Do You Want to be Made Well – or What?

I love today’s gospel of John (5:-5-6), “Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”

do you want to be healed

REALLY!? Come on. Why would he ask that? Jesus could end thirty-eight years of misery for this guy! Is there any possibility that he would say, “no”? Well, yes there is. I know that for a fact, because I have said “no” to God longer than that! I turned my back on Him and suffered a life of emptiness for years. Truth be told, I still suffer the consequences every time I close my heart to God and choose to go my own way.

Most of my life I was angry and self-indulgent (I often still am). My faith was shallow and lifeless (it, maybe not so often, still is). I continually picked at the scabs of the wounds inflicted by others, refusing to forgive, and at the same time denying my own sinfulness (yeah, you guessed it – still doing that).

As I began to really listen to God’s word, and began to meet and know some faithful Christians, I became aware of an unexplainable longing in my heart. That was God, though I didn’t know it at the time. I found myself getting bolder at reaching out to God and to others, and proclaiming my faith. Though I still considered myself unworthy of anyone’s love, especially God’s love, and I could not allow anyone to minister to me.

I was also learning, belatedly, to become a better parent. God had a plan that parenting skills would be passed down from generation to generation, but some of us have to look elsewhere for guidance. As much as I resented my mother for abusing me, and as determined as I was not to be like her…I was. Her way was the only way I knew. But then God showed up, initially in the ministry of Dr. James Dobson (author of several excellent parenting books), and I’m forever grateful for that.

As I poured more and more of myself into my children, however, a new reality was setting in. My husband and I were headed for disaster. I begged him to look honestly at our relationship, all the while refusing to do it myself. I prayed that we could work harder to mend our hurts and strengthen our marriage. But my pleading fell on deaf ears and my fears were becoming a reality.

One by one, our children were leaving home and my husband and I became lost in the deafening silence of our empty nest. So, after much thought, counseling, and prayer, I made the heart-wrenching decision to leave. Each of our children reacted differently to the news of our separation, but all of them were devastated. It was probably the most difficult decision of my life! And, even though I truly felt God was okay with my leaving, I had no idea what the outcome would be as a result of it. I will say this in hindsight though: I know I did not sense that God was approving of my decision or that He was telling me to leave. But, I am certain that He intended to use my decision “for His good”. (Genesis 50:20)

So, off I went. I decided to go to Kentucky to volunteer for an organization that worked with the poor in Appalachia. Before I left home, I prayed a prayer that I had never prayed before: that God would change me, not every other person in my life, ME! God was just giddy with excitement! And, oh, the lessons I was about to learn!

How can I describe to you the soul-cleansing that I endured during that time; what those eight months were like for me? Every single day seemed to bring to light another of Linda’s issues to deal with. I didn’t enjoy confronting my pride, anger, and resentfulness. As a matter of fact, it was, in essence, like being in hard labor – for eight months. Non-stop. With no anesthetic!

“Come on, breathe for me,” says the doctor. “Breathe for me? Breathe for me? I’ll give you breathe for me! How about if you try to breathe for me while my hands are around your neck, choking you? How about that?” (Oh, sorry, I must have been having a flashback.)

Anyway, for the first time in my life, my longings, my brokenness, and my hope that maybe I was worthy of love, were laid bare. God was beginning to change my heart, though I hardly knew all the implications of that at the time. It was a beautiful example of how He can work in our lives when we “allow” Him to do what only He can. All of my past attempts to change had failed because I tried to do things my own faulty way; by my own strength. I refused to yield my will to His, and I had failed time and again.

The fulfillment we seek can seem elusive. It can be confused with something as insignificant as a new outfit or something as unattainable as somebody else’s life. When I’m removed from my groundings, and feeling overpowered by my struggles, God reminds me that I’m right where He wants me – in the fray is where I’ll learn to be most like Him. That’s where I’ll learn that my joy cannot be stolen unless I allow people or circumstances, rather than God, to define me. Coming to grips with that truth will open me to the fullness of life.

