So I want to start this by saying, I have a faith, and it is tremendously important to me. It has been built, shaped, adjusted, destroyed, and rebuilt throughout my life. Anyone who believes that their framework for understanding themselves and God will last a lifetime, is either in for a road of great personal delusion and restriction of learning, or disappointment, pain, and disillusion. Recently I have finally found myself with enough distance to see how my early life faith framework impacted the development of my personality, and who I became as an adult. I will preface this with saying that I have at several points in my life served as the counselor/facilitator for others who were processing their own past and disappointments. My bag of tools for addressing these types of issues was pretty full, but it was not until recently that I was able to honestly acknowledge my experience. In the enneagram personality assessment, I am a 3, the achiever/performer. More specifically, I am the “self-preservationist 3”, which essentially means that my personality developed as a high-performing, pragmatist, jack-of-all trades approach, with an odd mix of self-depreciation and detachment from my feelings. People frequently come to me because I usually have a solution to just about any problem. I have a can-do attitude, and jump in to help because I genuinely care. A friend from my faith community recently shared a photo-copied section from a book on the self-preservationist 3. One particular line stood out to me: “People with this sub-type (self-preservationist 3) often had a childhood in which they didn’t have enough protection and resources”. In the past, I would have cut short this kind of thinking, honoring the amount of physical needs that were met in my childhood, but as I meditated on this, I realized that I did not have the emotional support I needed. I remembered about eight years of my childhood specifically where I felt very alone to navigate all the expectations of the world. The Hook I was raised in a house where there were exceptionally limited ways to connect with my father. He is a performer in his own way, still reacting to his own childhood, being the strength and stability that his family never was for him. If I wanted my father’s respect, it came through achievement in education, sports, or religion. I was competitive in sports, but would never be better than middle of the pack. So somewhere around middle school, I gave up on sports mostly, and vested significantly in performing in education and religion. I feel bad for my classmates now in retrospect. I achieved in nearly every subject. At the end of the school year, I always walked home with a stack of achievement certificates. I was the king of nerds. In terms of religious achievement, I was on several committees, ministry teams, started several faith-based groups at school, and ultimately went to bible school and into inner-city ministry right out of college. Unfortunately, I was “that guy” who could suck the air out of the room with a mix of zeal, and truth. I was not hiding some secret life of compromise, as many do. I really was living what I said. I just happened to have a really disciplined life, which was an indication of my unhealthy drive. Achievement was my disease, and it has been growth for me to allow myself to be rough around the edges, to be honest about my weakness. Somewhere between elementary school and bible college, I came to believe that God was just like my dad. He (and of course God was a He in my mind, who I normally addressed as Father or heavenly father) had a perfect relationship in mind for me and Him, but I needed to perform. I needed to achieve. I needed to be productive and awesome. If I believed the right thing, lived the right way, and found the right plan for my life, it would be a life of amazing awesome spiritual outcomes (this is the part where you are supposed to hear an electric guitar solo peel away during an exceptionally moving praise song). The Wreck Then around age 25 it all came crashing down around me. Life happened. My framework for understanding my own value and God no longer fit. I remember one particularly vivid point where I quite literally shook my fist in the air at a distant God who had caused me so much pain. Knives freshly in my back from a variety of spiritual performers and leaders, I could not understand how my life was turning out so poorly when the efforts had been so good, and I was so close to believing the right thing. I must have missed it somewhere. I was frantically searching for my blindspot where I did or believed the wrong thing. And slowly the anger built…. God had compelled my father to move us from our friends repeatedly, attending 12 different schools between elementary and high school. God had compelled me to go to Bible School to go into the ministry. God had let my whole world fall apart while I was sacrificing so much to perform. Or so I believed because the framework I had been given from my father, my childhood churches, through books and summer camps… they all said there was a perfect plan, a God-plan for my life, and if I was on the right path, I’d find myself doing great things. Instead, I found myself abandoned, confused, broke, divorced, and injured in a car accident. Several spiritual leaders gave me a long list of things I should be doing, praying, and busying myself with to change the situation… and yet it happened. They had their ideas. I had the rubble of a life at my feet. I had no adequate words to express where I was at in life. Nothing had worked. I was ashamed. I felt like I was starting over, rebuilding my life, but looking at a pile of of my broken life lying on the ground, thinking no one would want to share a life with this wrecked version of me. I was in debt. I had no degrees. I was overweight. I had no faith I could verbalize anymore. My car was totaled. I had been laid off in an office shutdown. My faith was tattered to a shred. Two things remained. Through months of tears, and loss, and getting back up again, I believed