Caution: honesty ahead. If you need the thought life of a pastor to be pretty close to perfect, walk away now. This is not the post for you.
One of the most vivid moments of my life is the day that the doctor told us that Steve was “not okay, now we need to find out why”. We still aren’t certain of the why, but we’re waiting with faith and something that sometimes resembles patience. However, in that office, I could almost physically feel things shifting and changing inside of me. It was the strangest sensation as hopes and dreams began scrambling to rearrange themselves around the possibility of a new reality.
Most of the resulting changes from that moment were good and have created a greater dependency on Jesus and a deeper compassion for people. One, however, was ugly and while it was an involuntarily change, it required a voluntary adjustment.
So, here’s the ugly: The very next day, I was driving to work and there was a homeless guy on the corner with a sign because there’s always a guy on the corner with a sign. I’ve driven by this same guy countless times. This time, however, I was filled with a storm of anger and frustration that nearly took my breath away. I pounded my fist on the steering wheel and felt a gasp of sobs take over and I was just….so…mad. The reason for my rage wasn’t a mystery to me even for a second. I was mad that a man with all his physical strength and an unlimited number of days in which to use it was making such a waste of his life. I was mad that the man I love who has always worked so hard to take care of us did not have such a guarantee (in more cognitive moments, I would understand that none of us have a guarantee, but this wasn’t my most clear-thinking season). It all just looked so upside down and so, so unfair.
Over and over, the same thing happened and not just with homeless people. Whenever I would hear about someone who was wasting their potential through sin or laziness or whatever, I felt almost like they had stolen something from Steve and from my dreams. I knew it was irrational and I hate to be ridiculous. I also knew it was not at all like Jesus, and I want more than anything to make Him famous and proud. But niether of those things made me desperate to fix my wrong thinking. What made me desperate was: anger is exhausting. I knew it was costing me energy I didn’t have to spend. Still, wanting something to get fixed inside and knowing how to fix it are not always compatible themes for me.
Amazingly, our generous God fixed it for me. One day I was cleaning my house and thinking about a story I had heard the day before about a man whose life and family was in shambles because of his repeated, intentional sin. Again, the anger raced in like a flash flood and just as I was being swept away, Jesus shouted this little sentence through the noise of the current and it landed like a life preserver in the middle of my hurting heart.
“A strong body does not make a strong spirit.”
It doesn’t. Just because someone has strength does not mean they will use it in the right way. Just because someone has length of days, does not mean they will spend them well or wisely. Only in sports does physical prowess make you successful and even then the win is temporary. Someone can have a healthy, strong body but have a weak and wilting spirit.
And here’s where it gets really good because this is where I was able to escape the quicksand of a detour into a costly and negative emotion. If a strong body cannot make a spirit strong, then a weak body also cannot make a spirit weak. The spirit – the only part that ultimately matters – cannot be touched by weakness or atrophy or disease. My husband’s spirit is as strong as it has ever been and no diagnosis can alter that. Maybe it seems so evident and duh! to you, but it was a huge and wonderful thought renovation for me. It was a two-fold victory. 1) I was able to rejoice that no matter what happens to our bodies, our spirits can soar above it all, strong and effective in every good work. and 2) I got to stop being mad at homeless people.
One thing I’m learning is that in times of fear or sorrow, it’s so tempting to look for a convenient villain or a place to go with our anger. The enemy would love to make our battle about flesh and blood and get our eyes off of the internal and eternal work God is doing in and through our pain. While it might feel justified and even pleasant for a moment, it is a dangerous detour away from the redemptive process that Jesus sets in motion the minute we find our world turned upside down.
Behold: The God who will not let us be outwitted by our enemy.