John 10:10 says, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Sheer desperation began leading me to accept whatever God deemed necessary to change my life. No strings attached that would allow me to yank control back if things became too hard, or too painful. I would resist the impulse to switch to an easier route, though that was my normal reaction when I was afraid. And what did I receive in return? Oh, not much…just a new relationship with God; with my family; with my husband of forty-three years; a purpose that fulfills me; and the joyful hope that endures, even during the most difficult of times. In short – an abundant life I could never have imagined on that fateful day I left home.

Henri Nouwen, in his most beautiful book, The Return of the Prodical Son, enfleshes all that I have experienced; all that I have been so afraid to admit or even look at honestly. His vulnerability and openness about his own struggles gives others the courage to trust that when Jesus comes to us and asks, “Do you want to be made well”? Our “yes” can be the beginning of more than we could ever imagine or hope for. (Ephesians 3:20)

Nouwen talks about his own “coming home”; about being in his Father’s embrace where:

I so much want to be, but am so fearful of being….It is the place where I have to let go of all I most want to hold on to….It is the place that confronts me with the fact that truly accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place of surrender and complete trust.

And, I believe Henri Nouwen would agree that it is the place where Jesus’ call and our self-emptying “yes” meet in the fullness of God’s grace.

All these years later, I’m still being challenged daily, and I don’t always respond as I should. My sinfulness is constantly a force to be reckoned with. After all, I’m still a messy human being. But I know that God longs for us to claim the gift of His extravagant love in the very midst of all our messiness. If we’ll only look within ourselves, we can see what is already there. We can become who we already are. God offers that joy to all of us. All we have to do is claim it. When Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well”? – and your answer is finally “yes”…strap yourself in for the ride of your life!

roller coaster2

Thanks – Just Kidding!

For, SO MANY YEARS, my life was out-of-control and my brokenness held a death-grip on the teeniest desire I may have had to change. During that time, if anyone would have told me to be grateful I likely would have slapped them silly! And in their stunned state, while I had their attention, I would have pulled out my handy “gratitude – NOT” list and spewed all my anger and bitterness right at them.

Let’s see…

  • Thanks mom for all the abuse. That was fun.
  • Thanks psycho-neighbor kid for introducing me to perversion when I was too small and afraid to run away from you.
  • Thanks ex-husband for your “lying, cheating, cold dead-beating, two-timing and double-dealing, mean mistreating, (un)loving heart”. What a knight in shining armor you turned out to be!
  • Thank you world for gleefully providing all my trivial wants, empty longings, and self-centered demands.
  • Oh yeah, and THANK YOU, GOD! for totally ignoring all the above.

I was bitter and hateful all those years; entrenched in such a deep sense of emptiness and hopelessness that I felt the only relief from the pain was to find a way to end my life. I did make a failed attempt to kill myself when I was twenty-three. Two years later, when I married my current husband, Tom, I became a Christian. But, for years it was in name only and nothing really changed.

Though that was the beginning of my faith journey (such as it was) it took years of healing for me to warm up to this scripture verse that is most critical for a life to be filled with joy, passion and purpose: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”.

It has only been in the past ten years or so that I have been able to truly appreciate and claim for myself the meaning and depth of gratitude in two significant areas of my life: the painful experiences of my past and my sense of entitlement: My striving for “things”, successes, whatever it took to numb the pain. My constant shame battled with my pretense of being emotionally stable and spiritually healthy, “Look at me people! Aren’t you jealous? You are and you know it!”

I know gratitude for the pain as well as the joys in life seems like a paradox – it makes no sense at all, right? Believe me, I get it…

All I can say is that it was gratitude that finally made sense of my past. In the midst of the pain inflicted by others in my life I felt I had nothing to live for: No purpose, no hope, no concern for anything or anyone beyond myself. Gratitude has loosened my white-knuckled grip on my own sins as well, which was actually my biggest hurdle.

The beginning of my transformation was like a forest and trees analogy: I had to step away and look back to realize how God was with me all along; that He did love me, and had a plan to use my pain in service to others. My gift was to share my story. My purpose was, and still is, to walk alongside those God puts in my life that are also broken and lost. My life has never been richer. I have never been happier. I could never ask for more. I owe a debt I cannot pay to a God who will never send bill collectors to my door – not ever!

So, is my life now pain and heartache free? No…but…now I know how to access God’s love which resides within my very being; I know I can hope and trust in Him to overcome anything life throws my way even if I may not have the slightest idea what good will come of those struggles.