God is love, and God redeems. It was all I could hold on to. It was all that felt true in my core. To this day, it is the place I return. It is my compass, my hope. Rebuilding I got up. Decided I needed to lean into hope and believe that God redeems the broken life. I finished one degree, then another. I paid off my debts. I took care of my body. I opened myself up to relationships, first fearing to acknowledge the rubble I was still sorting through, then realizing if someone could not accept the broken me, they were not accepting me. The other me was a lie. I think this season of slow progress would sound much more awesome if I said I had visitations from angels, or that God immediately confirmed my new framework for life, and my efforts were easy, and everyone liked me immediately, and it rained gumdrops one day. But in truth, it was slow. My faith existed like my spiritual center, my place to return for hope and belief that love could and would win. And I worked my ass off to steadfastly, and peacefully rebuild my life. In my old framework of life, I would have expected that the moment I had prayed the right thing or believed the right thing, it would all have started working out. Or I would have instantly had the pain from my past sorted, and would move forward fully healthy and restored. It was work, diligence, and a battle to constantly return to my center. I regularly questioned my own intentions and actions…. whether I was doing things because of my old framework of performance, or because I believed it was loving for myself, my community, and my future family. This kind of sorting is hard, and I think I had a tendency to question my own motivations too much, but I had stopped trusting them. I met my wife. We made friends. We built a community for others and ourselves. Bit by bit, I sorted through the rubble, not sure what to feel of my past in most cases. As a child I developed a strong capacity to suppress my emotions in the name of being productive, so in many cases, I was allowing myself to feel things for the first time, some 10 – 20 years later. It is the oddest sensation trying to reconcile the suppressed emotions of the childhood version of yourself with the objective, rational mindset of your adult self. I would like to say that the youthful feelings immediately jump on board with the rational thoughts of the adult self, but they don’t. Sometimes you just have to let yourself feel them, and be honest that they exist, buried, and still feeling. As you enter into them, and acknowledge them, there is freedom to simultaneously forgive and honor their presence. All sorts of dysfunction seem to appear when you refuse to honor them by denying their existence or rationalizing them, or force them to conform with your adult belief system. There is truth and beauty stored there, but it is vivid, full of extremes. What I am learning Recently I have come to terms with the system of belief I adopted as a child. It was abusive. I hate to use that word, for a thousand reasons. Most of the people I know who claim abusive moments in their lives, never move past those moments. While the actors in my childhood were diverse, the message has heard loud and clear, achieve… chase the plan of God for your life, and you will be worthy to be loved. As a child I was too young to filter out the various messages from sources I respected. Unfortunately it took it all falling apart around me for me to realize how my own woundedness propped up and supported that framework for understanding myself and God. I wanted it to be true. I knew I could achieve. I knew I could discipline myself. I knew I could be productive. If all I had to do was do well and believe the right thing, that is a pretty good offer for knowing your life will be significant and you will be loved. What I realize now is that I was loved. And that God, that version of God was an asshole. That version of God wrecked the first 25 years of my life with an equation for acceptance and significance that betrayed me. It set my life up as a quest to chase the spiritual carrot of living right, believing correctly, and performing so I could be accepted. That God had a systematic theology that told me what I should believe about my life, and what the final score of this game called life would be. What I have also come to realize is that I helped make that version of God, that system of understanding and relating to God that betrayed me. It was the systemization of God that poisoned by ability to rebound from life, see the joy in it, while not denying the rubble. I am convinced for so many people it is the systemization of their own version of God that causes them so much pain in life. They either have a life that performs well for their expectations, and they slowly become more and more judgmental against people that do not accept their framework for understanding themselves and God… or their life does not meet the outcomes of the plan, and they live disillusioned, bitter, and unsure of their own value. They are flips of the same coin, neither providing a context for knowing your value free from performance. What I have come to believe about God is that God will be revealed, but not defined… that what we all get are glimpses of stories, experiences, and metaphors that resonate, ripe with love and redemption, and we inherently see God in them. It is the oddest of gifts, as we are richer for accepting the diversity of them, and hurt, both personally and communally, as we try to control them. God is like many things, and fortunately it is the many of things that help us to understand God. As we allow our understanding of God to grow with us, we are richer, healthier, and have a greater capacity to live in the present. We are no longer tied to the defense of a dusty list of prescribed thoughts on God and a framework of expectations for our life. Instead we are able to celebrate how we and others understood God in the past, how we know God now, and how we will continue to discover God throughout life. It is an immeasurable treasure of discovery.
