I originally posted this in January 2017. We have since refreshed the site and are reposting select blog articles. This one got a significant response, and honestly, I needed to revisit it again.
I saw a Facebook posting that really made me stop and think about existence and meaning, purpose and faith. Consider this image for a few moments and then read on…
Immediately, the fact that this was a disabled child that had passed away broke my heart. I know what it feels like for a parent to have to bury their child. It is an inexpressible grief and a sorrow that is so sharp and deep, it seems there is neither answer nor remedy.
After reflecting on this, I saw that in depicting the boy leaping upward from the wheelchair, it appeared that the family of this child were communicating their faith in all that the Scriptures teach about God’s intent to heal, restore, renew, and yes, even resurrect, through Jesus:
And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. John 7:17 ESV
We could leave it at that. We could have a moment of piety and reflection, say “Amen,” and then get back to the reality and grind of our daily lives. I couldn’t, though. I couldn’t stop staring at this photo and thinking about my own life and choices. My own broken places. The hurt I have received and given. The spiritual and emotional “wheelchairs” of my own making, as well as those that others forced upon me, and most shamefully, those that my choices have forced upon others.
As a Christian, I know that indeed, Jesus promises a resolution and release from all that is chaotic, dark, painful, and difficult in life, including death itself. But I found myself thinking about Jesus’ corresponding admonitions to faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, mercifulness, and perhaps, most importantly, simple faith. A pure acceptance that indeed He is, has done, and will do what He has said.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:8-13
Humanly speaking, it is a strange thing to follow Jesus. He compels us to first come and die, and only then is there the promise of life. That holds true both literally and also relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. First you and your agendas must be put to death, and then you will find those crucial things that all people seek, just as we listed them at the beginning of this article: existence, meaning, purpose, and faith, i.e., life.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35, Luke 9:23-24 ESV
Looking at this photo of the child leaping upward toward the heavens from his wheelchair, I wondered, “Why have I not leapt joyfully out of the painful, broken experiences that left me relationally, emotionally, and spiritually crippled? I want to be whole and at peace, as well as to be as loving, life-affirming, and life-giving as Jesus. I want to be of the Light that pushed back darkness.
Why aren’t I? Why have I remained trapped in this emotional “wheelchair?”
I looked at the photo again and remembered that I had already gotten my answer.
I had heard a song while driving that just floored me. The artist was Lauren Daigle. The song was Once and For All .
God I give You all I can today
By the time I got to the first chorus, I knew what my problem was. Painful events from infancy and childhood, all the way into adulthood had left me in a spiritual and emotional “wheelchair” for most of my life, and I had great internal shame about it. In childhood, it was the choices of my addicted and abandoning parents. In adulthood it was my own choices in relationships and life paths. None of this was new information for me, however. I had wrestled with it thousands of times.
As Christian men we are supposed to have our act together – have all the answers, be smart, dependable, wise, solid, strong, etc. Unfortunately, my choices and the choices of others in relationship to me did not contribute to establishing those good results within myself, my home, and my kids. Even though I had truly and transformationally came to faith in Christ some twenty years ago, it was apparent that there were deep areas within me that had not been yielded to Him. The deepest, darkest, most painful parts of me were kept shoved down until something touched them. Usually it was a small inconvenience, an unimportant annoyance, or a simple relational misunderstanding. To me however, almost anything could reinforce and trigger the naked, shameful sense that I had a life full of mess, mistakes and “not good enoughs,” and it almost always came out as anger. I now realized that “hurt people” hurt people, and I had lived on both ends of that equation.
I yearned to experience the very thing that the statue in the photo is trying to communicate. I wanted to leap from the emotional wheelchair, upward to the source and origin of all that is life and light, Messiah Jesus. I wanted to be like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, whom Jesus told to get up, and he did. I wanted to be like the paralytic at the temple gate to whom Peter and John said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” and the paralytic jumped up and ran through the temple grounds, praising God. I wanted to be released, whole, and free.
