So I heard this story about a guy who was disabled. He couldn’t get up and move around on his own. He lay there for a long time, not far from what was a known cure. Years and years. He would start to move towards the cure, but by the time he got there, someone else was already being treated, and apparently it was a “one at a time–first come, first served” kind of thing. So he stayed put. In that same spot.
Then one day this fella who was becoming more well known in the area came along and asked the guy, “Do you want to get well?”
Whoa. That’s kind of a personal question, right? I mean, this fella is all in his chili.
True to form (for so many of us), the guy started listing the reasons (ahem-excuses?) as to why he hadn’t made it to the point of getting better. No one had stopped to help him, he couldn’t do it on his own, someone else was always already there so he hung back.
The fella all but holds up his hand to stop the flow of excuses and says, “Never mind all that. Get up, pick up your stuff, and walk. You’re good to go now.”
Yep. It happened. And the guy got up and took his stuff and walked away.
This is the story that was shared in Evening Prayer on Sunday evening. It’s from the Good Book. After reading the story aloud, my pastorfriend asked a series of questions that we were to discuss at our tables. She asked interesting questions about what would healing look like for each one of us? What did it mean for this guy?
But she didn’t ask the one question I was expecting, the one question I kept thinking about as she read the verses from John 5. I was expecting the hard question that she has asked us about other stories we’ve read–
Who are you in this story?
I’d like to answer, oh yes, I’m the paralytic, laying there, can’t get up. Or won’t. Sometimes there’s not much difference. And yes, I have been that person. So comfortable in my misery, in my paralyzing fear that I don’t move and take a step towards healing–yep. I’ve been there. The struggle is real. That struggle to not have my identity be that of the “victim,” but instead to put the past behind me and move on. Move towards the healing waters. Move towards a new way of living, without all the pain from the past dragging me down. It’s hard, and sometimes it’s a daily conscious choice I make to leave it all behind, if only just for today. And then the next day. And the next. It takes work. No wonder the guy was still lying there after all those years.
But as I was listening, I felt my heart skip a beat, as I realized who I really identified with in the story. Not willingly, but I saw me there. And it hurt. Far worse than the pain of lying in my own story. I have been the person who has walked on by someone in need, not noticing the guy who might need help getting to a healing spot. I have been too busy or too self-involved to notice. Or worse, I’ve noticed, and–this hurts to admit it, but there it is staring me in the face–I’ve walked on by anyway. After all, I have things to get done, places to be, no time no time no time.
Whew. That glimpse really hurt me.
As we talked about the story at our table, someone wondered aloud what happened after the guy got up and took his stuff (bedroll) with him. We continued reading. Turns out the guy ran into some Jewish leaders. Their immediate reaction was–Why are you carrying your stuff? Who told you to do that? It’s the Sabbath, you are not supposed to carry your bedroll on the Sabbath!
Wow. We found it surprising that no one acknowledged that this guy who had been over by the water, unable to walk for 38 years, was walking! You know folks knew who he was, right? I mean even if he was referred to as “Guy who hasn’t moved in years” or “Guy who won’t get up” or “That poor guy by the water,” folks had to recognize who he was.
And yet, instead of seeing the miracle right in front of them, all they could do is be judicial. They didn’t celebrate at all. Not a bit. They pointed fingers and accused and sounded quite unpleasant to be honest. What you’re doing is against the law and just who exactly told you to do it, because this is so not okay.
Today when I thought back over the story and that part in particular, I began to grieve. Far too often I am like the Jewish leaders. There, I’ve admitted it. Too often I look right past the amazing things in life and go straight to critical.
When Cooter shows me a Lego contraption he’s built, and I quickly say, “Oh yes, that’s nice” but more quickly move into the “Why are these Legos all over the floor? You have got to pick these up!” Or his sister wants to tell me about a story she read, and I’m pushing her to finish unloading the dishwasher so we can get the thing loaded up again. Or when my oldest tells me about an event she’s excited about being a part of and I’m giving her my recommended do’s and don’ts and safety guidelines, rather than sharing in her joy.
The miracle–I just pass on by it like it’s nothing–and move straight into the criticism and legalistic commentary.
This breaks my heart.
Something else breaks my heart.
The world is mourning today a great entertainer. Someone who touched so many lives. All day folks sharing their own stories, their own connections with him as though they knew him. And I suppose in a way we did. Only we didn’t know about the struggles. We didn’t know he could use a helping hand. Or a listening ear.
And this part of his story and the story from Sunday night have intertwined in my heart and made me aware–of my shortcomings and how I need to work to see the folks around me. Really see them. Take time to listen. To hug. To tell folks what they mean to me. Take time to hear what they really need and not just make assumptions. I need to stop judging and start embracing, loving, caring. Who knows what difference one moment of caring and loving and compassion can do?
I know of one moment that made a huge difference. It’s not my story to tell, so I won’t, but I will share this. It was because of someone who opened her eyes and saw another hurting so badly he was moving away from the healing fast, it was because of her caring and noticing and taking a moment–because of her, someone I care about very much is alive and well and loving on other folks this very day. And making such a difference in this world.
Because she noticed.
I think that may be where the healing begins.
It is with my whole heart tonight, that I think on this and make a promise to myself to notice. To slow down and take time for what really matters. I need to let go of things that are superficial and dig deep. And love.
May we make each day a day of noticing. Imagine all the good that could do.
Love to all.