So we made this choice, a very physical/practical choice, that had a significant impact in the way I perceived who I would be going forward. I am sure there are other men that have very different triggers for their own inner transitions. For me, this was mine. I hoped that putting it to writing would help me process my own thoughts, but also that other men that had not yet found their own thoughts might find some solace in our common struggles.
Let me rewind a bit. We started the conversation about the procedure back in the late winter/early Spring. It was roughly 6 months later when I acted on it. I think I believe I started processing the transition much earlier, but did not fully understand what and why.
Generally, when a significant life transition occurs, we, as humans and particularly male humans, tend to find something of perceived significance to throw our energies into. Some choose hobbies, some choose new girlfriends, some choose extreme sports, some choose travel, some choose work, and some just choose to escape.
Out of some mixed sense of nobility, I chose my job as my area of focus. It was almost not discernable at first. I began thinking about the future of my team, our programs, my organization… and it evolved into projecting what I would need to do, be, and choose to best ensure success for all. I clearly felt the threats of what was going on with government funding and the later shutdown, but also saw few others lining up to carry the torch for the next generation of providing solutions for the marginally housed.
Over time, this shift in thinking weighed more and more on my soul. I felt the inaction of the upper levels of management clawing at my desire to move the organization into a better position for the future. When we lost momentum or a significant effort was thwarted for some insignificant or bureaucratic reason, I felt like I was sinking and losing hope. There was one critical moment when I had invested significant time, probably 60 hours or so, and upper management chose to blatantly ignore my opinion and the opinion of the other mid-tier leadership. I was almost directly told that my opinion did not matter, and whether or not it was directly said, action was taken confirming how little value was placed in the effort and thoughts of mid-tier leadership.
I felt shattered. At first, I felt great anger for upper management. Legitimately, I felt like the communication and decision making process was exceptionally poor. Objectively, that was true. I could argue all day long about how poor the process had been.
Though I had other moments in the past where poor decisions had been made or my opinion had been ignored, so why did this feel so much more impactful? Why did I feel the need to escape my own thoughts when I came home from work? Why did I feel the need to mentally argue with upper management every time I allowed my brain to drift? I was letting upper management live in my thought life far too frequently.
It took more time to process the why’s than I would wish it would. Perhaps it was because I was busy with the family. Perhaps it was because I was fighting the good fight (or at least so I thought) for the future success of others.
It took two bouts with sickness, nearly back-to-back to get me still enough to perceive my own agitation. I knew I was angry, but I did not realize how much it had grown to dominate my emotional state. I should be better at discerning this by now, but I am still learning.
It was sometime on day 3 of 102 degree fever, stuck on my bed, too bored to try to distract myself with anything else. I had exhausted Netflix, Hulu, and any video games I wanted to play. I finally began to process what had happened over the past 7 months. I knew I was facing this transition physically, but I had not really understood that in my own desire for a new sense of significance, I bet hard on my career. And my career had knocked the wind out of me and clearly did not love me as much as I was trying to love it. It just wanted to be friends… or more like acquaintances.
Years ago, I had a season where I lost everything, or nearly everything. I was fragmented. I lost money, relationships, my own sense of personal self-worth, and my view of the world. I think I still fear that I will be blindsided again.
I made my career, at least in the place it was occupying in my own soul, the place of stability and significance for my future. I am sure that mixed in there was a noble desire to provide for my family, and I do truly, truly believe in giving my life to create opportunities for others to change their lives. But, my level 9 Richter scale soul earthquake had little to do with feeling loss over those two areas. I can always get another job, and I know myself well enough to know that I will try to help others throughout my life, even if it is not part of my job description.
