulthood if that had been the case. Did he have a degenerative illness that we could name today but still couldn’t cure? Did he have a spinal cord injury?

To “rise, pick up your bed and go home” requires balance and the finest of motor skills along with that bundle of motions we call the ability to walk. Think through all of the motions and muscle groups required to stand up from the floor, kneel down and roll up some bedding, stand up again, then bend over to pick up that mat and carry it over your shoulder to walk home. These are levels of restoration happening in the human body that we still could not explain.

And yet forgiveness is the miracle, what Jesus extends first and what even the Pharisees and the teachers of the law know is something only God can give.

To receive forgiveness in the places we most need it is not only a passive reception but an act of the will. We don’t even know if the paralyzed man believed that he was indeed forgiven. I do will to believe and more and more I succeed.

I cannot offer enough gratitude to all those who carried me to the Healer and who strengthened my will to believe that He was also a Forgiver. Thank you.

Healing High Five!



The Fear of Freedom

How hard it is to be forgiven, how hard to be healed, how hard to be free. I’m not talking about being the provider of those things (which people often talk about). I’m talking about being the one in need of them.

Imagine an animal which has grown up in captivity and then is released into the wild. In the best case, it is harder than we can imagine. And sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the journey from captivity to freedom is just impossible. Death comes first.

Now imagine those folks healed in Jesus’ ministry. The man lowered through a ceiling with the help of his friends. The blind folks reduced to begging because there was no other place for them in their society. Zacchaeus who had to leave his old way of life behind after his Jesus encounter. The woman who had had five husbands, was forgiven, and then told to go and sin no more. Lazarus, raised from the dead. Not to mention every single disciple.

Is it really possible to re-enter life after that? Or, rather, what life is it possible to enter? And why doesn’t Jesus say anything about it? Why doesn’t he mention at all how hard life will continue to be for the man whose life has given him no apparent skills but the ability to find a good spot from which to beg for others’ charity?

Now think of a loved one or an acquaintance who has a chronic health issue, the person who suffers from cystic fibrosis or kidney failure and needs an organ transplant in order to survive. Even if the operation goes smoothly, and the recovery progresses beyond all expectations, that organ recipient will need to be on a constant pharmaceutical therapy for the rest of her life. And beyond that, what does it mean for someone to have been shut out of life as they wanted to live it for years or even longer, then suddenly to be given the gift of reentry to “normalcy?”

What do you do if you’ve been disabled for as long as you can remember and then one day you are fully able to get a job, support yourself, re-enter the life that you had longed for, make choices unbounded by so many chains that have suddenly (or not-so-suddenly) been shattered? It’s not only muscles that atrophy and waste away. Hopes and dreams do too.

All this is to say, no one ever mentions that healing sometimes makes life harder. Remove all the hurts and fears and impediments which have so long blocked living into the fullness and freedom of the abundant life God has for us and…prepare to be terrified.

The exhilaration of forgiveness, healing, wholeness, and freedom is directly tied to the possibility of falling and being hurt again. It’s the difference between the excitement of jumping and the excitement of flight.



How We Misunderstand Grace

I am convinced that when we talk about giving someone grace, we usually don’t know what we’re talking about.  We show that we don’t know what we’re talking about–the vast majority of the time–by following up our talk of grace with a description of extenuating circumstances:

Ex. A: “You can’t be so hard on her.  Give her some grace.  Don’t you know what kind of home life she grew up in?”

Ex. B: “I told that professor about how my parents were going through that mess at the time, and thankfully he said he would give me some grace when he was grading my final paper.  I’m so relieved.”

Ex. C: “Don’t be so hard on yourself about it.  Give yourself some grace.  You’re only human.”

The definition of grace, however, is that there are no extenuating circumstances, and the recipient of grace might even be completely deserving of being ignored or worse, AND YET you still offer mercy.  Yes, it’s important that we are people who notice context and people’s stories (Example A, above), that we make room for people who are affected by things beyond their control (Example B), and that our relationship with ourselves isn’t generally characterized by self-condemnation (Example C).  Still, none of those things are grace.

Grace for examples like A is to think of that person who has let you down or hurt you once again, that person who (whatever their personal history) has failed to take personal responsibility to the extent that they do have power over their circumstances, and then to choose to continue to forgive and to engage with them.

Grace for examples like B is the professor whose student had no good reason for waiting to start the paper until 3 hours before class (following up a semester of poor participation and lackluster attendance), but who says to the student, “Take another day to pull this together and turn it in tomorrow.”

Grace for examples like C is to think of those times when you just have really let yourself down.  Maybe you just really made a decision that you knew would deeply wound the person who is closest to you, or maybe you just watched YouTube videos all day and the project/paper/sermon that really needed to be completed will now be low quality and late.  And instead of saying to yourself, “You @#$%^&ing @#$%er!”, you say, “I still love you, and even though you did something hurtful to me and perhaps even others, I forgive you.”

