I have an energetic, adorable young friend. Let’s call him Crash. Crash has had a number of thrills and spills, many of which have landed him in the emergency room. He is six and a half years old and has already broken both arms and each of his legs. He’s crazy like that. Actually, he’s not crazy — he’s just an active boy who happens to fall in very unfortunate ways. One of his falls was particularly dramatic. He was staying at his grandparents farm for the weekend. Mom and Dad were away. There was a rock pile that just screamed his name, and he had to climb. It was marvelous fun…until he descended and the boulder descended quickly after. It fell on him and crushed his foot. It could have been so bad. It could have done long-lasting, serious damage. It could have required reconstructive surgery on his ankle. In the worst case scenario, it could have been fatal. So although Crash had to wear a cast on his leg for most of the summer, his parents felt blessed. It was the way they communicated that blessing and awareness of God’s protection to Crash that impressed me. They taught Crash the concept of an “Ebenezer” from the Bible. In the Old Testament, people would pile up some rocks as a makeshift monument to God after a milestone experience. Then later, when people saw the pile of stones, it would call to mind God’s faithfulness in difficulty. An Ebenezer served as a testimony to the people who experienced the event that demonstrated God’s faithfulness, and those who heard about the event. My friends rejoice in the scar on Crash’s foot because it is in the perfect place. A little further up, he would have had serious damage to his ankle, which has a difficult and long recovery time. A little further down and his toes would have been jeopardized. The boulder fell on a soft spot of Crash’s foot, the perfect spot for a boulder to fall. They physically brought the boulder back from the grandparents house and placed it in their yard, calling to mind the protection Crash had from further injury. Crash can even articulate how God was watching over him and points to his ability to jump on one foot (the foot that was squashed) as proof of God’s goodness. ******
This really got me to thinking. How often do we hide our emotional scars and see them as a sign of weakness, rather than celebrating the healing, recovery and humility they produced? Instead of showing off our scars and testifying to God’s power, we hide them as a source of shame. We messed up, we miscalculated, we didn’t think before acting, and something unwanted happened. We could be upfront with this, but usually our instinct is to conceal our screw ups. Somehow we think people have an image of us as infallible. We think will disappoint them if we even admit we are capable of mistakes; imagine how bad it would be if something actually happened. But if we are honest about our shortcomings, we discover that, like scar tissue, we are stronger in that area than we were before, more aware of the dangers or the growth we need. And our relationships are stronger and deeper because they are based on mutual honesty and understanding. [Brene Brown has a lot to say about this (http://www.brenebrown.com), and she’s written books and traveled the country talking about shame and vulnerability. I highly recommend learning more about her.] Too often Church is a beauty pageant, with people prettying themselves up before they arrive, hiding their hurts behind a smile and a handshake. Do we think we will let others down if we admit we are the sinners Christ came to redeem? Isn’t that supposed to be common knowledge? As we continue down the path with Jesus, we get a few things sorted out, but we are still human and still fallible. Sometimes we start to think we’re not. Maybe we even start to become more like the Pharisees from Jesus’ day, the ones who thought they had it all figured out and were quick to point out other people’s shortcomings. We must fight this, no matter how secure we feel in our faith and relationship with Jesus. Because as much as we want to deny it, we are still in need of further transformation. We can always become more fully liberated to be the best version of ourselves. When we get cocky and condescending, it is a hiccup in this process, whether we are aware of it or not. No matter how much we think we’ve got it figured out, there is always more growth we can do. Do you have scars you could celebrate rather than hide? What do you communicate to others about their mistakes? What relationships can you trust to make more authentic and how?
This post is a part of a linkup with the Writers Unite group on Facebook. Search the Twitter hashtag #faithartlife to find other blogs that are participating in the linkup. You’re bound to find some great stuff.
I tend to compartmentalize things.
You wouldn’t be able to tell from looking around my house, since there’s pot holders in with the kitchen knives, potting soil next to the hats and scarves, and Lego guys next to the jewelry box. In the organizational sense, I wish I was better at compartmentalizing. My home could benefit from the “a place for everything, and everything in its place” mentality.
But when it comes to friends, children, work, church, and grocery shopping, I tend to forget these circles overlap. It’s a bit like running into an old high school friend in a different city; you don’t picture that person anywhere other than where you knew them.
Or it’s the same way children think their teachers never leave the school building and are mystified (and slightly alarmed) to run into a teacher at the library or a parade. Are the teachers allowed outside the confines of school? Yes, yes they are.
There are a couple things though, that I can’t contain even if I try, things that can’t be shoved into a box and put away neatly:
my faith in Jesus.
