Last night I bought nine fidget spinners for gifts to be given out on the Yucatan mission trip. I never thought that I’d be buying fidget spinners. Yet after we learned we needed to provide prizes for three nights during Vacation Bible School, it seemed a logical and quick gift to purchase as these are resonating with youth of all ages. The interesting thing I discovered as I went on-line to purchase these gadgets, part of the tag line for purchasing them was “great for OCD/ADD/ADHD comfort and helps keep kids off of cell phone distraction”. Maybe these will be good for me!
Over the past month, I have noticed myself being distracted and preoccupied. I have felt the stress to perform or finish projects before due dates. I have not made phone calls and I have a pile of papers on my desk that should be reviewed, organized, and completed. As such, I feel that I have not taken enough time in my friendships. I love my friends, family, and this congregation, so I’ve wondered what’s underlying my feelings. What’s distracting me? Do I need one of those spinners to get my mind refocused?
No, I’m struggling with what we all go through: a desert space in my faith. For me, this is what these periods look like. I love worship on Sunday mornings, but it seems to take forever for me to get some of the admin done during the week. I see God acting through so many of the ministries here at FPCE, but I get tired and pray that I’m not a distraction. I am very grateful for warm and sunny days, but worry that I’ll miss out if I don't get items squared away. In a nutshell, being in the a desert space in my faith is not lonely or despairing, it’s more of a going through the motions waiting for a quenching drink of the Holy Spirit, which seems just out of reach. I’ve noticed there are times in my life when I’m not on a spiritual high, nor am I in a dark valley, it’s like I’ve plateaued and the monotony of just walking in a straight line is like slogging through a desert place searching for relief.
Sure, the usual answers of reading scripture, prayer, worship, and giving myself the freedom to be where I am bubble up in my mind to help me navigate this terrain. But I was touched when I read the story in Mark 2 where four friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. The room Jesus was in was so crowded that they could not get close, so they did the next best thing: they tore a hole in the roof and lowered their friend to Jesus. I’m sure this whole scene caused a commotion. Four friends trying to get a mat through a crowd, maybe pushing or saying a quick “sorry” as they tried to butt to the front, only to find they were not going to make it, so they carried their friend to the roof and dug a hole. This means the people below knew they were coming in before the task was complete and finally, they worked to lower their friend without dropping him to Jesus in the room. I imagine everyone hoped that Jesus would heal this man. The stage is set for a wonderful affirmation of friendship and healing. Yet, Jesus looked at the man and said, “son, your sins are forgiven.” I’m surprised that Mark does not spend more time with the friends after Jesus’ words. Mark moves instead to the hearts of religious leaders who begin to question whether or not Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.
However, if I was one of the friends who maybe had heard about Jesus’ healings, if I had heard about this new prophet with medical knowledge, if I had even a glimmer of hope that my friend could be helped and I went through all that I did to get him to this Jesus only to have sins forgiven, then I may have felt let down. Rather than question Jesus, I may have looked around at all I had done, all I had worked for, and all that I had sacrificed for my friend and said, well, that was a waste. Now I’m just a sweaty, silly friend who caused a commotion for nothing.
Yet, we the reader, have the beginning of verse 5 where we are told, Jesus saw their faith. Jesus went deeper than just being interrupted by this event. Jesus noticed love being enacted while others just watched. Jesus appreciated the dedication of getting their friend to him and went deeper than just physical healing; he forgave the sins of the man on the matt. Yes, the end result is that Jesus heals the man and he picks up his matt and leaves Jesus giving all glory to God, but Jesus also affirms this man’s friends. Friends who took the time to put love into action, friends who left something good to do something better, friends who did not just talk but risked, and friends who dared to look silly or cause a commotion because they cared.
When I’m in the desert, I forget the many friends I have around me and in turn, I forget to be a friend. We’re not striving to be perfect as friends. Friends do argue and disagree and learn to overcome while appreciating differences. Yet friends put love into action by walking along side of us, listening to us, holding our hands, allowing us to be silent, and just being present in our lives. Mark’s account of good friends is not going to pull me out of my desert funk, but it does remind me, and I hope us, that no matter where we are, we do have friends who love us. I’m also reminded that being a friend is work, as Jesus says later, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12-13).” My prayer for us as a congregation this summer is to challenge ourselves to put aside things that don’t matter and focus on being the body of Christ. We can be friends who listen, care, work, serve, worship, study, welcome, nurture, and love each other.