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

on blogging

For years I’d avoided anything to do with blogs, mostly because of the ugliness of the word.  To BLOG sounds like a cross between vomit, and the kind of ghoul you want to avoid alone at night in the Irish wetlands.  But I had to get over the word, because I was having trouble finding a voice for a non-fction book.  I realized a blog provides a writer with what the author of NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! calls the most important weapon in a writer’s arsenal: a deadline.

My thought was to serialize a non-fction book, as Dickens did his novels, in order to keep me on task.  I also wanted the immediate feedback that novels can’t give, because writing novels can take YEARS.  So I got over the prohibitively ugly word and set myself up on WordPress.

I got far more than I bargained for.

First, I underestimated the helpfulness of having not just a self-imposed deadline, but a deadline for something you KNOW other people will read.  It’s like the difference between making lunch for yourself, and cooking for a dinner party for twenty.  No matter how hard you try to convince yourself to make the writing perfect when it’s self-imposed, you just DO end up making tougher choices – i.e. polishing it – when you know other people will read it.

Second, just as there’s nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus the mind, writing a blog you know people are reading causes the writer to discover things he or she didn’t know before.  No matter how many times I read, underline, and take notes on a particular New Testament chapter, often my deepest, most perplexing questions don’t get resolved until I start writing.  There is some strange mysterious dynamic about writing.  The writer makes the connections as she writes.  So the writing itself produces the writing.  This magic – this dynamic mystery involved in the creative act of writing – isn’t unique to blogging, of course, but the blogging helps because the audience is so palpable; blogging keeps one focused, and thereby causes one to make one’s best discoveries – which is so fun, it makes you want to keep going.  It’s a self-sustaining enteprise.

Third, what I didn’t realize was the existence of “Site stats” – the way you can know exactly how many people are reading your words, and what search engines bring them to your virtual doorstep.  I don’t know who looks at my website, but I know how they get there.  So I know how many people follow links on Facebook, how many google me by name, and how many people google other topics.  Here are some of the most common things people google, that, for better or worse, cause them to find my blog: “i feel like my life is slipping away”; “my boyfriend broke up with me and i can’t stop crying”; “why does the Bible make me cry”; “i feel anxious”; “i feel lost”; “my heart is broken”; “bible verses for getting an ex back.”  (Spoiler alert: I can’t actually get your boyfriend back for you).  On a lighter note, people also find me, often, by googling “The dictator running scene” – apparently I’m not the only one who laughed really hard at that preview.

Knowing this information can’t help but affect what I write. It’s like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle – the act of observation changes the object observed.  People don’t seem to google joy and peace – as in ‘yay I feel so happy where are Bible verses to celebrate!!! – they google their losses, fears, anxieties and despair. Knowing how some topics draw people more than others – in such an immediate way – shapes the way, and what, one writes.  It’s as if writer and reader are in some kind of a dance, where the readers’ responses craft the writer’s lead, and vice versa.

Finally, what I didn’t realize was how helpful people’s specific comments would be.  I certainly didn’t anticipate all the kind comments, which buoy me and keep me going.  And I continue to be amazed at the thoughtfulness and detail of the criticism with which people respond. Sometimes people vehemently disagree, both privately and pubically, and I edit to either clarify or correct what I’ve written.  This is unique to blogging; you can change your words, instantly, in response to feedback, in a way denied you to words in print.

Blogging is therefore, a completely dynamic art form. It’s a privilege, fun and mysterious.  So I write this note to thank anyone and everyone who takes the time to participate in the mystery.