Free at Last
NOVEMBER 30, 2022
If you live in fear of the “other shoe dropping,” and the horror of what could happen, stop it, and I will too. No sparrow falls (no shoe either) without his loving care.
Dread, and her ugly sisters, Guilt and Shame, have kept me up at night, sometimes made me the phoniest person in the room, have destroyed intimate relationships, and have taught me to play the part of a self-righteous Pharisee. And they have caused me to smile a sham smile, hide my tears and sadness, and stifle my laughter lest I seem shallow and silly.
Maybe you’re acquainted with those sisters. Jesus is teaching me about the redeeming power of lament, and the joy and radical freedom that is a part of it. It starts with a relationship with God—not the one from whom we often run—but the real God.
And that God wants to be close to you.
Did you ever think that God is looking for opportunities to be near you? In fact, that might be one of the reasons for the pain of lament. Do you remember Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10)? He was a rich tax collector, a dishonest and greedy bully, and a pain in the neck. On top of that, he was little and ugly. Being little and hearing the commotion as Jesus was walking by his house, he climbed up a tree so he could see. Jesus noticed him and called Zacchaeus down from the tree. After his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus changed radically. He promised to give half of his goods to the poor, and, to those he had cheated, he promised to repay them four times what he had taken from them. That’s amazing! Jesus sometimes causes people, like Zacchaeus, to change from a pain to a penitent. But that’s not the most amazing part of the story. The amazing thing was what Jesus said to Zacchaeus when he told him to come down from the tree, “I’m coming to your house for dinner.”
What? Not Zacchaeus! Jesus, he’s a liar, a thief, and a scoundrel. He has robbed from the people who were poor to line his own pockets. He probably even has a mistress in that house where you are going to have dinner. Given who he is, the only relationships he can muster are those he has to pay for. Nobody likes him, and if people weren’t afraid of him, nobody would even speak to him. Besides that, you will hurt your reputation if you have a meal with him. Are you crazy?
Of course a part of the point of that story is the change that took place in the life of Zacchaeus. The major point, though, is that Jesus never asked him to change; and given Jesus’s proclivity to hang out with prostitutes, drunks, and swingers, it is a good bet that Jesus would have had dinner with Zacchaeus if Zacchaeus had never changed.
If you want to see the real Jesus, check out Luke 7:36–50 where there is another story, this one is about a prostitute who crashed a dinner party for Pharisees (yes, Jesus hung out with those who were insufferably self-righteous too). Jesus forgave her sins and never once asked her to change. I suspect there was a change. That kind of thing happened when people hung out with Jesus. It still happens. But in Luke 7 all Jesus did was love her (maybe the first person who had loved her who didn’t want anything from her) and told her that she was forgiven, even “though her sins were many.” Jesus also said that those who are forgiven little, love little.
The reason those events are recorded in Scripture is because they reflect the real God. However, those events can be quite uncomfortable, too. They also reflect who we really are. You’re Zacchaeus and so am I. You’re the prostitute and so am I. We all are. And, believe it or not, Jesus wants to be our friend. When you lament your loss and pain, your fear and sin, and your loneliness and anger, you will discover that Jesus joins you in that dark place. Things don’t always change and sometimes even get worse, but Jesus is there because he is looking for places to be with you. You and I hardly ever welcome him when it’s all good, when we just got a raise, when we’re enjoying a meal, or when we’re dancing at a party. Lament hardly ever happens when we’re fine. But when it gets dark, there is a wonderful discovery. It is what the psalmist discovered: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
How about that? In his presence there is joy—not just plain joy, but the fullness of joy. And in that discovery there is radical freedom. Do you know why? Because we all thought that the reason for our pain was like a bill we needed to pay, a dark place we needed to fix, or a sacrifice we needed to make. In other words, our default position (it’s in our fallen DNA) is to think that God wants “the fruit of our body (our first born) for the sin of our souls” (Micah 6:7). That’s a lie. His presence is, as it were, present just because he wants to be close to you and me. If that doesn’t make you want to speak in tongues, dance, and laugh, there’s something wrong with you. That’s what radical freedom and joy are all about, and one of the reasons for it.
If you’re afraid of the dark of lament, stop it, and I will too. He will never leave us alone in the dark. When you’re afraid that your dancing and laughing will detract from your spirituality, stop it, and I will too. He joins his laughter and joy with ours. If you think that God is punishing you, and you have a bill to pay, stop it, and I will too. If you live in fear of the “other shoe dropping,” and the horror of what could happen, stop it, and I will too. No sparrow falls (no shoe either) without his loving care.
You and I don’t have anything to prove, anything to protect, anything to control . . . and no reputation to maintain, no pain to escape, or any circumstance to fear.
Perfect love casts out fear. Not your love.
Adapted from Steve’s new book, Laughter and Lament: The Radical Freedom of Joy and Sorrow.