So let’s consider the nature of grace here.  In example A, grace might look a lot like enabling, and the grace-giver is choosing to suffer.  In example B, grace looks like choosing to play the fool (and perhaps some more enabling).  In example C, grace looks like letting yourself off the hook for a wrong you’re truly responsible for.

Being let off the hook for a wrong you’re truly responsible for.  As a basic definition of what grace is, that’ll do (whether it’s cheap grace or the costly kind).  What would our ways of relating to other people look like if we truly began offering that kind of grace, approaching real grace, to one another?  More pain, yes, but also more faith, more hope, and more love.

Lk 15:20b--"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him."

 



Repentance over Reason (a truly Lenten thought)

“In this way we differ from all animals.  It is not our capacity to think that makes us different, but our capacity to repent, and to forgive.  Only humans can perform that most unnatural act, and by doing so only they can develop relationships that transcend the relentless law of nature.”

-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), quoted in Helping People Forgive by David W. Augsburger, p. 10



Lent Thoughts 1.2.1–Taking Up

I’ve been meaning to do this post everyday since Lent began.  And now it’s here.  I was feeling a bit odd about publishing my Lenten commitments.  It’s my non-Lenty past, I think.  Still playing on repeat the verse I talked about on Ash Wednesday in the back of my mind (Matthew 6 about prayer and fasting and giving alms in secret).

There’s another stream in my mind, however, and I think it came from Duke.  This second stream is the communal focus.  That is, self-examination is one thing, and it has its place.  But the work that God does in us, the process through which God saves and makes us holy and whole is accomplished with the help of others.  Not because God couldn’t do it any other way, but because God seems to want to do it that way, or so the church has discerned for centuries.  God wants us to need each other and to live with each other (and in one another’s ‘personal’ space and  on one another’s personal toes).  So I write these publicly so you can get on my toes and in my space (because a lot of it’s your space too), ask me questions about whether these somewhat weird things actually make a difference, and just plain hold me to these commitments.  I also think writing this post has something to do with practicing Taking Up #2 (see below).

Taking Up: Adding new things to my spiritual life is much more natural to who I am.  I like spiritual disciplines, perhaps just because they make me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with myself and with my time.  This year, the things I added have as much to do with cultivating my mental health as cultivating my Christian character (and I really don’t believe that those two things are any longer separable in me).

1. Gratitude/Thankfulness–Lots of self-help/psychology/spirituality books prefer the first term, possibly because many of them are coming out of a Buddhist or other not particularly theistic (or at least not believing in a personal, loving, intervening-in-history-and-our-lives God) worldview.  For me, taking up the practice of gratitude is the other side of the thankfulness coin.  Gratitude is the manner in which I receive, and thankfulness is honoring the One from whom I receive.  Both gratitude and thankfulness mean that I truly pay attention to and enjoy what I have been given.  It is a different way of seeing the world.  The practice of gratitude/thankfulness quickly runs over into the practice of enjoying, or finding enjoyment, in everything around me.  Some of you know how serious I can be or seem to be, how much I sometimes need to remember what it’s like (and how important it is for my overall health) to play, how much I need to enjoy (and stop all this darn thinking).  I’m working on it.

2. Generosity–Although I certainly look up to other people for being more generous monetarily than I am (I’m thinking of my brother Zack and my friend Dave as particularly good models), I think that for me that way of being generous needs to come out of a different kind of personal generosity.  When I say that I want to practice generosity during Lent, I mean that I want to be more generous with myself.  I want to be more free in giving myself to God, to other people, and to myself.  All of these things involve personal risk, and that is something which I want to step forward into, as uncomfortable as it is.  I’m thinking of my CPE interns group from last semester and the CPE residents group which I will begin meeting with in June.  I’m thinking of my small group from church.  When I offer of myself generously, other people are freed to offer of themselves generously.  Everyone experiences freedom.

This, of course, also has to do with offering grace and forgiveness.  Personally, while I certainly can use some work on even admitting that I get angry at God (which I do–hoppin’ mad at times), let alone offering God the graciousness that God continually gives me; and while forgiveness of other people always takes some time and effort (and especially time…and effort), my unforgiveness is mostly focused inwardly.  If I were as quick to forgive myself as I am to forgive people who wrong me, I would be in a much better place mentally and spiritually.  So, I’m hoping that generosity will bring healing in several ways.

3. A Penitential Order: Rite II (p. 351 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer)–It hasn’t been clear yet, but I am trying to practice all of these things everyday.  Still having trouble figuring out what that means with the first two, other than trying to purposely be generous and thankful a handful of times each day.  With this third commitment, it’s easier to know what I mean.  Each day I have been using this order as my morning prayer.  I’ll usually add a Gospel reading or something to it, but this liturgy forms the core of my morning devotions.  I’m intending to copy it out into the next post, so you can see what it is.  One thing that has been very powerful for me is in seeing how reading and meditating on the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) can actually be a very real way in which God goes to work on my life.  I have always found it a bit weird that Christians still make a big deal out of the Ten Commandments, but submitting to this practice has helped me to begin to see how much worth there is in having our hearts investigated by the Spirit through them.