Brennan Manning Quote

Sooooo, how do you replace discontent with gratitude? Is gratitude a simple act of will? Sort of like all the diets I have been on? Let’s see…today I am going to be content with this bowl of broccoli while you eat that big, fat, juicy steak!

No, it isn’t easy.

It’s important to first realize what we’re up against. I believe the biggest obstacle to gratitude and contentment is our Western culture’s sense of scarcity in all areas of life. We need more gadgets, a bigger house, a better car, a more important job. We’re never grateful for what we have because someone else always has more.

The Scarcity Gremlin eats up sufficiency for a midnight snack. So, by morning each day begins with a sense of “not enough” of___________ (fill in the blank), and then a striving to get it. Whatever “it” is.

How can you be content, you ask, when your new neighbor, who just moved into a house twice the size of yours, is younger, prettier, has a career you envy, and a pool to die for. And if all that weren’t bad enough, she speaks eight languages – you only speak four. She has traveled to fifty-two countries – you have only made it to thirty-eight. She’s been married six times – you’ve only been married once! Okay…ENOUGH!

We are continually comparing ourselves to others in myriad ways: Our looks, our weight, our homes, our successes and that of our kids, our social status, our cars, the lushness of our lawns, and jealousy inducing vacation pictures of our friends posted on Facebook! It’s endless and exacerbating.

Where is God in all this? Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”. Sounds lovely, but we prefer, no, must have, the newest doohickey that we often can’t afford, but cannot possibly live without. Really? The first smartphone was introduced, what? In the 1990’s? How’d we do without it for about 2,000 years before that?

Jesus smartphone

Our sense of scarcity; our need to one-up others, distorts and devalues all the blessings and gifts we have been given. We are so hyperfocused on what we don’t have, we fail to appreciate or show gratitude for what we do have. Gratitude seems to be a lost virtue in a culture never satisfied.

storage shed

David G. Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, wrote in an American Psychologist article. “Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology. Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.”

So, are you sleepwalking through life, fooling yourself into believing that striving, owning, having, and out-spending others will make you happy? Is this what your purpose in life is?

You know you want to change because there is something deep within your heart that has been speaking to you for a very long time about how discontented and unfulfilled you are with your life and with all your “stuff”. All you need to do is trust that God’s got your back and is just waiting for the slightest motion toward him. That mustard seed step of faith (Matthew 17:20). A faith that begins with patience and hope which are two critical elements of a healing heart:

  • Gratitude requires a great deal of patience; trusting God’s timing and ultimate plan for our lives:

patience

  • Hope is not tangible, it is in things unseen: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, considered the world’s leading expert on gratitude, says, “Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness.”  When we turn our focus from ourselves to God, we are the ones who benefit. “The self,” in the words of Emmons, “is a very poor place to find happiness or meaning in life.”

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (not Amazon prime), and cometh down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17)

If you want to read more Dr. Emmon’s Website is here:

Now then, time for true confessions. Until six weeks ago, I was feeling pretty altruistic and benevolent toward “the least of these”. After all, over the years, I have given away perfectly good: designer clothes, furniture, household items, a kidney, canned goods, and my precious time and energy. I thought I knew what poverty and hopelessness were all about. I was wrong.

Six weeks ago, my husband and I went to Rwanda in Central Africa to visit our son, daughter-in-law and two of our grandkids. It has been the most profound and overwhelming experience of my life! Here, hunger has stared down my apathy. I have seen the memorials that display the graphic reality of the genocide in 1994: A mass slaughter of almost a million men, women, and children in just one-hundred days, while the world stood by and watched. I have talked to survivors and been surrounded by hungry, often shoeless, always laughing, children. I can’t even put into words how it has torn at my heart.

And when I think of the contrast between this country and America: what we have and they don’t; what they appreciate and we don’t, I can’t help but think about the virtue of gratitude and pray that I will be a different person when I return home. That I won’t forget. I pray that contentment will look much different; that I will be mindful of the difference between need and want; that I will not be so wasteful or take anything for granted again.

Just try to imagine the following contrasts. I could have posted many more. But, I hope these will give you a sense of how this experience has impacted me: