In part one of Shifting Focus, we considered the movie Wonder where Auggie, along with others, acted out of their history with pain, compared to Jesus who recognized people’s pain then acted out of his desire to heal. Avoiding pain is a smart thing to do. Nobody wants to jump into a big swimming pool of razor blades. However, in our desire to avoid pain, we essentially create pain for others. Apparently, it’s a dreadfully powerful cycle and we are scarily and impressively loyal to it.
Think about a strained relationship you have right now. Were you abandoned, betrayed, or mistreated? If you are like me, my immediate tendency is to avoid the individual. Why? Well, I don’t want to experience anything negative. How do I know something negative is going to happen? I don’t. I’m just trying to avoid the razor blades or even a paper cut; and quite frankly, it’s easier.
I remember a time when I found out that a mentor and close friend of mine was going to leave our church. I felt sucker-punched; the news simply knocked the breath out of me. I was distraught because I needed her and felt the hurt of the abandonment. While I understood that she had to make difficult decisions about her own spiritual health, I could only feel the sting of her absence.
Every conflict has unspoken questions that create an identity quake. Read Difficult Conversations by Patton, Heen, and Fisher. The questions will generally be something along the lines of, “Am I a good person? Am I competent? Am I worthy of love?” Because she was leaving me, I felt all three of these questions were answered with a resounding, “No.” I wasn’t given warning, nor really given an explanation directly from my mentor. I just knew that she left. Ouch! You might be able to make the argument that it was nothing personal, but it could not have been any more personal to me. This was my friend, my mentor and I am on staff at our church. It was serious vote of no confidence.
A few weeks went by and I got a text from her. With the exception of her husband, her whole family was out of town and he was in the emergency room. She asked me to go check on him. Of course, I dropped everything and went to the hospital, only focused on how I could help. Naturally, when there is actual, physical danger, it’s a pretty easy decision to establish priorities for how to behave. I needed to make sure he was okay, no matter what.
The emergency room situation created a scenario where I chose the priority of healing without thinking twice. It’s so much more difficult when the situation is interpersonal rather than physical. Relationship hurts don’t leave physical evidence of pain, but our post-event behavior reveals it just the same.
I’m reminded of a time when I was on the beach getting knocked down by the waves. I was facing the horizon and getting slapped around by even medium-sized waves. In an unconscious move to avoid a fall, I turned my body perpendicular to the horizon. When I did that, I was able to remain standing. To me, that’s what an identify quake feels like, getting knocked down by the waves. When sucker-punched by bad news that calls my character into question, I have to think about what I want to happen versus how badly I’m hurting. By focusing on the healing at the emergency room and on how I wanted to remain standing in the ocean, my behavior followed my priorities. I wasn’t focused on my own hurt; I was focused on the healing. The bruises will still be there, but I won’t be nursing the bruises; I will be nursing the brokenness.
Jesus was impressively focused on his priority of healing the broken bodies, spirits, lives, and relationships. He turned his body perpendicular to the waves, recognized the hurt, knew his priority, and began the healing. He saw the brokenness behind his interrogators and only answered the questions that would heal. He saw the desperateness behind the physical pain, healed the bodies, and commended the faith of the doomed. He saw the rejection and loneliness of so many, yet embraced them with God’s healing love. If I can do any part of that, I’m in.
As we head into 2018, this is the perfect time to shift my focus to what I want to happen versus focusing on my own pain, to be a healer. I desperately want to be a part of the healing if God can use me in this way, but it requires a decided shift in focus so I don’t hurt others in the process of defending myself. I was forced to do this with the emergency room situation and thankfully, that provided a catalyst for the interpersonal healing that needed to take place.
Psalm 103:1-21: O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing! He forgives your sins—everyone. He heals your diseases—everyone. He redeems you from hell—saves your life! He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence. God makes everything come out right; he puts victims back on their feet. He showed Moses how he went about his work, opened up his plans to all Israel. God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is his love to those who fear him. And as far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins. As parents feel for their children, God feels for those who fear him. He knows us inside and out, keeps in mind that we’re made of mud. Men and women don’t live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom, but a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here. God’s love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him, making everything right for them and their children as they follow his Covenant ways and remember to do whatever he said.