These two just spill out all over the place, willy-nilly.
They pervade my thoughts and attitudes, my observations, the way I listen, and my interactions with others. I can’t control it.
Here’s a practical example. My husband and I made a quick stop at a store last night and while he bought the few items we needed, I picked up coffee and waited for him at a table. Waddoya know, a man sat down at the table next to mine, clearly upset.
Two internal reactions:
1. Here’s a prime candidate for a slightly creepy, unpredictable character straight out of a Flannery O’Connor story. He had bandages on his fingertips, white socks with black orthopedic shoes, mumbled to himself and was sighing loudly and frequently. Another potential character was the employee, a Loud Talker who practically yelled at the poor guy when she asked him to wait while she got the incident report papers. This was great material.
2. Here’s a prime candidate for expressing care to someone who might need a little loving attention, an acknowledgment of his human-ness and inherent value as one of God’s creations. This guy was aching to talk to someone. I found out he fell and twisted his knee while checking out, and was worried that he might have busted stiches in his hand from his recent accident with a TABLE SAW when he almost lost three fingers.
You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Well, you can, but often the real stuff is just as compelling.
It was a brief encounter. I had to make a choice to engage that guy or keep my eyes on my coffee cup. That’s where art is not enough. Studying him to use in an upcoming suspense story is detaching myself from the situation and ignoring my role as an inhabitant of the world I observe.
My faith influences my writing and my writing gives me new insight into my faith. They flow back and forth into one another, leaking all over the place with no thought of compartments or boundaries…
…which is just the way I like it.
It is nearly fall for real and I must admit a secret pleasure: I love to buy ragged plants at the end of the season at a deep discount. Gimme your wretched refuse yearning to be free, and I’ll take ’em.
I scored a few small shrubs for a spot that has felt lonely and abandoned. It desperately needed my attention. When we moved in, there were a bunch of dogwood trees that had inexplicably died, but I chalked it up to their need for more sun. Really, I promise, I did not kill them; spring came and I could pull whole dead branches off from the root. Today I got into the project and assigned rock picking duty to one of my children (believe me, he deserved it). We discovered that, true to their behavior in other areas of the yard, the previous owners had laid down industrial strength black plastic under the thin layer of rock mulch.
No problem, right?
I got my scissors, cut through the plastic and made a surprising discovery.
My first thought was that I must have found a place they discarded an old cooler or something, or that it was there to keep an invasive plant in its place. We cleared rocks and plastic for the second shrub and found…
This was getting ridiculous.
Because up to that point we’d been digging very close to where the old shrubs had been, I tried a random spot and found the same, consistently created, inedible layer-cake of rocks, plastic, foam, plastic and MORE FOAM. It appears that the entire raised bed that runs the length of the house holds less than three buckets of dirt, all told. It’s crazy.
When I was clearing out roots of the old bushes, I was struck by the fact that until I started, I had no idea that the garden was essentially a facade. The decorative rock cover made me assume there was dirt underneath, dirt needed for growth and development.
There are still two barberry shrubs that stayed alive, but ultimately their limited root system will keep them from growing any bigger. So regardless of how lovely they could have become (and the dogwoods especially could have been pretty along the back of the house), they will be stunted because no matter how nice they looked on the exterior, they had weak roots.
Have you ever known someone like that?
Someone who looked right, knew the right things to say, but when difficult times came they proved to have a weak spiritual root system?
Have you ever been that person?
If we’re honest, I think we’ve all been there, been in a place where our faith was not deep enough, where we acted out of selfish motives rather than the best interests of the other person, when we acted petty or in an unkind way and may not have connected the dots until many years later.
It made me think about Jesus’ story of the farmer tossing seeds into different types of ground. I know there have been times when I didn’t do or say what I should have, and that demonstrated a weakness or blind spot in my development that I might not have had the maturity to address appropriately at the time.
It reminds me that I should not be quick to make blanket statements about the condition of someone else’s faith. Maybe they’re in a rocky patch. Maybe the faith they have is all that’s left after the birds came and scavenged what they had. Maybe they’ve been scorched by the sun and maybe what they need is the cool water of a kind word. Someone’s lame behavior may just be a blind spot or an area they are working on, and don’t I have those areas myself? Sometimes we are quick to point out other people’s weakness and even quicker to defend our own. Maybe instead, we should spread on some grace and sprinkle a little sugar on top, unless we are in a special relationship with that person or if we are specifically asked by the person. Let’s not underestimate the workings of the Holy Spirit in conviction and in the active work of growing a person’s heart.
I love you, man! 🙂 Let’s go get another round of scraggly plants and some more dirt!