So I am trying to think differently about my career. I have a helpful post-it note stuck on my monitor, “Just a job”, as a reminder. Some people need to push themselves to invest more deeply in things. Generally that has not been my problem. I tend to try to make situations work much longer than I should. It has been a pattern in my life that I need something to fall apart in front of me, to cause me to re-evaluate what I am investing my time and energy toward.
Maybe I will change my career. Maybe not. I do not really know now, but I do feel a palpable sense of peace about my day-to-day soul strain at my job. It’s just a job. It’s not me.
I have found a new joy in dreaming about what could be next. I am not a “grass is always greener” person. I am way too pragmatic to think any change is good change, but maybe I want to be someone different down the road. And that potential new adventure is exciting to allow my imagination to savor.
I share all this in hopes it will help someone else that is having their own level 9 soul earthquake. If you objectively know that your situation does not justify the intensity of emotion you are feeling about it, create some space and allow yourself time to process the why’s.
To be honest, after the procedure, the physical recovery took far longer than I anticipated. It was a pain that was distinctly different than other pains I have previously experienced. I was planning on being up to speed 3 or 4 days later, and probably over-exerted myself. A word to the wise, plan on this taking several weeks to feel fully normal again. It was roughly 10 weeks later before I truly stopped noticing the random pain.
Women seem to universally talk about this as if it is a simple procedure where there is obviously no reason for their man to feel really bothered by it. My wife did a good job saying little, but I heard ample feedback, nearly all from women, that getting snipped was an insignificant thing. So men, just prepare to not be understood.
I experienced a tremendous amount of inner turmoil both before and for several weeks after the procedure. Partially, it was physical. I was uncomfortable with what would be done, the risks, and the much slower than expected recovery. Though as I reflected I realized my turmoil was more about this signified. This marked a tremendous transition for my future. It meant that the family I had, at least biologically, was the full sum of my family (barring some surprise). It meant that I was no longer working toward the family I would some day have, and instead was accepting the family I had.
Thinking about what this transition meant required accepting where I was at in life in an entirely new way. I did not have regrets about the life I had. In fact, quite the opposite… I have a wife and two daughters that are a delight to me. I am exceptionally grateful to share my life with each of them.
Rather, this meant that I had to accept there would not be another member on Team Burton. From a rational standpoint, I fully agreed with the choice. Our family has committed to maintaining enough space in our life and budget to share with others outside our family. We felt like we had reached a point where we still had some of us left to share with others, but were uncertain that more children would still allow us mental, emotional, and financial space. I know other families have other points at which they feel they have reached the point of being complete. For us, we were there.
But still, I had to allow myself to accept what this meant. I was no longer the young man building. I was now the father raising, caring, supporting…
In other areas, we made choices that seemed to only amplify the transition:
- We used what we saved on birth control to buy more life insurance.
- My wife bought a lumbar pillow for more comfortable driving.
- We upped our contributions to our retirement accounts.
- We have talked about what the next family vehicle might be.
All of these are reasonable things, but the transition seemed so sudden that it caught my adventurer heart by surprise.
I found myself looking for security and significance. Who would I be in this next season? If I wasn’t the young man building, who would I want to be?
(to be continued)
Were my blog a cactus, it would not have survived.
I could name about 43 reasons I have not been writing.
At the top of the list would be a picture of a frantic Josh… trying to be all that I can be: a growing career man, a fully present dad, a contributing part of a community, a husband who actually sees the awesome things his wife does enough to thank her for them, a handyman, an informed contributor to society, a kickbutt virtual assassin that saves the world when called upon, an indie music aficionado, a thirty-something that has not yet given up on caring for his body, and more.
This has been the year I am no longer trying to build the life I might some day have:
- I have my degrees, probably enough to get by (though I do get tempted by the occasional doctoral program).
- I have a house that sufficiently meets the needs of the family that is currently occupying said house. If they made a self-cleaning / self-repairing model, I would upgrade. But until then, it is a blessing to have a space to share with so many we love.
- I have my family. This was the year we decided that two was enough. My wife felt really strongly that two was what she had space for in her heart, mind, and energy.
Years ago I surrounded myself with young men that talked about how they were going to change the world and win a woman. Gradually that shifted to conversations about an epic proposal. Then we debated about when to start a family. Apparently 2013 is the year all the cool kids are getting snipped.
