Friday, June 12, 2009

The Art of Gracefully Coming Undone, and the Beauty of Surrender (In Conclusion)

A friend of mine once said something that really made an impact on me: "Never trust a man who walks without a limp." This saying is so beautiful, if you understand the story from which it originates (it is one of my favorites).

In the 32nd chapter of Genesis (the first book in the Bible), the character Jacob is wrestling w/ an angel. Now this isn't your typical wrestling match that lasts a few minutes, maybe 5 at the most. No, this match lasts throughout the entire night! There's something interesting about the timing in which this took place, as well.

Earlier on in the story of Jacob's life, he took advantage of his brother, Esau, on two separate occasions. Now, this wasn't your typical, "Oh, Jacob charged a little extra interest on Esau's loan," kind of situation that we're talking about here. No. The first time, Esau was absolutely famished, so Jacob made a deal w/ him that he would give him some food in exchange for his birthright. "Fair is fair," one might say, though, as Esau did agree to this without hesitation ("I feel like I'm about to die. What good will my birthright do me?" - Gen. 25:32 [paraphrased]). The second time Jacob took advantage of Esau, however, he went right behind his back to do it. The longer version of the story is in Gen. 27:1-41, but to put it in short, Jacob went to his father, Isaac, pretending to be Esau so that he could get his brother's blessing (to put it in modern terms, he basically got Esau's portion of the will).

As you might imagine, Esau wasn't too happy about this (to put it more accurately, he wanted to kill Jacob, which would explain why Jacob took off running indefinitely). So, fast forward to where we left off. Genesis 32. Many years have passed since Jacob last saw his brother Esau, and he figured he would try to make amends w/ him. After Jacob sent his servants to Esau's home terrain w/ a message of reconciliation. The servants returned saying that Esau was coming to meet him...along w/ 400 other men. Needless to say, Jacob was rather terrified at this point. He sent away his servants and his family who carried all of his possessions w/ them, and we're left w/ the chilling, sobering words, "And Jacob was left alone," before the angelic visitor shows up for the showdown.

"(Do not) say in your heart, 'My power and the ability of my hand has gotten me this wealth. Remember the Lord your God, b/c He is the One Who gives you power to get wealth...," (Dt. 8:17-18)

Have you ever prided yourself in your abilities or your possessions? Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe you don't deserve half the credit you give yourself? As Jacob's wrestling match comes to an end, his competitor exclaims, "Let me go, already! The sun is about to rise!", but Jacob gives a resounding reply, "I will not let you go unless you bless me!" Why would Jacob ask for a blessing? He already got this from his father. What more could he ask for? A blessing from God, that's what. "No longer will your name be called Jacob, but Israel, b/c you have power like a prince w/ God and w/ men, and you have prevailed." (Gen. 32:28)

The heart of Jacob was nothing short of persistent, and he was blessed tremendously for this (as the Scripture goes, "The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." [Mt. 11:12]). This blessing did not come without a cost, however, and a great one, at that. Verse 25 of this chapter tells us that the stranger with whom he was wrestling touched the hollow of his thigh and put it out of joint, and we already know that Jacob was all by himself. To put it in short, Jacob had to be stripped of anything and everything until there was nothing left but him (ok, maybe not every single thing; the text seems to indicate he still got to keep his clothes, thank God). Jacob received a blessing from on high that would give him a sense of his true destiny - one that no man (not even his father), could give him - but he had to come to the utter end of himself to get there (and even then, the story tells us that he was left w/ a limp, probably as a solemn reminder from God to help keep him in humility).

So my friend said, "Never trust a man who walks without a limp," which is to say, never trust someone who acts like they have it all together. We are all broken vessels reeling from the fall. Our human efforts, no matter how noble, no matter how accoladed, still fall so short of the holiness, the splendor, the awesome power of Who God is (need some more Scriptures to chew on there? Ok - Rom. 3:23, Phil. 3:4-8, and while you're at it, consider Ex. 33:17-23 in light of Dt. 34:10). This is the art of gracefully coming undone, and the beauty of surrender.

"Great, Jimmy, but what does that have to do w/ the last two blogs?" Glad to hear you say that. I thought you'd never ask:) Throughout life, it's been easy for me to try to hide behind a shell of talents and potential, to say things just the right way so that people would like me, but still keep them at a safe distance. God's been teaching me a lot, however, about what it means to truly let go. It's not easy. I'm not gonna lie. There are still plenty of times when I want to keep my walls up, when I get frustrated trying to explain myself, when I feel like there's a wellspring of thoughts, ideas, opinions, and emotions within that I just don't know how to let out, when I want nothing more than to walk off to some cabin in the woods and drown myself in reading books, writing poems, playing my guitar, coming up with theories, solving puzzles, and just be left the heck alone. However.......I've come to believe that God makes each of us different in ways that benefit one another (so that we can learn to appreciate what each of us has to offer), and that require one another (lest we get too heady and highminded in our own right, thinking that we can make it through life just fine on our own).

