The Valley of Suck Makes a Great Runaway Truck Ramp

The experiences which I and my family have endured over the past few years, most notably, the death of my wife, Heather, have all acted as sort of a runaway truck ramp on a mountain road.  We regularly drive up into the mountains of north Georgia and North Carolina and drive past the giant “sand traps” built to stop a semi-truck.  I have never seen a truck use one but I can imagine it would be quite a sight. But what about in our lives? I think that this suffering, pain, and struggle, acts in many ways like the runaway truck ramp. I have been forced to a stop in my life; no longer am I able to just take off and go about doing things my own way. Sometimes, I am even forced onto a path I would never have taken if I could have seen the signs sooner.

Here, most recently, I have found myself forced to examine the faults of another.  This is never a place which I like to be but I have really had no choice.  This is no “straw-man” argument it is simply my being careful and it really doesn’t have to do with that person anyway.  It is the old adage, “If you point your finger at someone else there will be three fingers pointing at you.”

As has been my practice in recent weeks, I am being intentional about discerning God’s voice in prayer and fasting.  The tone of the week is often set by the breath prayer which I develop and this week was no different.  The prayer, “Holy God, let holiness and humility grow in equal proportion in me.”  At times, I’ve shortened it to: “Let holiness and humility grow in me.”

On their own, holiness and humility can lead to arrogance, in the case of holiness, and to shame, in the case of humility.  Together, they seem, in my estimation and study of scripture and tradition, to balance each other out.  As I have prayed though, I have felt the scale tip ever so slightly toward humility.  

How do you judge another, in the Christian tradition, without humility?  So much is being made of holiness, whether Scriptural or social, there seems little room for the topic of humility.  In the constant drumbeat for better trained leaders and CEO pastors, there seems little room for humility.  In the debates between Christian conservatives and liberals regarding the correct political candidate, there seems little room for humility.

In the ongoing clamor to determine who is right and who is wrong, I wonder if we have lost sight of who we are trying to be like in the first place?

The late Dr. Robert Mulholland, defined spiritual formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”  There are many ways this process plays out, as many as there are or have been people in the world.  And as I have been forced to make a judgement, I realize, I ought to consider what image am I conveying?  In whose image am I being conformed?

And those questions pointed me to one of the few verses my fragmented mind could recall.  It comes from the book of Hebrews 4:13-16, where the writer declares,
(13) And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  (14)  Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  (15)  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  (16)  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

What I hear in these verses is the gentle yet firm reminder, there is only one who is without sin.  In his commentary on Hebrews, Dr. Donald Guthrie reminds us too, “temptation in itself is not sinful (126).”  Tragically, the Biblical record and tradition of the Church (along with experience and reason), indicate “We all have sinned and fallen short…(Romans 3:23)”  In our judgements then, we ought to take into account our own state of our own soul.  

This does not mean I have to forgo the need I had to make a judgement.  It does mean I have to live with it and carry it.  If I am truly in the path of spiritual formation - “being conformed to the image of Christ…” then I had better make note, not just of my own righteousness/holiness unto the Lord, but am I reflecting the humility of Christ Jesus?

I readily admit, my answer to this is in the negative.  I am still upset and angry I was put in the position where I had to make a judgement.  But I also recognize the voice of God speaking in my life through prayer and fasting. I dare not become complacent and live in this self-righteous indignation but temper it with true humility.  For while one’s sin maybe on the outside, and my own on the inside, we have all fallen short of what God intends for us in Jesus Christ.  

The valley of suck - those experiences of pain and suffering that steal joy from our lives - has been a place where your knees get taken out.  The blessing in this is that to be on one’s knees is a symbolic posture of humility.  Maybe I’ll finally learn this is a better place to be if my goal is to be like Jesus.



Image used by permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/mountain-road-1257764

4 comments:

Michelle The Comfy Mom said...

Beautiful and timely post Jedi Pastor Ken. Thank you for this insight and reminder. Be blessed. Be well. Be happy.

Michelle Jeanette

Ken Hagler said...

Thanks for the comment Michelle.

Cynthia Astle said...

Thoughtful post. Picking up for UM Insight, with your permission.

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