So I did what thirty-something married men do when they realize they are done adding to the population. I decided I would celebrate arriving at this grand new season of my life by giving up the functionality of some of my organs! All while having awkward conversations with people I hardly knew.
After getting the referral from my doctor, I went and had the consult with the urologist. If you were ever slightly uncertain about what you were embarking on, they do provide a list of everything that can go wrong, and make both you and your spouse sign off on it. Perhaps the most awkward compliment of the day was the nodding approval of my manscaping from my 60+ year old urologist.
We did our homework, soberly signed away my boys, and the day of the procedure arrived. The urologist was scheduled to move into a new, state of the art facility between the date of my consultation and procedure. I showed up at the brand new building exactly on time, and not a minute early. I debated about taking a flask for courage with me as valium does not agree with my stomach. At the last minute, I chose to tough it out.
The electronic doors whooshed open upon my approach to the shiny, new facility. Inside I met a confused looking administrator sitting in the entryway. She asked if I been informed about the box fire and the surgery that had been relocated 30 miles away. She handed me an illegible Mapquest photocopy, and I headed out, grateful I chose to skip the bourbon in the parking lot.
40 minutes later, I arrive to an exceptionally crowded facility (another urologist offered for the week while the building was repaired). 40 of us stared awkwardly at the walls, so as not to make eye contact… except for that one A-hole that was watching a movie on his phone without headphones, directly below the “Do not use cell phones” sign.
Two hours later, they called me back. I sat down in one room, waited 20 minutes, and tried to chit chat with the nurse/assistant when she came in. She looked to be exactly the age of my wife, and very similar in attractiveness and build. Unfortunately, she was not my wife, and so I faked my confidence and began having conversations with a complete stranger about a procedure I had begun questioning somewhere during the two hours in the “waiting room”.
20 minutes later, they moved me to an identical room, and I was greeted by another urologist I had not met yet. He seemed to be exactly my age, funny, and very conversational. I thought to myself he’s the kind of guy we’d have over to a barbeque or share a beer with.
What was not at all expected was that the new “better” room they moved me into apparently had none of the supplies we needed to proceed. In some weird version of a scavenger hunt, the new doctor and nurse literally went cabinet-to-cabinet, door-to-door, yelling as they found one of the 20+ items they needed for the procedure. It felt like some awful episode of survivor, with my dignity on the menu.
All the while the hunt was progressing, I was sitting prepped in a chair with the 200 watt halogen lamp highlighting what God gave me. I think I was darn near to a sunburn when the urologist and nurse agreed that they finally had all the supplies they needed.
After liberally applying the industrial aftershave to my freshly shorn, now nearly sunburned source of awkward conversation, the procedure itself went normally.
I was fully awake throughout the process, and I had not really spent much time thinking about how I would fill the time during the procedure. So despite the occasional moments of stabbing pain coming from my groin, we had a pretty decent conversation about life, college basketball, family, and what makes a good marriage work.
I still have this gut-wrenching fear that some day either the nurse or doctor are going to show up at our church or to some event, and I am going to have to recover from how we first met one another as the foundation of our friendship.
(to be continued)
August 1st, 2012 was the day that morality and freedom of speech in America was saved by the mass consumption of chicken and waffle fries. Lines poured out of Chick-filA establishments around the country as religiously motivated citizens waited 45 to 60 tortuous minutes to consume their greasy Constitutional endorsement. In a moment of good sportsmanship, many gays arrived just a bit too late to hold back the torrent of hungry evangelicals and acknowledged that indeed they had lost the battle. “Oh, you got us good this time…” one flaming, magenta-cloaked almost customer remarked, as he backed out of the parking lot to find another source of gay-friendly fried chicken he was now craving. In a moment of true embarrassment, a few key officials with the ACLU were caught having waited at a drive thru in the DC area. “Oh, that was today…”, as they hid their honey mustard crusted faces in shame. Like urban seagulls, many politicians flocked to their local Chick-filA establishments to secure their endorsement for November. The sheer force of the Eat Mor Chikin party will be seen later in November. Many are concerned that their quick access to quality sources of protein and carbs may give them an edge over other activists, but one competing party leader was quick to remind about their oh, so delicious milkshakes and the likely sugar-driven comas that will follow for many.
