I’m going to come right out and say it this week: I am spiritually crippled.
In fact, “crippled” might be a generous way to describe my utter spiritual paralysis: I’m just stuck.
I struggle to maintain a regular rule of prayer (although, I do have a daily reminder on my iPhone that goes off at noon). I fail to read the (exceptionally short) daily Scripture readings. I am a little better about treating my (literal and figurative) neighbors kindly, but I usually don’t even think about the fact that it’s Wednesday or Friday until I’m halfway through finishing my tacos at dinner.
Needless to say: I’m struggling, and frequently, I berate myself for not being perfect.
Though I sometimes make excuses for myself, I’m often burdened by the guilt of being “not spiritual enough.” Sure, I attend Liturgy every Sunday but, on a day-to-day basis, one might be a bit hard-pressed to see the strivings and desires of a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
And, on a day-to-day basis, I am very aware of that.
This guilt is isolating and lonely. I feel as if God is a million miles ways, hanging out with the good kids, while I’m alone in the corner, a sort of existential time out.
And I blame myself. I often think “If I just tried harder and were a better Christian (prayed more, fasted better, swore less, etc.), then perhaps some of my guilt would be assuaged. Perhaps, then,” I tell myself, “I would have a deeper experience of God’s love.”
“Perhaps, then I would deserve God’s love.”
I’ve frequently heard others describe how they feel guilty because they’re “not spiritual enough” or “not good enough” to somehow “deserve God’s grace.” When I hear others say this, I can’t help but chuckle and think, “Well…of course you don’t deserve it. It’s grace.”
Of course, I say that myself all the time. It’s one thing to say, and entirely another thing to believe.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God is only interested in me to the degree that I am interested in Him! That somehow I have to love Him first so that He will then love me.
That burden seems impossible when I just can’t bring myself to pray, when I simply can’t find the discipline to read the Scripture, when I just don’t have the strength to say “no” to that delicious plate of tacos.
Overcome by guilt, I feel like God is looking down on me from the top of a steep staircase. But there I am, lying helpless on the floor, unable to even stand up.
I struggle so fiercely, and am so hard on myself, as if I somehow had the ability to “de-paralyze” myself by willing myself to walk. Of course, I can’t, so every failed attempt leads me to beat myself up for being paralyzed in the first place,. In those dark moments, I really hate myself, and am certain that God couldn’t possibly love someone like me.
In my mind He looks down on me from the second floor, with a cold and distant stare.
But when I look in the Scriptures, especially when I consider this Sunday’s Gospel reading, I don’t see a God who is cold, calloused, and cruel in His dealing with paralytics like me. I see a God, the one true God, who descends the stairs and meets me in my brokenness.
This Sunday we hear about a paralytic who is brought before Jesus. Though this story also shows up in other places in the Gospels, this Sunday we don’t hear anything about friends lowering their paralytic buddy through a roof. There is mention of “their faith,” but this week we we mostly focus on how Christ deals with the paralyzed man.
When he is brought to Jesus, Christ does not berate him for being paralyzed. In fact, He doesn’t even really seem to notice! He’s too busy forgiving the paralyzed man!
The paralytic doesn’t even ask for forgiveness of sins; Christ gives it freely. “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2).
I love this.
Jesus, addressing the man, says, “Take heart!” How often this man must have despaired of his situation! How often he must have said, “If only I could walk!” And yet, in the midst of this, Christ tells the man to “Take heart!” What sweet words these must have been from the Lord.
They were sweet words for the paralytic, and they are sweet words for me, a paralytic.
Because I do despair. I do worry. I do often berate myself for being paralyzed, for lacking the strength to love as I deeply as I wish I could. Yet today, Jesus stands before me, graciously, lovingly telling me to “take heart” and that my sins are forgiven.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. The paralyzed man isn’t just forgiven. He is also healed and capable of walking.
To think that this man could have just willed himself off his bed is crazy. He was paralyzed. How can he possibly have done that?
So why do I expect something just as crazy from myself?
My paralysis, though spiritual in nature, can also only be dispelled by the healing word of Christ. It is not something I can make happen, it is only something I can let happen. And only then can I worry about learning to use my legs.
Unfortunately, I’m too busy beating myself up for not being good enough, to hear Christ’s words of forgiveness and healing. I’m too obsessed with trying to pick myself up to allow Christ to lift me up.
There is much to be said about how Christ sees the faith of the paralytic’s friends and then heals the man or how Christ tells the man to do something after healing him, but there’s even more to be said about how Christ’s forgiveness and healing is freely given. It’s not after the man does something that Christ acts. No, Christ heals him in exchange for nothing.
Because His love is unconditional, something He offers no matter how little we may deserve it.
Christ stands before us this week to forgive us and heal us, telling us to “Take heart,” promising us freedom from whatever paralysis binds us.
He stands before us because He descends the stairs to meet us.
What do you think? Do you find it hard to trust in God’s healing? Or do you also beat yourself up for “not being good enough?”
Crippled: zimpenfish via Compfight cc
Staircase: Martin Burns via Compfight cc
Paralytic: Nick in exsilio via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on forgiveness first, check out this episode of Be the Bee: