Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The worst part about drinking poison.

The worst part about drinking poison.

I used to think God was like a magic wand or some sort of silver bullet. I could wave him at all my problems and poof, they’d disappear in a thin cloud of smoke never to be seen again. That’s a nice thought, and maybe there are times in life when God does that. When he lifts you up on the wings of an eagle and carries you out of the desert with a swiftness that breaks the sound barrier he is traveling so fast. But what about those times when your exit from misery is more of a donkey ride out of the desert? A slow, rambling journey during which your troubles continue to throw rocks at you while you try to escape? What are those times like?

That’s what a good deal of my journey has felt like which is why I’ll probably sell 14 books in total. Slow donkey rides make for fairly melancholy books or that’s the thought anyway. But to be honest with you, knowing the things I am about to write has made me happier than any book with a guy with really nice white teeth has, so here it is:

The worst thing about drinking poison is when you stop.

Some people like to argue that the worst thing is when you start. They’re wrong. Starting is fun. Temptation is usually enjoyable. If there wasn’t at least some bit of delight in temptation, no matter how thin the veneer, chances are you wouldn’t do it. If you didn’t get high a little you wouldn’t ever drink poison. No, starting is the easy part.

But when you stop drinking poison, it starts to go to work. Then and only then do you really start to feel the effects of that toxin, whatever yours is, going through your veins. You see, as long as you’re continually drinking it, you’re numb to the impact. When I was in my darkest days, I didn’t notice the pain I was causing to my family and anyone else that was in my atmosphere. As I took my mouth away from the poison hose though I could see just how much damage I was doing and that’s when my entire life became crippled by shame and regret.

The problem is though that on some level I thought when I came home to Christ, when I made that prodigal walk, everything would feel great. I’d have a party, we’d hug, the end. And that is where the prodigal son story ends in Luke. But I am becoming ever curious about the day after the party. More than that, I’m starting to think the day after might have been miserable.

What if the day after the welcome home party the prodigal son had to face his older brother? Or countless other people on the farm that he had wounded? What if someone he owed money to came to collect on the debt? What if he couldn’t instantly shake the memories of the people he’d damaged or the things he’d done while he was off pursuing wild living? What if the consequences crept up around his ankles like so many vines even though his feet were planted firmly with the father?

When each of those things happened to me when I came to the Lord, I thought I had failed. I was terrified by the realization that freedom, did not in fact feel free. I thought I had made a mistake. I thought that since life was not happy and the initial high of the party had worn off, God was upset with me. My fear that there was something I needed to fix before coming home was confirmed.

I was wrong. I was wrong to think that coming home meant magically escaping every mistake I’d ever made. I was wrong to think the arrival of regret or consequence was an indication of failure. I was wrong to think that if I drank poison for 19 years God was going to extract it from my body overnight or at worst during a three day Labor Day retreat.

It’s been a slow process. Despite repeatedly kicking this donkey I’m on, it’s been a tedious journey out of the desert. There have been times when I’ve admittedly thought, “It hurts and I’m already covered with sand, why don’t I just stay in the desert?” I have not been perfect.

But I have been real. And if there’s one real thing I can tell you it’s this: “The arrival of pain is not the exit of God’s love.” In fact, it may be the exit of poison.

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