In other news, America is still desperately in need of people who are willing to invest their lives in building loving, supportive communities for people being shaken to the core by crisis and fearful questions about their value.
There are days when I question whether what I do matters beyond the immediate people I love and the needs I meet. Were this to be my last day, would I leave behind something of value that others would truly benefit from? Has something in the way I lived or loved changed others? Or am I merely growing older a bit more each day? Were I to be honest, I would acknowledge my deeper questions about whether I have a unique value in the eyes of God, and not in some self-obsessed fashion of wanting God to be as absorbed in the details of my life as I am, but rather, on the whole, have I reflected even a bit of the goodness I have been given with enough effectiveness that someone would wonder at its source? I have lived in the perspective of needing a God that was absolutely caught up in my every move, and while I doubt I go unnoticed, I don’t also need every moment to be a crescendo. I am okay with the lulls, and the stillness at times.
Further, there are times when I feel pinned down by life, by surviving, by showing up again and again, by others still maintaining personal distance or choosing to relate in ways that minimize their personal exposure, but leave us all feeling isolated and alone at the end of the day. I grow weary of professionalism. I am tired of quick hello or “like” on a status, but then still finding that we are all so busy in our own little worlds to find a more meaningful way to connect.
I am tired of the news, and particularly the polarization and political soundbites. I hate how much emotional energy so many spend getting worked up over something that was designed to tweak their fears and not prepare them to live together in a better way. I hate that it is somehow more socially acceptable to notice an outfit a celebrity recently brandished than it is to be aware about how our family, our neighbor, or our coworkers are truly doing.
What does hope look like when it is not primarily self-purposed, self-deceived, or a reaction to our fear? How do we choose to believe that tomorrow will be better when we know it is 99% more likely that we will all spin our wheels until then and not really change how we live, think, or love? How do we hope when we have trained ourselves to be so afraid of what we might lose rather than sacrificing together for what we might be?
I am tired. I am tired at the expense of hope, the cost of blocking the assaults of fear, the weariness of living in isolation while surrounding myself with tasks and people. My family has invested in others and risked our time, energy, and resources in the hope that we can move to a better place together. Perhaps tomorrow we will see the fruit of that hope, but today, I feel tired.
I want tomorrow to be different. I want us to be different. I want that those who have experienced true love to reinvest that love in a transformational community. I want us all to not feel so alone or afraid. I want us all to know that we are more valuable than the latest gossip, soundbite, or fad. I want us to live like we found the best thing in the world, and not need to have our lives stripped to a minimum to see that what we had at our fingertips.
Our framework for understanding sin is changing. For far too long sin has primarily been assigned a definition around a measurable set of actions, where if they were to be mitigated or halted altogether, the world would suddenly be made right again. So much energy has been invested in understanding the source of sin, the ranking of various sins, and the appropriate amount of sin that indicates “you are working on it” or “you aren’t really ready for church yet, are you?”. Sin has been linked to bodily fluids, demonic influence, sexual differences, and on and on over the centuries. Sin has been misunderstood.
Whether you embrace the story of the Garden of Eden as an exact representation of historical, chronological fact or a retelling of the majesty of creation in a form we can somehow wrap our heads around and understand, it is crucial to truly perceive where the root of sin actually enters this world and what is manifested out of the sin. In Genesis, we see the first man and woman interacting with a world that was designed to reinforce their value. Each new day of creation, with greater and greater intentionality and detail, builds to the appearance of man and then woman. When they enter the scene, they are given the job of caring for this world and learning of the Creator and themselves as they worked. Adam and Eve were secure. They were at peace with themselves and the world. (see reference below)
Then enters the serpent, who merely poses a few questions about what God really communicated. It tempts them with the desire to be further like God. It is important to recognize at this point that Adam and Eve already had the ability to choose and act independently, as what follows would not be possible without them possessing the ability to act independently from what was best for them. Thus, sin is not fundamentally about the ability to choose or act independently from God.