I was recently at a Bible study that lasted a few hours. It's hard to say that there was a central point of discussion, even though we were all reading from a very specific passage. It was more like the conversation took various twists and turns, each of them enriching us with truth, despite how unrelated the wanderings of discussion may have seemed. Somebody brought up the point that walking in biblical community means living life without our masks (to paraphrase). "This is one of the things Scripture is talking about when it says 'iron sharpens iron'" the leader of the discussion pointed out. It suddenly hit me - iron sharpening iron, refining as gold, circumcision - the pictures God uses in Scripture to teach us about growth are anything but comfortable. Yes, there is a "balm of Gilead" to be poured out, but sometimes we forget that this anesthetic is administered after the surgery is finished.

I am reminded of something I've been saying for years, now, that if there's nothing that you're willing to die for, there's nothing you truly live for (that is, if you don't have a purpose in life that means so much to you that you would rather die than give it up, then you're obviously gripped by the fear of death; as long as fear has you in its grip, you will not know the fullness of life). Well, if I've been saying for so long that death is nothing to be afraid of, what's a little growing pain back down from, then? I will grow, I will move on in life, I will continue to have my struggles b/c I'm not perfect, but that's ok. I will live in such a way that no matter how hard I trip over myself and fall, my hope remains in Someone greater than myself. I'm learning to walk w/ a limp.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Edward Scissorhands (The art of gracefully coming undone, and the beauty of surrender [Part 2])

"But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?" - Rom. 9:20(NIV)

Have you ever had any questions about why you were put on this earth? Of course you have. Who hasn't? It seems a common thread in humanity to wonder at some level or another about who we are, where we came from, and why we are here.

I finally got to watch the movie Edward Scissorhands last year (well after its release in 1990, the movie buff blushingly admits). You probably know a little bit about this film even if you haven't seen it, but to fill you in, Edward is the creation of an inventor who lives on a hill removed from civilization. The inventor unexpectedly dies, however, before he gets a chance to put the finishing touches on this creation of his.

In form and function, Edward is every bit human, but there's one problem...he's stuck w/ having scissors for hands. As you might imagine, Edward's transition into civilization turns out to be a rather difficult one. The people who receive him are very gracious and welcoming, but being someone who isn't exactly normal means that adjusting to life in their world certainly won't happen automatically.

The irony of Edward's story is simply this. His disability actually turns out to be a tremendous gift, one that normal people don't have. By being accustomed to having scissors in place of hands, he is able to make elegant ice sculptures, elaborate hedge trimmings, and stylish hairdos, all w/ quickness and ease. As a result, people take quite a liking to him. They find it easy to accept him in an impersonal way b/c of how he benefits them, but life starts getting awkward for him again when it gets down to the personal level. He reaches forth to give a girl a kiss and accidentally cuts her cheek. He gets nervous styling someones hair and ends up nicking her ear. Above all, he finds it difficult learning all the "do's" and "don't's" that everyone picks up intuitively. He is, by all definitions, an outsider, and there's nothing that can be done to change that.

I can relate w/ Edward's story in a lot of ways. For me, it's been both a source of great joy, but also of great pain. As I mentioned in my earlier post (Wolverine), I'd been told all my life that I do quite well in certain areas of gifting, but not so well in others. The problem I had, however, is that pretty much every time I sat down and underwent some sort of aptitude evaluation, the person reviewing the results would always seem to say, "I honestly don't know what to make of you. I can tell you essentially what's going on w/ you, but as for why, I'm totally at a loss. This is unlike anything I've ever seen."

We've all heard the saying, that people fear what they don't understand. Consider this, then. There I was, being told over and over again by people w/ their masters degrees, doctorates, years of practice, etc., that they couldn't figure me out (that is, they couldn't understand me). This is coming from the people who you probably think would have some kind of a clue. So imagine how much more this was the case w/ your average person off the street. I knew from a very young age that I was different from the crowd, that I'd pick up on a lot of things most people wouldn't, and miss a lot of things that they would see as being obvious. I learned how to maneuver the waters just the right way to be well-liked and accepted, but there was no ignoring the fact that beneath the apparently calm surface, there was a torrent of fear, depression, and anger that I would deal w/ during the harder times in life as I didn't really know how to communicate my thoughts and feelings all that well. I found myself feeling very isolated on the level of the heart, struggling not to hate myself for my perceived incompetencies, and struggling not to hate God for making me the way He did. At times, I was hanging onto my faith by only a thread, and a very slippery one, at that. How could I find an end to all this chaos?