Not for those in a hurry, but for those who crave real. After a week of observation—seeing human patterns and needs—this is for seekers and believers . . .
I’m a loser. Aren’t we all? We’re all losers because we’ve all lost something, somewhere along the way. We know, in our deepest, darkest cracks. And we cringe.
We want to find what we lost but we don’t know how. But we will darn near sell our souls and kill our bodies to reclaim even a bit of what we’ve lost. What causes that nagging, pricking, longing?
Eden? We were evicted from the best home we ever had. We were divorced from the best love we ever knew. We chose separation and homelessness because we believed the lie that, surely, we would not die. We were told we would gain—that we would become winners—that we would become like GOD! And we believed. We believed we could have it all and then some.
But there’s no room in Eden for liars and would-be usurpers. We had to leave and God sent us away with a promise—He would make a path back with His own blood, poured out by His choice on a cross. Because true love always makes a way home. But do we want with all our hearts, minds, and souls to return—to humbly accept free gift of blood path back—to take what we cannot give ourselves? Isn’t there a blood by-pass? No. There is no other way home than by Christ’s blood. The cost of lies and attempted coup is blood—life given freely for love—for ransom. But can’t we DO something—some good work? Surely, we must earn our way back because how can we accept such a free yet costly gift?
We are losers. And now we’re sick in soul and we want to come home. So some of us try and try again. We’re still stuck in the mud with the pigs trying to be happy with the slop, too ashamed or proud to start heading home on the blood paved road. We try to cover our dirt with those leaves—those fig leaves—because Shame and Pride live behind those leaves we wear. And Shame and Pride shroud our way home. In shame and desperation, in pride and refusal, we go looking for substitutes to fill our voids and oh how we hope we’ll just get close enough.
Close enough for what? A whiff? A touch? A fleeting moment of something we can hardly sense in the recess of communal memory?
Odd. The One we left—the home we abandoned—still the same—still right where they were—waiting for our return. But we won’t let ourselves go back, will we? We won’t admit our loser status. We won’t admit we live with Pride and Shame—our chosen companions—our prison wardens. We won’t dare admit we have such need, such intense longing to be free from those task-masters—Pride and Shame.
There MUST be SOME other way to find what we lost so long ago—to be released from the torturous hands of Pride and Shame. And so we go about searching, trying, flailing, hurting. And the cycle repeats again and again. We place our hope on the newest philosophy, the newest trend, the newest promise for peace and fulfillment—or the oldest fix we can find. And we do it again. We get duped again. Pride and Shame hunt us down and drag us back behind the fig leaves, into our solitary soul cells of pain. We keep eating lies that taste sweet but turn sour and make us sick to the core.
You are not loved.
You are not lovable.
You are a loser.
You are too far gone to go home.
Lies, lies, death-stench lies!
Some HAVE found our way back home! And we praise Jesus who saved us! But even in Eden we still insist on our fig leaves, don’t we? Because God is not the problem as much as PEOPLE! So we wear our fig leaves straight into church. We know how to behave. We know how to speak. We know how to look. We know our Bibles and we can quote our verses. And because so many of us don’t want to look at our own unhealed places lurking behind our own religious fig leaves, we create a culture of fig leaf hiding where it’s not safe to come out and confess our sins to each other and pray for each other that we might be healed (James 5:16).
I have seen the saved shoot their wounded too many times to count. And I’ve seen the wounded ignored—implored to just grow up in Jesus and have faith when the hurting would like to but—just—can’t. “Walk,” they say to the paralytic! Throw them a verse like a coin and hope for the best with leaving line, “I’ll pray for you!”
I grieve. Is this really what Jesus would do?
We who believe do what the world does but we dress ourselves up in religious fig leaves that we think fool. We don’t fool the world—those outside the church who see right through our leaves and wish we’d just stop pretending that all is well when it isn’t. And let’s face it. Even within the church, people wonder . . .
