How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
— Luke 6:42
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and do a life review? In that rear-view mirror of reclining restlessness all the wrong turns of the past seem to paint a clear direction to the present. That retrospective road map can be painfully revealing.
This morning at 4:44 a.m., I awoke, not to a clatter, not to see what was the matter. No, he’s not early. I awoke from a dream. There were no ghosts of Christmas past, present or future clinking chains at the foot of the bed, no Jacob Marley haunting me. No tainted morsel causing me stomach pain. No rattling of the door-knob. Only a dog barked out in the cold, and that half-heartedly, if dogs are capable of such. There was no bright light of an angel, only flickering yellow lights from the city 20 miles away, clear in the pre-dawn crisp coldness. No errant rooster crowed.
It was not even a bad dream that shook me from deep and peaceful sleep. A pleasant dream of the adventurous sort preceded my awakening. It was familiar, but improved upon the childhood dreams where I would leap from a cliff and fly without fear. In those old dreams I never really went anywhere; just flew and always alone and away . . . from something to somewhere. The only other repeated dream I remember as a child was an odd dream of diving into a huge bowl of Cheerios and discovering too late that it actually was a pool of quicksand in a desert somewhere . . . with no one to pull me out or even hear my voice. Now, that one was disturbing. While it could have some deep meanings of abandonment or insecurity, it could just as well have developed from my dislike of milk and cold cereal. No need to get too introspective.
I love dreams. I find myself sometimes in my bedtime prayers asking God to give me dreams, to speak to me in that way if He so chooses. And I believe sometimes He does. For comfort or clarity, or even for warnings.
In this dream, which probably took place at 4:43 a.m., I was not flying. I was sitting on the board of a swing, a huge swing with massive ropes that extended way above my head. But, I was simply sitting, not swinging, and it was not out of choice for stillness. I seemed unable to figure out how to make the swing move. I had known how before, but my memory seemed very stubborn. I could see others all around me, swinging easily in the sky, but I was perplexed. Not sad. Not mad. Just curious, as if it were something I knew how to do but was oddly disabled. It did not bother me that others were swinging, I just wanted to join them.
A swing paused beside me and the person on it spoke simply: “Do it like this.” And I did, and I began to swing higher and higher among the others. And that was the dream. Of course, we don’t get to choose the dreams that creep in upon our sleep . . . especially if they might be in answer to our prayers for such intrusion. A couple of other details, though the dream was pleasantly devoid of most detail. The one who commanded the swing that descended beside me for the briefest and kindest of pauses was one of my sons, who will remain nameless here. The other detail that was apparent to me was that none of the swings was attached to anything visible. The ropes ascended to the sky and beyond, yet I knew there was no concern. God held us all. Some were swinging higher and faster, but all were moving and all were upheld. All seemed intent and content. I didn’t really notice if, in the dream, there were other motionless swings. Someone must have given direction to other stalled ones.
I don’t really interpret my dreams much or try to pull out hidden meanings or shaded directives. God knows I need it fairly simply put. Thus . . . swings.
This year, like a few before it, has been a wild swing, from highs of crystal clarity to lows of muffled mystery. But the security of the seat and the strength of the rope was ever-there. And there were a few who slowed beside me when it seemed the memory of how to make it go was fading. They are the sent saints in my life. There were a few who seemed intent to slow down or stop the swinging every time I would begin to move. Like bullies on a playground exerting control over others, they are so busy pushing and pointing, they are unaware their erratic swinging threatens to send others flailing out of their perches.
They do their damage to the barely-moving ones who are slowed by sin or stumbling or unable to see because of the persistent speck . . . and then they retreat in self-designed satisfaction to polish the well-preserved planks in their own eyes. Their eyes sparkle from the polish, which hides the true color.
Sometimes the festering wounds in our lives can be perceived as willful sin. People fall prey to that perceptive shortfall when they observe in the lives of others things — sins — they believe would never be in they own lives. Our distaste and disgust can motivate us to some very distasteful and disgusting expressions of Christian “love” and concern. Throwing the right words in here and there, we can struggle mightily not to put the swing in proper motion, but to declare the ropes decayed beyond repair, exercising damage that can almost make the swinger slide from his seat into the great unknown. Then we can say self-righteously, “Why, I didn’t push him; he jumped.”
It is my hope that we as Christians will truly learn that walking with someone out of the wilderness is more than just a passing exercise designed to make us feel good about ourselves and get us home in time for dinner. The Bible does not accidentally dwell on grace and love and forgiveness anymore than God accidentally sent His son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. Jesus wasn’t home in time for dinner.
We cheapen grace when we frame it in our own terms. We deflate forgiveness when we extend it within our own limits. We degrade love when we put our borders around it. We negate mercy when we place our conditions.
I know I have stretched the limits of those who truly give grace, offer forgiveness, sow love and love mercy. But these gifts from above are limitless. And, having tested them and found them true, I am ready to reap from them . . . to plant the seeds of grace and mercy and forgiveness and love in the lives of others.
It’s easy for “plankers” to become early-squirmers when confronted by the specks in the eyes of those around them. “Must do something about that,” is their cry. “Pluck it out” is their advice. The whole eye needs to go. And make haste, for my dinner is on the stove already. Sinners in the hands of an angry god? More like sinners in the hands of a silly man.
I am thankful for a God who has known me from His conceiving of me in His mind; has known me at every stop, stumble, victory, climb, and tumble along this circuitous route; who knows me now. Loved me always, always will. A God who would leave His throne for me, is not inconvenienced by my imperfections, gives me grace for every step and is ready to right the road map. He knows my weaknesses and He knows the secrets of re-design, to make them strengths. And He even gives me a way to bear them as He changes them.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:10
I don’t fully realize why my path was so fettered and why it became so public. What I have learned though is that it is more crowded than I might have known. Crowded with silent seekers who want to walk a different direction and are seeking God’s direction for their lives. There are far fewer defiant ones than we might imagine. Most of the defiant declare themselves so and go on their way, daring you to do anything about it. The others are quiet and dying for you to do something about it, using the tools of grace and forgiveness and mercy and love to pry them free and then the stamina God grants us all to walk alongside for distances far greater than we can go on our own.
The promises of God are not glittering goals to be attained by the ones who declare themselves righteous. The promises of God are for the prisoners. And the ultimate promise is freedom.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. — Galatians 3:21-23
Ahhh . . . faith. That other good word. That other life-extending word. The word that moves the swing in the first place.
End this year by looking around to see who might be stalled. Slow down and pause alongside. Share the good news that every swing can glide, that every rope can be strong. That every good gift from above is good for everyone here below. Amid the planks and specks, we can still find each other.