Thursday, December 20, 2007

Be sick.

Be sick.

Today at 2:00 I have my annual performance review. Underneath the standard issue fluorescent lights, my boss will detail my successes and my failures for the year 2007. I’d like to say I feel cool and confident, but that would be a lie. Most of the times, in the days leading up to meetings like this, I am convinced I will be fired. I dream up little scenarios about how it will happen. Whether or not they’ll escort me out with a security guard or if they’ll trust me to exit on my own. If my stuff will be boxed up for me in the lobby or if I’ll have to do the walk of shame back to the office to clean it.

It’s not that I’ve been a horrible employee, but the truth is that I could have been better. I could have done more. I could have made less mistakes. Or put my foot in my mouth fewer times. And this sense of performance, this action of taking out the last year and sorting through it on a big table is how I often imagine God to be.

That’s part of the reason yesterday’s post about chronicling my entire life was so difficult. Almost every aspect of my life is performance driven. Everything is a competition. Nothing is fast enough. There’s always a new way to get an edge. I was reminded of this yesterday when I volunteered at the Salvation Army. The motto they had written on our aprons was, “Salvation Army, doing the most good.” Even in our charity there is a system of most and least, first and last.

Taken collectively, there’s really not a whole lot of motivation for me to deal with my junk. But the more I read the Bible, the more I realize that is what God is calling me to do.

One of my favorite examples of this happens in Luke 7. In a series of verses from 36-50, we see a woman “who had lived a sinful life” washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and perfume. The Pharisees quickly point out that she is a sinner, but Christ has a lesson for Simon in all of this.

"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."

"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.

The story could have ended there, but Jesus went on to summarize it in impossibly simple language.

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

I honestly don’t know the best way to unpack those passages. They feel like little sticks of dynamite that will go off in my hands if I proceed the wrong way. But what I can do is repeat this, “he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Maybe your faith is small and anemic because you haven’t really dealt with the things God wants you to deal with. Maybe your love is small because your junk is still big and hidden deep down inside. Maybe as you bring your stuff into the light, you won’t find a performance review. Instead you’ll find your love and your forgiveness growing exponentially.

The other thing I think you find when you deal with your past, is what God has planned for your future. Mark Batterson really said it best in a book he wrote called “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.” I’m paraphrasing, but what he believes is that “you can only heal people in the places you’ve been wounded.”

That concept, the idea of turning your hurt into someone else’s healing kind of blew my mind a little. And the more I thought about it, the more I felt like it was true. Not even just in a biblical, kind of God-flavored way, but just as a universal truth.

Think about it, don’t you hate when a friend without experience gives you advice on something you’re going through? They’ve never been engaged but are quite content in telling you how to go about that. They’ve never lost a child but know exactly what you should do. They’ve never been divorced but are pretty sure you need to be reading these three books.

There is such a deep sense of fakeness in that, but when the person has actually walked your road, there is such a sense of beauty.

My friend Victoria is that way. She has experienced a few of the worst things that can ever, ever, ever happen to girls. She has walked through the kinds of situations that cripple people emotionally and spiritually. And yet, she shines.

And the cool thing is that she knows why. Deep down she knows that her pain came with a purpose, and that purpose is to ease the pain of others. She can’t really grasp how big her potential is but I got a glimpse one day in our small group.

We were all supposed to share our stories and the unspoken expectation was that we’d stay fairly surface. “Hi, I grew up in the church. I made some mistakes. I love God. Good to meet you.”

But Victoria didn’t go that route. Victoria used words that hurt people’s stomachs. Victoria turned herself inside out in that room. And as she did, you could see the walls and veneers of everyone crumbling.

Ultimately, she knew something that I only recently learned. It’s not complicated and with only two words, it’s pretty easy. But rarely are you encouraged to do this at church and that is simply this: Be Sick.

Stop pretending. Stop running from whatever it is in your past or your present or your future that you don’t want to deal with. Stop hiding. Stop covering up. Stop laughing at jokes you don’t think are funny or quoting verses you don’t really believe. Stop trying to be so healthy.

Be sick.

This might be the first post that gets me hate mail, but I’m just asking you to do what Christ talks about in Mark 2:17. Here’s what he says:

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

I think we waste so much time trying to act like we’re healthy, when Christ is really looking for the sick.

Do you know what my sin is? Do you know what the lies I’ve told my wife and my work, the gossip I’ve spread, the hurt I’ve caused? Do you know what all of that is?

It is a lighthouse for Christ.

It is a magnet that draws him close.

It is a siren that screams through the clutter of this world saying that I am the one he came for. I am the sick. I am the unrighteous. I am the patient in desperate need of a doctor.

Thanks Victoria. Thanks Mallory for reminding her that the first people we might need to be sick with are family. Thanks everyone for reading.

I hope you have a sick day.


Adam said...

First, I hope your annual performance goes well, dude.

Second, this is an interesting concept. The honesty it takes to reveal the demons in your closet, your baggage, is a tough pill to swallow. I know that Jesus loves me despite my flaws, but I constantly think: what will the world think? I can say this is my Mt. Everst. Divorcing myself from what the world will think vs. what Jesus will think...ouch. I am guilty of putting the world's perception before Christs'. I need to learn to be sick more often. Thanks for the words.

Katie said...

My husband sometimes wishes that his life hadn't been so vanilla growing up, because if it hadn't maybe he could be as close to God as the rest of us with "sick" lives. I thought it was sort of a weird comment, but I wouldn't trade any of my trash in if it meant that I may not have had to lean on Him and ultimately fall in love. Not to say you cannot be passionate about Christ without garbage in your life, but even the vulnirability of admitting the smallest sin can revolutionize your realtionship with Him. Being in the pit and crying out to Him is His ticket to save you. You can only pretend you have iy under control for so long...

Brenda said...

oh Prodigal Jon, I don't even know where to start... I found your blog just a few weeks ago; I don't really remember who sent me here but I wish I did so I could send them a hearty thank you note and probably a Starbucks gift card.

John, I have been just totally blown away at how your words are like God himself speaking to me. That is walking dangerously close to the line called cliche' I know, but I suppose that is exactly what it is, God using your pain to heal - what a concept!

So, last week when you wrote about the downhill escape route, I was "like, whooooaaa", and like, I never say, like anything. And then you wrote about Love Actually and true unselfish love? Yup you touched yet another most supremely raw nerve in my current life.

And then these past three days... like, whooooaaaaa AGAIN, but times 500 kabillion! You know that kind of moment, where you actually turn from your computer and look over your shoulder cuz you think someone is playin you? Have you been reading my journal, my new BFF Jon???

I really cannot even articulate what your writing has done in me this week. I have printed it out and read it and shared it and read it again and again and again.

I am not a cryer at all (maybe I should be?), but I promise you my eyeballs are literally burning with held-in tears at this moment. And I'm not just sayin that.

Thank you.

And please don't stop writing.

JJ said...

God unwrapped this concept for me recently when I was stopped dead in my tracks by 2 Cor. 1: 3-7. I believe it's one of the most beautiful, selfless passages in all of Scripture.

Check out what Paul says in verse six, "But we if are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer..."

Beautiful stuff.