Is there anyone like me within these walls? Is there anyone reborn but still broken? Is there anyone who still feels grief over all the losses in life? Where do I go when the only Grief Share is for those grieving the deceased? What about the grief of the living like the ripping apart from divorce or the spreading of cancer or all the brokenness in families who should know better or a break-up from the one she thought she would marry or all the invisible loss of hopes and dreams we all experience every day?
What do I do when life stinks and I don’t feel like putting on a happy face of fake and walking into church with the lie of “I’m fine!” when people ask–if they ask? Is there anyone brave enough to cry in front of me and tell me they hurt too? Or is the best I can hope for a Scripture verse told in passing, like a Band-Aid given to the hemorrhaging? If we’re so healed as a church—so happy to be saved—then why are there fig leafed alcohol addicts and sex addicts and drug addicts and food addicts and relationship addicts and performance addicts and success addicts and serving addicts? Who wants to step into a fig leaf jungle of addicts when we’re dying to break free ourselves–dying for a taste of true life—right here—right now—in the brokenness of the present? Where are real people brave enough to put down their fig leaves and show us wounds, knowing that God will bring beauty from ashes by His own hand AND the hands of others who apply balm from their own broken fingers? Where IS this church?
Where can we go to see real? We need ears and shoulders and hearts. We need equal relationships, not one-ups. We need balm not Band-Aids. We are not merely scraped. We are gushing. This is our world that cries out to the Church. Show us you are like us! Show us you hurt and cry and scream and wonder why sometimes and are just plain weak sometimes and that you just would like some friend to stay awake with you one hour and pray! And then show us your God! Show us your humanity in all its brokenness and then we will admit our hunger and thirst for your God when you show us how he has filled you full! Give us something human and fleshy and real we can relate to!
Do we love freedom? Or do we love our chains more? When Jesus raises us up from the dead and commands us to come out from our tombs, we just might do as He says, but will we let others unravel our grave clothes as He commands (Johns 11:43-44)? Will we admit to one another that though reborn, we still have parts tightly tied that we can’t unwrap by ourselves? Or do we walk around alive but bound, speaking truths from our mouths with hands unable to help the hurting because we refuse to allow another into our personal space and help us unravel the death strips?
If the church wants to preach Jesus and lead others to His feet, wouldn’t it help to admit that though reborn, we still have grave clothes that need peeled—that we’re all in this mess of a world together—that we all still sin—that we are all still sinned against—that we all still live in a broken world where stuff goes wrong and we hurt? Is it possible to cry out in our pain and show our humanity while still giving praise to the One who gives us hope? Can we be real with each other and still glorify God?
We wonder why in the world the world has no taste for Jesus! Could it be because the world has no taste for fig leaves? The world sees right through our facades. People don’t want to know just that we pass from death to life eternally because of Jesus. People want to see how knowing Jesus makes a difference right here in the mess of life where we lose, where we grieve, where we wrestle with Pride and Shame, where we dare to be real with God—where we DOUBLE DARE to be real with each other—and with equally broken fingers we smooth the comforting, healing balm of Christ on each other’s hurting wounds.
But what about those wounds? They can be bloody, dirty, infected. And what if I’m trying to keep my white sleeves clean? And what if I don’t like looking at the wounds of others because then it’s hard to keep denying my own. We tell ourselves it would be easier and safer just to focus on pretty and clean and happy, all the while I run to my God-substitutes and hide behind my fig leaves! And I know I’ll feel better if I serve others by dropping a verse here and there and promising to pray! Yes! This trick might just work! But it doesn’t. We’re not fooling anyone but ourselves. I need real. Anybody with me?
