Luke 5:12-26 contains a verse in which Jesus asks the Pharisees, "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk?'" I'm not doing exegesis on this line of scripture. I'm just clutching it to me. People go all squirrely when you try to talk about sin. They always have. Even back when Jesus walked the earth in his mortal body, people believed that any disability was sent straight from God as a punishment. Modern Christians fall all over ourselves to cast God in a different light. God is merciful, we say, God is loving and kind. I know that. Today I am aware that as far as my suffering goes, it is bound in equal parts to my genetics and to my sin and that is why The answer to Jesus' above question for me is that to say either thing is damn hard. I can't get on my feet again until I get down on my knees and truly amend the behavior that disabled me in the first place. (Seminarians and all other would-be pastors, take note: The following self examination must not be attempted in pastoral settings. The sinner, suffering from the consequences of her or his sin is the only person who should be permitted to analyze the connection between their own actions and their suffering. Don't hope to shortcut that process by saying "You suffer because you sin," The penitent has to come to it in a circle of love that you hold around her.)
I wrote the paragraph above almost six months ago. I didn't know what my future held, but I could see well enough into my past to recognize some toxic patterns. I spent the spring and summer caring for myself more lovingly and more thoroughly than I ever have in my life. It made for a pleasant summer for me and the whole family. And I got better. I slowly weaned myself off methylprednizolone - a nasty steroid that seems to work by sucking all the inflammation out of your joints and sending it to your face. I exercised gently and faithfully. I slept. I ate right. I lost weight. Every now and then I would push beyond what I knew was sensible and sure enough, there was the pain and the fatigue waiting for me right where I strayed from my careful routine. I felt stronger. I agreed to go back to teaching half time. I packed up my classroom and moved to a little desk in another teacher's room. I gave up world history and kept English. I wrote encouraging notes to myself all through my planner, chose the books we would read and thought I had prepared myself as best I could.
When my own kids went back to school, so did I. I thought I was ready. I stuck to my schedule for exercise and rest. I slept. I was cautious. But I hadn't factored in one variable of the equation. An element with enough power to skew all my painstaking planning and draw me dangerously out of my careful self care: Children's faces. I had forgotten what they do to me. One looks confused and I want to move heaven and earth so she understands. One seems to be daydreaming and I want to engage him. One smiles appreciatively from the back and I want to sommersault.
Children!You are marvelous! There is hope in you. There are talents untapped and loveliness entirely unimagined. There is still time for you to appreciate yourselves and each other before the hardness of the world wraps you tight! Believe me when I say I can see you and that you are beautiful... Believe me when I say you can learn and grow. Listen and I will tell you stories and give you poems to read and build you up. Here is paper! Write! Here is music, dance! If only you will feel your feelings and put them into words! If you only knew that you are lovable, you would not doubt yourselves the way I did when I was young! Or hurt. Or cry... I would do anything to keep you from it! And there it is: My "sin."
"Sin" or brokenness or whatever you want to call it. Why, for me, must love morph into an imagined rescue? Is it because I wished as a child for rescues that didn't come? Or because I feel I am not valuable unless I am playing the hero to someone? In the paragraph I wrote six months ago I spoke of behaviors that disabled me. And to be sure, I did too much until I got sick. I worked too hard and slept too little. All that was true. I poured myself out into my classroom and brought a shell home at night and put it to bed. But it wasn't what I did that made me sick. It was the belief that lay beneath all those doings that did me in. I believed that being a hero to each one of those children was my job. Pride made unholy love to Fear and spawned my work ethic: I care about these children more than anyone else does! If I don't show them love, who will?
Ugly realization! Dragged out of the fog of my unconscious into the light of language it's hard to look at. I'm embarrassed to admit this belief has been living and thriving inside my own skin...like a bot fly larva growing fat on my blood. But there it is and I have to admit it and begin to change this belief because I have begun to hurt myself again...intoxicated by the trust my students place in me, I have begun to stay too long at school. Busy myself needlessly. Volunteer for things I don't need to do. It has to stop. I have to stop. I am not these children's champion. I am their English teacher. That has to be enough. God is going to have to take care of the rest for them. Meanwhile, I'll stand up and walk. Ugly as it is, this sin, too, is forgiven.