We Can’t Bear Unless We Share
FEBRUARY 7, 2024
This morning, I went to Honda to have my car serviced.
Between the regular service and a new tire, I spent two and a half hours there when I expected to spend only half an hour. When I finally got my car, I headed back to Key Life. That’s when the icon on my car screen came on, warning me of low tire pressure. So, I turned around and headed back to Honda, and they fixed it, taking another 45 minutes. With the tire fixed and my morning shot, I headed for Key Life again. That’s when the icon came up again with the same warning.
So, I called Ron (the service manager and my friend) and said, “I’m a preacher and can’t cuss at you, but I’m irritated and not coming back there. I’ve spent almost all morning with you, and I don’t even like you!” Ron laughed and said it was the computer (it wasn’t dangerous, and the warning was wrong), and he could fix it in a few minutes, so to stop by anytime.
Steve, why are you telling me this?
I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just irritated, and you were available. Now that I think about it, I feel better having told you. So, you ministered to me and didn’t even know it.
Actually, “telling somebody” is important for our sanity and Christian walk. The government has repeatedly told us if we see something, to say something. They didn’t know it, but they were articulating a biblical principle and an important one. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). In teaching on unity in the body of Christ, Paul compares the body with the church: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’ . . . But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). Paul also says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Obviously, we can’t “bear” unless we share.
Do you remember the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “I Am a Rock”? That is one of the saddest songs ever written. They sing about someone alone on a cold and snowy winter day, recognizing, “I am a rock. I am an island.” The person has no friends and doesn’t care about love, having instead “my books and my poetry to protect me . . . hiding in my room safe within my womb.” Then, the profoundly sad line, “And a rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”
That reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote from The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
To say that someone “never complains” is usually a compliment. While that may sound good, it may not be the best way to live. It’s hard for a John Wayne type (male or female) or a Barbie type (female or male) to talk about personal stuff. We all want to present to the world the image of being together, strong, and competent. And as far as our sins are concerned, we might say we are sinners, but we only admit the small ones (“I must confess that I didn’t floss this morning”) or the ones for which the statute of limitations has run out.
One of the great things about being a Christian is the freedom we have been given to be vulnerable. Vulnerability can only be shown when we know that a safety net is in place. One of the reasons I like Paul so much is that he could be honest in shamelessly talking about how wonderful he was, only to recognize and admit that he was talking like a fool. After bragging, Paul says, “What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:17). And then, since he is on the subject, in the next chapter, Paul talks about his weakness, describing it as a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). It’s then that he articulates one of the key ingredients for the Christian’s power. Paul says that God said to him, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
Let me give you an important truth. We can only belly laugh, brag, or cry with someone we trust. That’s why prayer should be a mix of laughter, arrogance, and tears. God is completely trustworthy, and his love and acceptance are always present. That’s the ministry we should be giving to one another, too. We should be unconditional with one another, granting others the gift and permission to say and be whatever needs to be said and lived. That doesn’t mean, of course, that anything goes. The safety net isn’t so safe if confession becomes bragging and/or our words reflect insufferable self-righteousness. But, frankly, almost all our vulnerability reflects our pain more than our conceit.
The biblical call for friendship among Christians isn’t so much for accountability and obedience. (If that’s what it’s for, it’s not working very well.) There is some truth in that, but our friendship with other Christians is mostly to be free, accepted, and loved. Without that, we become rocks feeling no pain and islands that never cry. That will destroy us.
So, we become a benediction to others when we accept them as they are, listen to whatever they say, and know their pain. But there is more than that. The benediction isn’t just for them; it’s for us, too. We grant blessing, but don’t forget the blessing we receive. Hebrews 12:2 has always puzzled me. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” What? Where’s joy in the cross? That’s crazy, or at least it seems crazy until we recognize that the benediction goes both ways. Jesus gave us forgiveness, redemption, and freedom when he went to the cross. But, at the same time, he knew the joy of doing that for us.
It is a stretch, but not as much as you might think, for us to compare our small acts of the ministry of acceptance, forgiveness, and love and receive the joy of doing so for ourselves. Of course, in the case of Jesus, the perfect Son of God gave his gift to imperfect people like us. When we do it, it’s as sinners accepting and loving other sinners. It’s kind of a mutual gift we have to give to receive. Jesus could have been arrogant, but he wasn’t. None of us can be arrogant because we have nothing about which to be arrogant.
There’s an old Jewish story about the time the beggars went on strike in Jerusalem. They felt that people were not being as generous as they should have been. So, the beggars stopped begging and went on strike. The problem was that the Torah teaches generosity to those in need, and the Jerusalem residents wanted to be obedient to the law but couldn’t because the beggars had quit begging. It was a crisis that quickly led to negotiations with the outcome of the givers pledging to give more and the receivers accepting it.
I recently received an email from my friend, Jack Williams, who served in his state legislature for years and tells some great political stories. He told me about a Texas governor who ran for reelection in 1986 (or maybe 1990). To portray himself as a strong law and order governor, his team produced a commercial with him walking by a lot of men’s photos blown up beyond poster size, bigger than he was. As he walked by the photos, without referencing anyone in particular, he pointed out that these were the men who had received the death penalty during his time as AG and governor.
Jack wrote, “His effort to portray himself as a law and order candidate didn’t work. He ended up humanizing the men who received the death penalty, and he lost his election.”
Then Jack added, “That commercial came to mind recently when I was thinking about it in terms of the Gospel and how each one of those individuals was a candidate for God’s grace. The real message of all those photos (over 200, as I recall) was that all were photographs of men for whom Christ died. I also thought about how offensive that would be to so many of us in the church.”
His comment about how offensive the Gospel would be in the church is probably true, but it shouldn’t be. Our message of central importance is that we are great sinners and Jesus is a great Savior. We also have great failures and successes, jokes and tears, and we keep so much pain and joy to ourselves. We sometimes even get really irritated and want to “cuss and spit” at friends in Honda service centers.
As I said, I feel better. I hope you do, too.