Eight of us gather twice monthly. We ponder deep questions about finding the fullness of life in the midst of loss. We’ve all experienced permanent loss. In our times together, we have gained what most people want but seldom, if ever, find. We’ve gained deep relationship through trust and love and vulnerability which has drawn us closer to God and each other—by emulating Jesus with one another and praying for each other, recognizing that though our circumstances of loss are different, the pain of loss is the same. As we ponder the questions posed each meeting, we take time to ponder our lives. And then we share. We share our thoughts and our feelings, no matter what they are. We don’t try to pretend or minimize or spiritualize or compare. We listen closely and without judgment. We hardly ever offer advice. We try our best to love with open ears, warm heart, encouraging tongue, and truth offered humbly, not preached. And we hold each other in prayer during our time apart because though we are filled full each time we meet, we leave to face our lives that remain difficult because of loss that will not change, barring a miracle.
In our group, we know first-hand how life can be painful, excruciatingly so. A grown daughter dies from cancer as her only child turns one. The grown daughter’s mother dealt with cancer at the same time but was healed. A man must give up his career as a doctor when multiple sclerosis sets in, wrecking his body. We help him from car, to door, to elevator, to room, back to elevator, to door, to car every time we meet. And he’s oh so slow. We slow with him. A husband becomes paralyzed from the waist down in an accident, changing marital and family life forever. A grown son with severe mental illness poses daily challenges for his mother. A woman goes through a difficult divorce and has chronic pain from past accidents. A wife and mother is broadsided multiple times with hits she never saw coming, changing her life forever. A nun is loving dear, life-long friends, ministering to them as they die–one after the other–in this later stage of life. A disabled person just wants a job and a place to call home.
Sometimes life is so painful that we wonder how to keep going. Hope is what we need—and encouragement—true love. Yes, we find our hope in God—and our encouragement—and our true love. But we need flesh. We need fleshy humans we can see and feel right in front of us who help us hold hope when we are in short supply. We need ears hearing hearts, eyes smiling love, and mouths speaking balm—just a bit to keep us going along the path home.
Twice a month for an hour we gather and come away from the banquet table of God where all we bring is our broken selves, saved by grace. We are satiated with good, though our circumstances remain—the goodness of God—the goodness of communion with humble others who share their hurt and their gratitude. No pretense. No one-ups. Nothing but truth and love, flesh and spirit.
It’s true that to truly love one must be willing to get dirty.
Didn’t Jesus spit in the dirt and scoop up the mud with his fingers to heal—to open blind eyes? Didn’t Jesus draw in the sand while the religious squawked with their judgments on the soiled body and soul of the one standing scared of their stones? Didn’t he set her free? Didn’t Jesus weep with the grieving at the grave? Didn’t Jesus weep for all the hurting, no matter the source? Didn’t Jesus show them His scars? Doesn’t He still? And doesn’t Jesus tell us not to worry, not to be afraid because He has overcome this broken world with His broken body. Is this not our hope? Didn’t Jesus promise us that He is coming back for us and He is making all things new? Is this not our joy? This little word “is”? Present tense. Here and now. Redemption is not a past tense action. Redemption is present and future tense too! He IS making all broken new! But tell that to the broken at the wrong moment—when all they can see and feel is the pain—and we just might lose them. We just might lose the chance to carry them to the feet of Jesus. We need to start where people are.
What’s the beauty of Jesus?
He met everyone right where they were—in boats, discouraged with empty fishing nets, in a circle of accusers ready to stone the terrified, in a tomb with rotten flesh stench, in a demon-possessed boy others avoided, in a shunned group of lepers, isoslated and unloved. He was with people in their loss, in their sin, in their pain. He was Emmanuel. He was “God WITH us.”
He still is.
He was and is still with all the poor. And those who know truth know we are ALL poor. We are ALL losers. We ALL have need to be found right where we are in our dirt and our pain and our shunned selves. We need the love of Christ to unravel our ties that bind so we can become more and more free.
Freedom is why Christ came—complete freedom—body, soul, mind. Will we humble ourselves, admit our sorry state, let Christ and others unwrap the grave clothes we can’t even touch because even our fingers are bound? And as we become more and more free, will we commit ourselves to helping others become more and more free?
Just some random thoughts and lots of questions from a loser, saved by grace, becoming free, more and more, the more I humbly admit my poverty . . .
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43-44