The Paradox of Change
By: Jim Beebe
Healed vs. Cured
“When is this going to end?”
“I wish I wasn’t so anxious.”
“I need to get my act together.”
“I need to stop . . .”
Don’t these thoughts seem familiar? We all have situations, people, inner struggles—the challenges of our life—that can cause great fear, sadness, anger and anxiety. We all wrestle with the burden of our particular struggles with difficult people, situations and ourselves. Between stressful jobs, troubled marriages, rebellious children or irritating personal flaws we all have our share of pain and hope that things change. And we often believe that the change needs to happen for us to be acceptable and happy. In short we all want our lives the be better, richer, fuller, healthier than they often are.
When we measure our life as it is against what we think it should be our life seems to come up woefully short. To make matters worse it is all too easy to compare our lives to others who seem to doing just fine. That feeds the shame that there is something wrong with me as I am and my life as it is—we shame ourselves for falling short.
Perhaps it could be that the very expectation to be cured—to get our act together—actually keeps us in our sickness. How could this be?
Underneath much of this distress is the sense that I should be better than I am. I should be more disciplined, less anxious or depressed, not struggle with my anger, be more stable . . . in short, I believe that I should be a better version of myself. But it’s interesting that the Apostle Paul says the exact opposite in Romans: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.” (v15) Paul is describing the all-too familiar struggle with being someone who couldn’t get his act together, who struggled also with his character defects. Paul described a “thorn” that he had to deal with and which kept coming back despite his efforts to overcome it. He knew that his life would always be full of challenges, especially with himself.
Instead of that awareness leading to shame and despair Paul also says that, “There is no condemnation of those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) And he says, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Paul even says that “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) This is the profound acceptance that we should struggle with our humanness, we should struggle with our anxiety, our anger, our character defects. Instead of that struggle being proof that we are not measuring up it is a sign that we are human. Paul was able to see his struggles but not fall into shame because of them.
Jesus was always much more concerned about the state of a person’s heart than He was about the rightness of his behavior. It is at the exact place where we are all messed up that Jesus meets us with love and acceptance. There is no condemnation in Jesus for those who come with acceptance of their humanness, their brokenness. Jesus was coming to transform us from the inside out, breaking the power of the shame that would say that we have to be cured the be okay.
It isn’t that we don’t work on ourselves and try to grow. But it is that we do that out of love, not out of fear or condemnation. And if Paul is right then we will never be perfectly cured of what ails us. We will always live this life as “jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) We can do the work of growing and maturing, hopefully enjoying more of the fruit of the Spirit. But that work is always undergirded by the extravagant loving grace to be fallible humans.
At this very point of humility and compassionate curiosity we intersect with God’s grace. That is the deeper healing that Jesus came to bring us. He didn’t come to create great Pharisees; He came to restore our being sons and daughters of a loving Father. He came to break the power of a shame that would keep us under a yoke of bondage to judgment and perfectionism. Without shame we can actually be more open about our challenges. We can enter community where we all share a common compassion and grace.
The spiritual teachers that I admire teach that there is a profound truth at the heart of our walk with the Lord where we, one day at a time, learn to live in our life with acceptance. In many ways acceptance is at the core of our spirituality. Deeper than the cure of our spiritual and emotional challenges is the healing of our relationship with ourself, others and God. In fact, Jesus would that we be healed of our shame than just cured of our defects.
Jim Beebe is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Abundant Life Counseling and leader of our Mastering Your Marriage class here at Shepherd Church.