the ancient overgrown pathway to healing: Romans 14

june to nov. 09 317

We humans need healing in so many ways, for so many things.  So what if someone were to tell you that you could be healed of all your hurts?  What if they said they could help you connect with other people?  What if they said they could help you get in touch with yourself?  What if they said: “come with me.  Fly with me to a thick overgrown jungle.  Hack your way through the underbrush.  And in an ancient ruined city, I will show you a way to total healing”?  Would we book our flights?

We might.  When we humans really want something, we open our wallets.  We endure bumpy bus rides.  We squeeze ourselves into airplanes.   We perch on ripped train seats.  We do that for movies.  We do it for vacations.  We do it for anything that seems worth it.  As one of my favorite books on dating says of finding a man who will treat you properly: “men will fly across the world just to surf a wave.  You want to be that wave.”

So what if instead of searching for a wave (or for a muscled bare chested man riding a wave), our ears perked up when we heard a voice that told us to stand at the crossroads and look, to ask for the ancient paths.  We lean closer.  We like the idea of a journey.  Something in our heart rises up at the thought of finding ancient paths.  We fill our water bottles, pop our malaria pills, tuck our machetes into our belts and walk along the ancient overgrown paths.  We hear a voice telling us when to go right and when to go left.  We listen because we want to get there.

When we reach the ancient ruined city, however, we are annoyed.  We are told that before we can meet the king, we first must perform a task.  We have to wash in the river of life because we’re dirty from our journey.  It’s not the washing that annoys us.  It’s that we have to wash in the SAME river as everyone else.  We look around.  We can see that our fellow travelers are mud-stained and filthy.  But US?  No, we’re good enough to meet the king of the city just as we are.  Why do we need to wash first?  Plus, what if we get a disease from all those other unwashed souls?

And then we look at the river.  It’s warm.  It’s refreshing.  It’s crystal clear and blue as sapphires, and we think, “hmmmm.  Maybe it’s not sooo bad.”  We strip off our dirty clothes and jump in.  And there, we discover we actually enjoy swimming in the same delightfully warm and refreshing river as everyone else.

That’s it.  That’s the secret.  That’s the solution to all our problems.  The answer is to wash ourselves in Jesus’ love.  It’s to accept the river of life that flows from the throne of God.  It’s to be cleansed of all our mistakes by the cross.  Why should we resist grace?  The problem is that grace says that if we want to leap into the river of life in this ancient city, we’re not allowed to judge anyone else.  We stop short, glance at our watches, and wonder if we have time to catch the next flight out.

Why?  Because if someone tells us to do something hard, we roll up our sleeves and give it all we have.  We want to prove ourselves.  But if God tells us to do something so easy anyone can do it, we balk.  See 2 Kings 5 (“Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!”).

So lean into Romans 14 and see what is required for healing.  Paul says that we are not to judge other people.  Paul says we shouldn’t judge people, for instance, whose consciences lead them to be vegetarians.  We are not to judge people who honor the Sabbath on different days than we do.  It says we are responsible for our own consciences. It says we are to keep matters of the conscience like whether we have wine or not “between ourselves and God.”  And it asks: “who are we to condemn another man’s servant?”

Who indeed.  That is the million dollar question.  Who ARE we when we’re not judging other people?  Have we met ourselves as just a human being?  Have we met someone who can’t look down at anyone else?  Have we met fellow servants?

Yes.  Unclothed of judging, we find ourselves as a human who can actually love other people.   We find a human who can set aside old hurts.  We find a human who doesn’t have to try to control anyone else.  We have a human who discovers she can barely even control herself.  We find a person who needs God’s help, just like everyone else.

That’s because when we ask for the ancient paths and try to follow the good way – we discover we can’t.  We do judge others.  We feel an ugly need to think we’re better than other people – at least ONE person.  We discover we withhold ourselves from others, even people we’re married to, because we want to punish them for hurting us.  We put up walls, and they’re rock solid.  We find we’ve become a stranger to our own emotions because we can’t handle our rage, disappointment and hurts.  We’ve become numb.  We’re full of anxiety because we’re afraid of doing the wrong thing.  We’re afraid we will be judged.

God offers a different path.  He has every right to judge us but offers to forgive us instead.  He wants to heal our every wound.  He will forgive all our mistakes.  We don’t have to be numb about our mistakes or in denial any more.  We can remember them without being crushed.  God gives us the most powerful tool of all for enjoying other humans.  He gives us the power to forgive them everything bad they’ve ever done to us.

