So, in recent weeks, I have heard reference to a story multiple times. It’s a story in the Bible of a man who had been sick for a long time. I’m not certain of the infirmity, but according to scripture, he had been waiting to be healed for close to 4 decades. Yep, almost 40 years of waiting. So Jesus comes along and asks him a very obvious question. This is how John 5:1-5 tells the story…“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.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?”
I bet there were some raised eye brows and then maybe some snickers then. Of course he wants to get well, right? I mean, of COURSE! But Jesus asks. And Jesus is good at cutting through all the layers of facade to the heart of the issue. He merely turns the most obvious assumption (that this man indeed does want to get well) into a question which encourages the man to take ownership of the issue. And what does the man say? It’s pretty comical actually. He starts the blame game a bit. John 5: 6 states, “ The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Observation number one…we need each other. He could’ve asked for help. Observation number two, he blames his not being able to get in the water on having others stepping in before him. If it were his child he were concerned about or a family member, would he have pushed through with everything in his power to ensure that they’d get in the pool. Did he advocate for himself and his ‘becoming well’ with that same passionate whatever-it-takes motivation?
And I wonder…I wonder if he had actually become somewhat comfortable with his infirmity. That is to say that I wonder if his scars, his infirmity, his lack of ‘being well’ became such a part of his identity that he had lost the drive that would make him scoot with abandonment to the pools with the desire to be healed. I wonder if he forgot what it was like to desire to live without the affliction. Sometimes, when things are not within our reach, it just hurts too much to desire it, to hope. A hope deferred truly does make the heart sick. We wait, to no avail, and then we stop expecting, hoping, wishing, and become stuck in the place where we are. Or, we realize that it’s “easier” (short-term), to just stay stuck…because it takes a heck of a lot of effort to move from complacency to becoming well.
I recently had the honor of being around a number of people who struggle with alcohol and various addictions. They had all gotten to the place where they were tired of sitting at that pool’s edge living with their battles and most said, “YES”, I want to get well. They said “yes to working hard, sweating through, and overcoming the challenges they were facing as much as it depends on them. Some had had friends, or legal ramifications, literally drop them in that pool of water, that is to say, the desire for them to get well was owned by someone else. These were the ones that seemed half-hearted in the attempts. But the ones who knew how life had gotten so out of control that truly said, “YES”, I want to get well…those seemed to be the ones who were hungry, passionate, striving for something more.
A loved one of mine was in their midst. He kept saying that after the number of weeks he was there, he could do this on his own. He could muster up the energy and courage to fight the battle on his own. And I was terrified. Because, although he had taken steps and had the desire to get well, the “well” that he wanted was very shallow…for it takes time to deal and heal and develop patterns that reach to the core of who we are and heal from within. I know God can heal in a heartbeat, but I also know that there are scars that come along with almost any affliction/sin/sickness… some visible scars, some so deep that we don’t even know how much they effect our daily lives. And I wanted more for him. So much more. I didn’t want the toe dipped in the water and a short – term heal, I longed for him to have that total immersion, that total commitment to being truly ‘well’.
So here’s the thing. He said yes. He mustered up the courage to say that there was a big need that he couldn’t handle on his own. He said yes to the fact that it wasn’t a quick fix, but would take time, energy and a lifestyle change. He said yes to the commitment to courageously seek change, to seek to be well not just for the short term but for a life time. He said yes. And all I kept thinking was that he’s alive again. ALIVE. And he knows and I know that when you’re alive, you feel things. Good things. Bad things. You’re not numb, anesthetized to it all, you feel… Complacency can feel like comfort, but looks more numb. Risking, living, breathing, changing, all costs. It hurts. And there are times in our lives when we are so aware of that. Taking risks, growing, sets us up for rejection. But it also sets us up for a possibility to truly make an impact, to share, to lose, to gain, to LIVE and ultimately to live the life that God created us to live. He knows the plans He has for us. It is ours to walk in them, …or not.
Well, I say all this to say, that I’m thinking there are areas in my life where I’m a little too content to sit by the pool. There are areas in my life where I’ve been passively “waiting”, when I need to be actively scooting toward the waters of change. I love how Jesus can change, redeem, renew things in a heartbeat, but often, the first steps begins with our acknowledgement not only of our infirmity/sin/habits, but of our desire to be well. He will do what we can’t if we will offer Him what we can. I love that so much. God loves us…so much. He doesn’t want us stuck, comfortably numb waiting for what He has already offered. He calls us to a life of risk, of adventure, of passion, not a life of waiting by the pool. Life is short. Life is also a gift…not just to us, but to those around us. We impact. If our lives are spent blaming others for why we aren’t this or that, we may be missing out on so much. LIke the man by the pool, we can rationalize why we are still stuck in this or that area of our lives, but we need to ask ourselves, do we want to get well? Excuses can so be rationalize and laughed at and made light of. But excuses keep us stuck.
So, when my loved one said, “YES” to taking the short term hard road for the long term gain, I rejoiced. He was choosing to grow. He was choosing to LIVE. And each step, each day, each “yes” he says in his life, is like a little green shoot on a vast tree. It comes quietly, and appears so small, so tender at first, but over time, the leaves grow and cover a vast tree. One step plus one step plus one step leads to a journey of growth. And he is being an incredible example to me of being courageous to say I don’t want to be ‘stuck’ here anymore. And as I watch the process unfold, I am aware that it truly is a process. Like so many good things, it takes time.
And that brings me back to the photo, to the visual that encourages me so much. See that little teeny tiny shoot of a green leaf? It’s just one little leaf. But one plus one plus one plus one equals an infinite number. Pretty soon the leaves will just cover the tree. What will draw out those little leaves? Sunlight. The sunlight beckons the little leaf on out…and provides nutrients to allow for that little leaf to grow and join other little leaves that end up covering a tree.The love of Christ is so like that. The warmth, the light, the truth of Christ just beckons us onward, to be enveloped and embraced by the wonder of being loved. And when we know we’re loved so deeply, so totally, in such an all consuming way, it makes us want to grow, to leave beyond the sin, the complacency, the habits, and flourish. It makes us want to scoot with abandonment to the pool and say ‘yes’, I want to be well. I want to be WELL. And then….then we can say, ‘it IS well, it IS well with our souls’… Thanks be to God for the love that fills and moves and motivates and heals to depths we don’t even know are there. May we forever be aware of the love of God that urges us to leave behind the complacency and not only say ‘yes’ to being well, but be willing to scoot and jump into the pools with abandonment. I can’t help but think that like a loving Father waiting in the pool for his child to jump in the water, God is waiting with arms wide open for those who trust in Him. Here’s to little steps and big leaps.
“…His loving kindness leads me to repentance.”