Archive for October, 2013

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

October 27, 2013

There used to be a commercial on TV where an elderly person, who was home all alone, fell down and was unable to get to the phone to call for help. The tag line became memorable and stuck in a lot of people’s heads: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”. Because it was spoken in an exaggerated and melodramatic way, we used to make fun of that commercial. I don’t know how effective it was at selling their product, but the tag line was effective at sticking in our heads.

As much as we would mock the phrase, it is actually an apt description of what happens to us in life. We have our own sin that drags us down. There are attacks from other people that wound our hearts and our spirits. There are hurts that we carry around inside of us for years. Sometimes these things can cripple us and we discover that we can’t work through them by ourselves. It’s like hitting a brick wall that we can’t climb over unless we get some help from somebody else. God wants us to humbly admit our sin, our limitations, and our need for forgiveness and mercy that we cannot manufacture for ourselves. Isaiah 8:14 says “God is both sanctuary and stumbling stone, Yawheh is a rock that brings Israel down, the Lord is a trap and a snare for the people.”

Richard Rohr writes about this in his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. He says, “Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule’, some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point, you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone as Isaiah calls it; you will and you must ‘lose’ at something. This is the only way that God can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and longer journey… So we must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say. And that does not mean reading about falling. We must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. It is well dramatized by Paul’s fall on the Damascus Road… Almost every one of Odysseus’s encounters coming home from Troy are losses of some type – his men, his control, his power, his time, his memory, his fame, the boat itself. Falling, losing, falling, transgression, and sin are the pattern, I am sorry to report. Yet they all lead toward home. In the end, we do not so much reclaim what we have lost as discover a significantly new self in and through the process. Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan, and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find the real source, the deep well, or the constantly flowing streams. If we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand. For Jesus and for his followers, the crucifixion became the dramatic symbol of that necessary and absurd stumbling stone. Yet we have no positive theology of such necessary suffering, for the most part.”

Part of our journey of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ is experiencing necessary suffering. I think this is a hard concept for many Americans to understand. I think some of us have thought that suffering is not necessary, that suffering is out of the ordinary, or that we have done something wrong if we are suffering. Rohr believes that suffering is an essential part of our human and faith development, and that until we fall down on the Damascus Road like Paul did, we will never go as deep in our relationship with God as He wants us to.

These are issues that we refer to as adaptive challenges – things that are beyond our capabilities that we cannot fix. I think God wants to break down our pride and our ego, shattering the myth that we are self-sufficient and can handle any situation by ourselves. Until we encounter situations that we cannot solve on our own, we may not gain the humility necessary to become like Christ. These are not the kind of success stories that they make movies about. These are the kind of stories that we don’t hear unless we are sitting at a kitchen table with one of our church members, and we take the time to hear the narrative of their lives, and how they survived situations they never thought they would make it through. Rohr writes that “When he calls his first disciples, Jesus is talking about further journeys to people who are already happily settled and religiously settled.” Could it be that our journey to become like Christ can only go so far until life unsettles us and pushes us outside our comfort zones?

If this is our experience as individuals, do groups of individuals – churches, ministries, and religious organizations – also go through the same dynamics? The formative experience for Israel was the Exodus story. There, as a community of believers, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. It was not a problem that could be quickly fixed. It was a situation that had to be experienced. God was leading the community of Israel into a new place that they did not know how to handle. Nothing in their lives up to that point in Egypt had prepared them for the new challenges they were facing in the wilderness. There was no quick fix. God was slowly molding their thought processes, their faith, their hearts, their relationships, and their new skill development, to draw them closer to Himself, to grow deeper in their understanding of who they were, and to prepare them for an unknown future. The community was stretched in ways that sometimes hurt and where people did not always treat each other well. But, they learned and experienced God in a new way – a way that would not have been possible if they had not suffered.

Can we reach a point where we will not be embarrassed to say “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” Can we become the kind of mature and merciful Christians who are not afraid to say, “I don’t know how to deal with this situation? I am not sure what to do. But, I am trying to learn from it and I am embracing my Lord and my Savior in ways that I never have before.” That may not sell a lot of movie tickets. But, those are the stories my heart is eager to hear if we can sit around your kitchen table for a little while.