It’s that simple.  We can be healed if we forgive and are forgiven.  And because the simple is impossible for us flawed humans, God helps us.  He endured all the judging, criticism, condemnation, blame and punishment on the cross so we can be set free.  God knows it’s hard to forgive.  So He helps us forgive others.  The ancient paths are a place where God gives us a new heart.  He helps us assume the best about other people.  It’s a place where God assumes the best about us.  The kingdom at the end of the ancient paths is a place of “goodness, peace and joy.”

It’s worth opening not just our wallets, but our hearts for.  It’s worth leaning in to those words.  It’s worth giving it a try.  What do we have to lose?  We’ve tried everything else.  And hey, how did THAT turn out?  Not so good, right?

There is a good way.  Jesus is the way.  He’s the person we’ve looked for in every book, movie, and in the crest of every wave.  He’s the one who made us, who loves us, and who longs to heal our every hurt.  If we walk in the way of grace, we will find the rest we’ve always longed for.  Because God longs for us, too.  He’s hacking His way through the undergrowth to find us, no matter how lost we are.  His voice is calling out.  He calls us each by name.  And that’s why our mistakes are okay.  Because God uses everything – even all our wrong pathways – to lead us straight to His open arms.  All we have to do is let God find us, and we’ll weep for joy at the beautiful way he restores everything ruined.

posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day: on healing

how to stop hating ourselves: Romans 13

read Romans 13.  Why do we sometimes hate ourselves?  It’s ridiculous, right?  Why should we level such ugliness at ourselves?  What a waste of time.  How wrong.  If anyone ELSE hated themselves we would tell them to stop.  But when we get in self-hatred mode, we pile on:  WHAT?! We think.  WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME???  HOW CAN I HATE MYSELF??  I HATE MYSELF FOR HATING MYSELF!!!

It’s an endless loop.

We become like the woman in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror,” searching the reaches of a lake for what we really are.  But all we see when we look in any mirror when we’re in Self Hater Mode, is our aging self rising toward us day after day “like a terrible fish.”  Any minute now, and our dentures and Depends will leap out of our mirrors and chase us down the street, singing.

So here’s my little story about the day I hated myself last week.  I tell it because as my friend Christina Culver says: “this story about me is really about you.”

Like most of these Hater Days, it started out with a black-and-white intense ambition.  All I wanted to do was take the subway down to the Writer’s Room and work on my new novel.   But boring desk work was calling my name.  Okay, let’s be honest. All desk work is boring.  I wanted to ignore it, but my “complications were developing complications,” to paraphrase the movie BRAZIL.  So I started working my way through the enormous stacks of nothingness.  All of a sudden, it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and the desk seemed piled even higher than before.

There’s this odd alternate reality to deskwork.  Like a black hole, it can swallow all our time.  It’s ravenous.  Every little project seems to generate ten more little projects.  And it’s harsh.  It gives no praise.  It only makes more demands.  The tyranny of the immediate has a way of elevating unimportant tasks to the level of emergency.  Enough was enough.   I abandoned ship and got myself outside.  I blinked a few times at the sight of the sun.  I headed toward the subway.  But the mantra in my head was loud, insidious, extreme and relentless: what is your problem what’s wrong with you how can you waste so much time doing nothing you’ll never finish your novel you’ll never get another book published you’re a hopeless person a hopeless writer a hopeless failure and you always will be.

That was when I saw the open church doors.  Oh, no, I thought.  Not that.  Please, no, Lord.  Don’t ask me to go pray.  Not now.  I don’t have time.  

I heard that phrase in my head: “too busy NOT to pray.”

Reluctantly, I obeyed.  I walked into the church, scuffing my feet in rebellion.  My eyes adjusted to the darkness.  I sat in the back pew.  That was when I saw a man sitting on the altar talking on HIS CELLPHONE.

Yes.  Can you believe it?  That was my reaction, too.  I took him for a tourist who had wandered into the church for a quiet place to talk loudly.  All my self-hatred got projected on him with laser like intensity.  My safety radar started its siren: weeir weeir weeir.  After living in New York City for a long time, you learn to trust your gut.  If someone gives you an uh oh feeling, you hightail it out of there.  So I watched the man warily.  But I didn’t leave because I felt pretty sure the Holy Spirit had told me to be here and my own way of handling the day wasn’t working out so well.

