leading a split life: John 17

Read John 17.  “He leads a split life,” a friend said to me of another friend.  Then she fell silent because she’s a kind person, and she didn’t want to say more.  My imagination went into overdrive.  Was she implying …   Affairs?  Cocaine?  Prostitutes?  Shady business deals?  I felt myself slip into condemnation – and just as quickly felt the keen slice of self-condemnation.  Because the moment we begin to judge other people, we’ve picked up a razor sharp knife that cuts inward.  Matthew 7:1 (“The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged”).  Who are we to judge other people, Paul warns in the book of Romans – for whatever they do, we do, too.  Romans 2:2 (“When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”).  Because even if we’re not involved in affairs, cocaine, prostitution or shady business deals, there is a sense in which we all lead a split life – split from the person God calls us to be.  Here’s the list Paul assembles of things we condemn in other people, which we do, too:  greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, gossip, backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, boastful, disobedient to parents, breaking promises, being heartless, having no mercy.  Romans 1:29-32.

There is always a gap, always, between the face we present to the world and the thoughts that run through our heads:  “Anxiety comes in the gap between who want to be and who we really are,” my friend R.J. Heijman once said.  Sometimes the gap between the subway platform on which we’re standing and the train onto which we want to jump is so big we can slip under the tracks.  So what’s the solution?  How do we, in the words of the London Tube, MIND THE GAP?

One solution is to close the gap by Working On Ourselves.  In a book called Boundaries in Dating, the authors instruct us swinging singles not to fulfill ourselves by dating our opposites, but instead to improve those aspects of ourselves we don’t like.  The authors instruct the shy person, for instance, not to latch onto the extrovert, or else the shy one will become dependent on her more confident mate, and both will come to resent it.  Instead, the shy person is to work on becoming more extroverted in her own right.  On a more existential note, the authors instruct women to embrace their inner devils (and mind you, this is a Christian book), rather than date ‘bad boys’ to fulfill their devilish fantasies through their mates.  Apparently, this kind of transparency will prevent the angel-devil dating syndrome.  Apparently, this kind of transparency must be rare as the angel-devil dating syndrome is alive and well.

The Bible never expects us to work on ourselves all by ourselves, however.  The world talks like that.  The world is full of self-help books.  God, instead, asks us to come to Him.  He asks us to have a relationship with Him.  Jesus asks us to rest in His love, and allow Him to heal us, and out of God’s fullness will blossom our wholeness.  It’s a slower but more lovely path than just the making of resolutions.  It involves – no, requires – surrender to a loving God, even when we can’t see where He’s leading us or what He’s up to.  It’s especially hard when, gasp, we don’t get our own way.  But this, this “knowing” of God, this “belonging” to Jesus, is eternal life.  John 17:3, 10.  It makes us “one” – not with ourselves, but with each other and with God.  John 17:21.  It closes the gap.

For some reason, trusting God to heal the split in our personalities is usually our last resort.  Instead, when confronted with the split between God’s perfection and our imperfection, we deny that we want perfection.  We can hear it when other people speak.  We can hear each other brag of wrong.  We can hear people imply that we love lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, philandering, prostituting, money grubbing, visiting strip clubs, going over the speed limit, fudging their taxes, gossiping and, and … is my list getting long enough to include us all in there somewhere?  But to rejoice in wrong ultimately leads only to shame.  The Bible teaches that God’s laws are written on our hearts.  Unless our conscience has become so seared by wrong-doing that we can’t hear it, somewhere, somehow, like a drum beat in the distance, we will feel the gap.  We will know shame.  We will experience a sad sort of disquiet about the wrongness in our lives.  And we will feel discomfort, depression, joylessness and lack of purpose.

So instead, many of us – most of us – all of us – take the opposite tack and pretend we ARE perfect.  But that fools nobody for long, not even us.

Is there another way, a way of authenticity?  When record producer Bennie listens to music in Jennifer Egan’s novel, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, he listens for “muddiness: the sense of actual musicians playing actual instruments in an actual room.”  On a whim, Bennie goes to hear a failing band recording live in their home and “a sensation of pleasure filled his whole torso the way a snowfall fills up a sky… He’d been delegating too much.  Hearing the music get made, that was the thing….. Oh, the raw, almost threadbare sound of their voices mixed with the clash of instruments – these sensations met with a faculty deeper in Bennie than judgment or even pleasure; they communed directly with his body.”  Bennie knows that the music he produces at his record label is too “clear, too clean.  The problem was precision, perfection; the problem was digitization, which sucked the life out of everything.”

Egan is writing about truth itself – our response to raw versus digitized humanity.  Isn’t the music industry’s problem our problem, too?  Don’t we shy away from our own “muddiness”?  Don’t we try to present ourselves as digitized – “too clear, too clean”?  How can we allow our muddiness to shine through in a world where you can’t turn around without being judged?

I listen to other people a lot.  We spend a lot of our airtime judging each other.  Every society, every culture, every group uses a different ruler, but we all whop each others knuckles with those rulers on a daily basis. Did you hear?  She wore white.  She wore pink.  She wore blue.  She wore purple.  She wore long.  She wore short.  She wore high.  She wore low.  She swore high.  She swore low.  She dated so and so.  Did you hear?  

It’s no wonder that in such a condemning judgmental world so few of us feel safe allowing our muddiness to show.  I’m not talking about exhibitionism – where people brag about their heroin addictions or orgies.  I’m not talking about what McKee calls “prepared secrets” – their father’s four wives, their alcoholic mothers, the traumas of their youth.  I’m talking about living authentically.  I’m talking about living in a way in which we drink deep from the waters of God’s love, and find there that we fall far short of any ruler we ever used, and yet are completely loved.  I’m talking about how, in that safe place, we lose all defensiveness.  The desire to brag melts away.  The ability to rejoice in the achievements of others flourishes.  There, in the loving safe arms of a Father like that – a God who took the ruler we deserve on His own back – we find peace.  We find healing.  The gap narrows.  The split mends.  We become unified – not all by ourselves, but in a deep intimate relationship with God.  And in “knowing” God, and finding we are “known,” we find oneness with others – and discover that was the split we wanted mending all along.  We wanted “perfect unity” not within ourselves, but with each other – in spite of our muddiness, in the midst of our muddiness, united in our muddiness.

We discover we love, really love, other people, and that perhaps we just went around judging them because we were hurt, deeply hurt, that they didn’t seem to love us back.  Perhaps we’re all acting like the character in the fable of Aesop’s sour grapes – we think we can’t have other people’s love, so we call them sour.  The answer is that we’re all sour.  But we’re also sweet, united in the love of a sweet God, who takes the threadbare sound of our voices, allows them to clash against raw instruments, and who presses us, presses us, into the winepress of His love, until nothing is left but God “in” us.  Through knowing God, in the way Jesus here prays for us, through being united to Him, we find all of us together, united, without any split at all.

posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on July 12, 2012


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