The Heights & Depths

I’ve fallen in love with raw humanity. The heights and the depths – I want it all. It’s not all about the mountain-tops, but sometimes about “the walking in between” as Ben Rector sings about in his recent album. I think that, in order to know and to love someone, you must understand that you will have to know them at their very worst, just as you may see a glimpse into their very best – their pain will be yours, just as much as their joy. And I think there is beauty to that.

Let’s think about it for a moment. No one is always happy, polished, and attractive. Yet, we nearly obsessively (or perhaps I’m speaking for myself, but hear me out) ensure that we remain polished around others. “How are you doing?” is followed by “Great! How are you?” even on a day when you may truly be breaking inside. So instead of facing the scars, we apply another coat of makeup. Sarcasm and supposed witty humor become our defense-mechanisms – we don’t want people to see what’s really inside, so we’re funny, not real.

I think it’s time to face the pain (yours and my own, together).

Every writer has his own beliefs and views, but as I’ve read memoirs (particularly Sheldon Vanauken’s “A Severe Mercy” and Brennan Manning’s “All Is Grace”) I’ve discovered one common theme among some of the greats – they are unashamedly transparent, raw, and honest about their brokenness. They believe what Paul said when preaching that they must become lesser, so that Christ can be made greater within them. Therefore, they lay pride aside, and lay bare their vices and broken relationships – that their readers may see that DESPITE their inability to be perfect, God still made them new, again and again, and used them for His glory.

During an episode of Scandal, one of the characters is facing a scandal (shocker) of their own. In the end, they become relieved that their “dirt” has surfaced. Once it has been brought into the light, it can be dealt with and “handled”. Despite the show’s occasionally risque nature, this is a potently biblical concept. Darkness loses its’ power when brought into the Light. When you flip the light-switch on in a dark-closet, the unknown becomes known, and our true colors show forth. Even more shockingly, with our polished facade now tarnished, we become more easy to relate to, less prideful/arrogant, and more likely to recognize humanity’s collective need for the gospel of grace.

A need within the church is the real life-on-life, connectivity, that goes much deeper than the surface. I can dress well and talk church-talk with the best of them. However, some days, underneath the sharp mind and quick witted extroversion, lies a boyish nature, wild imagination, and glaring insecurities that can drive me into isolation. There are days when I cannot stand to look in the mirror, so my head hangs low, ashamed of what it sees. Certain days, I attempt to convince myself that big-picture dreams are out-of-reach, because I do not measure up. Other days, I avoid social gatherings, simply because of my weight, or the fact that I sweat easily compared to others. One could easily chalk this up to spiritual-warfare and suggest that I pray and focus on God more. While those are all good things, I do not think it is always a matter of doing more. I think it may simply be a matter of bringing to light areas of struggle and allowing those “scandals” (areas lacking Christ-like nature and belief in God’s grace/power to overcome) to be “handled” (wrestled through) with the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It is difficult to shift one’s mindset from maintaining a polished appearance to being transparent and vulnerable with those around them. For me to admit that I am weak some days (or most days – depends on the season) and need others to lift me up, means that I am admitting to my inability to be self-sufficient, a great American travesty. But the ideology of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps is slowly dying, as more and more so, we realize our distinct need for community – brothers and sisters in arms, to make war against that which attempts to steal, kill, and destroy any element of what is good within us.

Reading Sheldon Vanauken’s memoir, “A Severe Mercy”, I’ve discovered that he had a deep friendship with CS Lewis. As he writes of their conversations and meetings and shares some of the letters and other correspondence, you begin to see the Christ-like character that both of these men possess. Sheldon describes CS Lewis as a man that would get right to the point, always leading Sheldon to the real issues at hand – the heart. 

Our weaknesses and insecurities may present themselves in physical embodiment through aesthetic flaws, substance-abuse, indulgent vices, and repressive thinking, but they all lead to the same thing – the brokenness of our hearts – the need for something bigger, greater, and more powerful than ourselves to overcome sin and to call out the righteousness that can be planted within us by the Spirit. (Paul would be proud. That’s a New Testament-like run-on sentence if I’ve ever written one. But read it again – I believe there’s truth within.)

I’m a doer and fixer. After all, I am a guy. We’re problem-solvers. We see problems, diagnose the situation, and attempt to implement a plan to fix that problem. So often, it’s easy to go the route of behavior modification, as opposed to wrestling through what the real underlying issues may be. Here’s an example. I want to lose weight, right? Who doesn’t? So I eat less (most days), exercise more, and alter my diet. That should fix the problem, right? Not really. The underlying issue still exists. Underneath a stronger, more endurance-trained (unfortunately not slimmer) me, there is still the mindset that I am not desirable. That’s the root issue. I want to be desirable. Then the question becomes, is God big enough for that? Is His Love enough for me? Will it satisfy?

So that is where we’re heading, friends. Deeper. The heights and the depths. There’s no turning back now. It’s high time the church were challenged to dig deep and pray hard. A life that lacks passion isn’t a life worth living. A passionate man/woman knows pain, as much as they do joy. But their joy is greater, because they’ve wrestled through the depths of darkness, and found their reasons to hope in the Light.

As we go deeper, we will be lifted higher. The humble man is lifted up by the LORD. One who prays has his prayers heard by the Son, who takes those requests and petitions them before the Father. As we face the deepest of depths, the Spirit will lift us up to the highest of heights. Let’s summit this mountainous life, together.

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