However, I knew what Jesus had said was required to follow Him, to be like Him, to be with Him.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. John 12:24-26
As I listened to this song, I knew that in spite of the years of being a believer, attending seminary, writing books, teaching, etc., I still needed to lay down and die. How did I miss this? The wounded, shamed, broken, never-good-enough, angry, abandoned, orphan inside of me needed to come to the end of his existence. The new creation that the Scriptures promise in Christ cannot exist simultaneously with the old creature of self. I had to die, right now, once and for all, in order to come to maturity as a man, and as a follower of Jesus. The kingdoms of academics, achievement, and accomplishment that I had tried to build to hide my shame needed to fall so that Jesus could be lifted to His right place in my heart, in my home, in my life. In my words and actions.
By the second chorus, I said to myself, this is me. I need to die, right now. Immediately, I sensed the Lord confirming this and exhorting me: “Yes. Choose a place. Now.” In years prior to this moment, there had been two separate experiences of God clearly communicating directly to me, my circumstances and/or personal condition. This was now a third.
My hands gripped the steering wheel tighter and I began to cry, almost sobbing. I passed multiple church parking lots that I could have pulled into, and considered doing so. I resisted, worrying that my wife would just think I was being dramatic if I actually pulled over and got on my knees before the Lord right there next to the van. Finally, I knew I could go no further. I pulled over into the next available parking lot. Saying nothing to my wife, I got out of the van and walked off into the grass and trees beyond the parking lot entrance. I literally hit my knees and called upon the name of the Lord in sobbing repentance. Thankfully, I am married to a woman who is genuinely kind, good, and empathetic. She was gracious with my abrupt, roadside humbling and was exceedingly patient and supportive. She truly loves me in the purest, most biblical way (Prov 31:10-31). (Thank you Honey!)
I look at the photo again now. It says a lot, all at the same time. Life can be unbelievably painful and has an absolute fixed end. Even though in Christ the faithful are promised resurrection, those same faithful will physically die. Whether I live life in pain or joy, at some point I will die (Heb 9:27). My body will be placed into the ground. It will decompose and the physical thing known as me, will disintegrate. The metaphysical, immaterial aspect of me, that breath of God, will return to Him who gave it (Ecc 12:1-7) .
Amazingly, Scripture assures us that this is not the end of the story.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:39-40
Here’s the thing. I have the “right now” to inscribe onto the lives I touch the meaning and purpose of my existence. And it is within intimate, bonded union with Messiah that all of those are found. One of my favorite professors in grad school, Dr. Basil Jackson, said “The person in Christ has no need for self-esteem. If he has Christ-esteem, he will find all the purpose and value he could ever need.” This coming from a man who in addition to being a devout follower of Jesus for decades, is a professional psychologist, an M.D., and a tremendous theologian of numerous credentials and degrees.
All of that, and he still said that everything is about Jesus. Indeed.
I now sow into the field of time and eternity. In my physical years that remain, I reap the immediate results of this sowing, as will my children and their children. I also simultaneously sow into and will reap in the age to come.
Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
I look again at the photo of the grave marker, at the boy leaping from the wheelchair. The boy was once crippled, unable to stand and function as he would wish, and as others around him wish that he would or could. The statue clearly looks toward a future resurrection and wholeness for the child. But it also represents an emotional and spiritual resurrection and wholeness available to all of us, right now. And one that is indeed connected to that future resurrection promised by Jesus. Jesus is all about life. Life presently full and flowing, producing, preserving, protecting, renewing day to day life, people, and relationships. Life in the future, resurrected and overwhelming death and darkness, once and for all.
I look at the photo again.
Let this be, after so many years, where I finally die.
Where the kingdoms of my selfish efforts to clothe my naked shame finally fall before the King of Kings, who stands offering me a garment of His finest making.
Lord, let me die so that I may live and finish well.
Let this be where, in the name of Jesus, I leap from my “wheelchair.” Once and for all.
Brian Wright, Ph.D.(c)
Engaging Faith & Society