The man was yelling into his phone, in a harsh, Algerian-sounding, French accent:

“Pleeeeeeze.  Listen to me.  Pleeeeeeeze.  Do NOT interrupt me.  You keep interrupting me. Pleeeeeeeze.  Let ME speak.   Pleeeeezzzzze.”

He was killing me.  Yet another person I needed to pray for.  And clearly, I had to pray for him FIRST because until he calmed down, I wasn’t going to be able to pray for anyone else.

So I prayed that God would help him stop being so rude.  I prayed God would help him speak in a more loving voice.  I prayed God would break in and help him speak in a kind tone to the unseen person on the other end of his phone.

I must have glared at him while praying (oops) because he glanced at me, walked down the aisle, and started talking from the back of the church.  Of course, that only meant I could hear him MORE clearly.  My annoyance grew.  I wondered if I should leave.  Clearly, coming here had been a waste of time.

Suddenly, I heard the man say into his phone as clear as a bell:

“Do you think God created man to be depressed and sad all the time?”

I sat straight up.  Why no, I thought, with the surprise of revelation.  He didn’t.

“So where does this negative thinking come from?”

The devil, I thought.

“It comes from our enemy, the devil.”

Exactly.

“When the negative thinking comes, say, ‘I do not accept that because it’s not from God.’  And it doesn’t come back.  It’s a spiritual war.  By our own strength, it’s impossible.  But when you let God fight inside you, you always have the victory.  But you need to be born of the Spirit.  The devil is using your spirit against you.  So you have to push these thoughts away.  God doesn’t want you to have them.  You must reject them.  You must ask for God’s help.  The Holy Spirit will tell you God loves you.  The Holy Spirit will fight these negative thoughts for you.  God will fill you with peace and joy.  Jesus comes inside you and helps you.  What?  No, I know you don’t believe in God or the devil yet.  But please.  You must listen.  This is the truth.”

The man’s voice was calm.  He spoke kindly.  And I can’t tell you if the person on the other end of the line heard him, but I know I did.  I got up, smiled at the man and said, “you preach a good sermon.”  He glanced at me absently and went back to his depressed friend.  Then I took the subway down to the Writer’s room and got more done in two hours than I’d gotten done in a week.

That’s how God works.  He weaves us together in His tapestry.  God wanted me to cheer up.  He wanted the man to speak the truth in love.  He used the man to bless me, and I hope me to bless the man.  We don’t have to don shining armor and jewel encrusted swords to fight the battle of good and evil.  We just have to try to listen to God’s voice, even when we don’t want to, even though we’re not very good at it.  That’s why Paul talks here in Romans 13 about the importance of obedience.   It all comes down to trust.  When we make ourselves obey God, even when we don’t feel like it, beautiful things happen.   God always knows what HE is doing.  He takes our small things – like giving him five minutes in a church to pray – and weaves them into something infinite and gracious.

God asks us to remove our dark deeds “like dirty clothing” and instead to “clothe” ourselves with “the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 13.  We tend to focus on our dark deeds.  That’s where self-hatred comes in.  We focus on the bad.  We peer in the mirrors of our life and see only wrinkles sprouting wrinkles, complications having complications.  We project ourselves into the future, and we imagine that future without God helping us.  The image is bleak.  But we have it backwards.  God is with us now, and He won’t abandon us in the future.  As Sarah Young puts it in Jesus Calling, we were not created to live a future without God.

God wants us to look in His eyes like a mirror.  He wants us to see reflected back at us His love, not our hatred.  He wants us to focus on His generosity for us instead of our own miserliness.  He wants us to think about His forgiveness.  He wants us to leap for joy like a calf released from the stall because of all He has done for us.  So when those dark thoughts come pressing in, as they so often do, we get to say: ha!  I know where you come from.  Back you go.

God didn’t create us for depressing negative thoughts.  He created us for Himself.  And no matter how much we fail, God longs to cover us with Christ’s perfection.  If we accept those clothes, we become the best dressed, most beautiful, most successful, most glorious person who ever walked this earth.  Because when we beg God to cast off our darkness, God clothes us with Christ’s presence.  And in Him, we are perfect no matter what.  In Him, our self hatred melts away.  In Him, we can cry with tears of relief.  In Him, there is no room for hatred but only for love, reflecting back at us forever, singing.

posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on “i hate myself today”