This week’s blog took a really wide and circuitous route before coming around to this topic. Last night’s 7 Pillars group also helped me settle into it. Thank you, Gentlemen. The lesson has one of my all time favorite (true) stories in it (7 Pillars of Freedom, Pillar 3, Lesson 1, pg. 80. See Book Reference section).
The story is about Gerald Sittser. You can find the entire story in his book, A Grace Disguised. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my “to read” list. Let me paraphrase it for you:
In the spring of 1996 he and his family were traveling home from a mission trip and their car was hit head-on by a drunk driver. Gerald lost his wife, mother and daughter in the crash. He says in his book:
“If normal, natural, reversible loss is like a broken limb, then catastrophic loss is like an amputation. The results are permanent, the impact incalculable, the consequences cumulative. Each new day forces one to face some devastating dimension of the loss. It creates a whole new context for one’s life.”
After he was released from the hospital Gerald began to have a single, recurring nightmare. He would be on an endless beach with the sun beginning to set. Deep darkness was gathering in the sky behind him and he feared being swallowed up by it. In his nightmare Gerald would begin to run toward the sunset trying desperately to remain in the light. His nightmare would end in terror every night as the sun set below the horizon and he was engulfed by the darkness. He would wake exhausted and drenched in sweat as he was actually thrashing and running in his bed trying to stay in the light.
After several weeks of this he chose to share what was happening with his sister. Her incredible and insightful (Holy Spirit?) advice to Gerald was to stop trying to catch the setting sun. It can’t be done. Instead, turn toward the darkness, face the fear, face the loss and grief and run headlong into the darkness. By doing so, he would find the sunrise that much sooner.
There lies more in the sunrise than just light. Hope is found in the Light. At first it may be the smallest glimmer but that’s the amazing and wondrous thing about hope. You have it or you haven’t. Even the smallest glimmer is still hope and like the rising sun it grows.
Very few of us, I think, have an innate ability to charge into the darkness of our brokenness. It would never occur to most of us to choose to run into what’s causing us so much pain. Like Gerald in his nightmare, we attempt to catch the uncatchable and end up exhausted and drenched in sweat.
Enter the addict. For us, what does running into the darkness entail? Once we find the strength to turn and face it, what then? Once we come into the Light, how do we stay? Romans 12:2 speaks of renewing our minds. Ephesians 4 talks of putting off/putting on. Putting off the old way of thinking and behaving and putting on the new attitude of mind and the new self. Any good counselor will tell you that real change comes not only from stopping the behavior you want to stop but also by filling that void with something you do want to do. I wonder where that came from. Try Matthew 12:43-45 or Luke 11:24-26: if you clean your heart of idols and impure spirits but do not refill it with good things, with Holy things your final condition will be worse than the first.
One of the key tenets to finding the freedom Christ intended when He died for us is focus. Focus. Focus. Focus. Oddly enough, addicts are expert at focusing. We’re completely selfish and focus intently on what we want and think we need. It isn’t remotely based on reality. It’s entirely based on any number of lies we’ve chosen to believe, but the fact remains, addicts are experts at being singularly focused. I want what I want when I want it and nothing will sway my determination to get it. If that’s not focus I don’t know what is.
But once we have turned and faced our darkness, renewed our mind and walked into the Light of the Love of Christ we must take that well-honed focus and redirect it. We focus on living as the image of the Almighty God. We focus on becoming, every day, more like Jesus. We focus on submission and surrender (coming soon to this blog). We focus on the enormity of who God really is (see “My god was too small”). Case in point? Check out Matthew 14:28-32. Jesus walks on the water to the disciples’ boat. Peter, focused on Jesus, eye to eye, if you will, says if it’s you, let me walk on the water. Jesus says, “Come” and Peter hops out onto the water and starts walking to Jesus. Note: he is walking on the water!! When does Peter get scared? When does Peter start to panic? When does Peter start to sink? When he loses focus on Jesus and looks at the turmoil (storm) going on around him. He changes his focus. Then and only then does his earthly sensibilities override the Heavenly marvel he was just part of, and he sinks. Jesus saves him, chides him gently and the storm calms at the might of the Son of God.
This kind of Heavenly thinking has not been my “religious” history. This kind of deliberate, willful, intentional focus has been my companion for only a short time but once you taste of the goodness and Grace of the unfailing Love of God and you’ve been set free as I have – you can’t get enough. You can’t focus tightly enough and your world gets a whole lot bigger.
When we step out of our addiction into recovery and that whole new world of reality, honesty, truth, vulnerability and transparency, we often have no idea where to start. Start by renewing your mind. Embrace the truth that in Jesus you are a new creation. New. Not refurbished. New. And then, focus. Unwavering. Undistracted. Focus. Is that oversimplified? Possibly. But we tend to make things so doggone difficult when the reality of it is so simple. Set your eyes on Jesus, be like Jesus and focus:
“… whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things, center your mind on them and implant them in your heart. Phil. 4:8 (AMP)