Adam and Eve consume the literal or allegorical fruit, and their eyes are opened first and foremost to themselves. Their immediate sensation was that of shame, insecurity, and feeling out of place in their own skin. Their first reaction was to scurry about their environment to find something that would hide their sense of shame, in this case a few fig leaves. It is in this reaction that we truly see what sin is. Sin is not primarily about actions, but rather actions are a symptom of the presence of sin. Sin is better understood as a disease, a state of being. And what is this new state of being? As mentioned earlier, Adam and Eve previously lived secure in the world, knowing of their value from the dirt in which they dug their feet and the voice of God who they knew with familiarity. This new state of being left them ashamed to such an extent that they hid from the presence of God, and they placed more value on their new sense of self-awareness than they did in the voice of God that they heard calling for them.
Thus mankind lives infected. We carry the disease of the voice of shame that drones out the voice of our value that calls us to live at peace with ourselves and the world. We reach out unendingly for things to bring a silence to our insecurity. Unlike the rest of creation, we rarely fight for survival, territory, food, or water. Rather most of our personal and grander wars stem out of our disease that dares us to make this world establish our value, even at the expense of others or that which we need for life. We do not live at peace with a world that screams you are valuable, so valuable that the environment itself surrounds us with nutrition, recreation, harmony, and beauty. Rather we bow our personal motivations to the greater fear and insecurity that rules our actions, and we take, we demand, we fight, we scheme, we wound, we run, we hide, we hate, we perform.
Acts of sin can much more readily be understood as symptoms of the disease, and our investment of our lives in these symptoms furthers the influence of the disease on our souls. Were someone to say to you, “Would you like to know how to add a guaranteed 10 years to your life?”, we would all line up to hear about the magical cure to stretch our existence. But if in listening to the cure we were told we needed to stop doing certain things (smoking, overeating, sitting too frequently), we would balk at the audacity that someone had for telling us how to live our lives or walk away discouraged at the personal cost. If someone said, “Would you like to know how to restore inner health and bring new life to your soul?”, similarly many of us would balk at a list that limited our freedom of choice. However, I think this is a better way of understanding repentance and how we walk out of the influence of the disease of sin. This is a battle of influence of the defining force in our lives, the emptying enslavement of shame and insecurity or the surrender to the security of a more stable voice of love. False control of that which breeds shame or a surrender of our right to demand, control, and fight for ourselves in exchange for accepting the always stable value the divine has placed in us.
Almost ironically and sadly tragically, all too often the response to the shame-motivated symptoms of the disease of sin have been greeted with ever increasing shame and isolation. We have created the need for a false appearance of having it all together in order to participate in many communities of faith. There is little healing and freedom brought to our infected brothers and sisters by furthering the influence of rejection. Rather, we should invite, beckon, beg others to follow our communal path because of the process of restoration and healing we are also walking through. Does this mean calling the disease good or the symptoms of the disease good? Of course not, but this does mean that the value of the person infinitely and forever exceeds the “value” of the disease they are fighting. In the same way, we would weep and embrace those fighting cancer, so should we stand with one another against the devastation of sin.
So is it weakening the Gospel to not call someone to full and immediate repentance for every sign of sin we see working through their lives?
1) Our ability to properly and fully diagnose another’s soul is limited at best. I believe we can stand with others to the degree we understand them and our own brokenness, but it is important to understand that we are not the Healer. We may be more familiar with the patterns of the Healer, and we can graciously share what has worked for us and others we have loved. But I believe the posture of this is as an advocate and not an expert.
2) In the same way that the cure to our natural diseases require rest, nutrition, time, and multiple regimens of treatment, it is a process of healing and restoration our souls have embarked on. We are BEING saved, though have yet to understand the freedom or full restoration and security. It is not due to the weakness of the cure, but rather our own frailty that we embark on a process, a journey of healing.
3) Fundamentally, our understanding of our value is not a characteristic of our individual value alone, but is only fully understood as we see the value of others. Our own process of healing requires that we see our place within the world and understand the value of our community. This cannot be achieved through an “us vs them” mentality. It is only through seeing our common struggle and loving others on their way to healing that we can be restored. If we believe we can attain restoration or holiness through control of our own behavior and thoughts, we fundamentally misunderstand the value of holiness and restoration. Light is not the absence of darkness. In the same way, the work of love and radiating goodness is not the product of an isolated journey of cleaning ourselves. The fullness of good is bigger than any of us will ever understand on our own.
Sin and restoration need a new framework. The way we engage one another for far too long has been about furthering the power of shame at the expense of our communal restoration.
From Genesis 3:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? ”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.””