The view from the banks doesn’t tell us how deep
Is the beautiful river that flows.
As the babbling sound of the water that speeds
Calls out to our landlocked souls.
We hold fast on the shore, skipping rocks in the swells
As the sun’s light repaints the deep blue
And the water moves on carrying with it the hope
Of a life we so want to renew.
A life spent on dry land, with a river in sight
A life thirsty and wanting for more
We keep longingly searching as day fades to night
And the river’s voice grows to a roar.
We will know where it goes when we take the first step
Leaving shoes in the mud at the side
Into the beautiful river that flows clean and clear
And is endlessly deep and wide.
— Thom Hunter
I’ve never been very good at self-introduction, perhaps because it always requires a little panic-stricken introspection, a super-fast sorting, a quick evaluation and a rapid response. From kindergarten on, we’re always being asked to tell the world — or at least a little crumble of it — a “bit” about ourselves in those quickly-forgotten “we really do want to know you” moments.
“Tell us in a nutshell who you are . . . just a little bit about you,” he says with a smile. Or she says with a grin. Then silence . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . looking around the room; people gesturing encouragement.
“Just a few words,” she says. “A couple. Please.”
And then, in a nervous burst of energy, we answer and it’s done. Can we please move on to the next person in the group?
“Well, I like to play football, watch science fiction, read novels, cook, sky-dive, sketch architectural designs on napkins, re-build engines and I enjoy landscaping in my leisure time. Oh . . . and I memorize Scripture. ‘Jesus wept.'”
Polite applause and on to the next person in the circle.
With a brief sigh of relief, I always knew that my limited self-revelation would be accepted. Probing rarely went beyond questions like, “well, if you were a tree, what tree would you be?” I was responsive, but rueful, supplying the right answers to the wrong request: “Tell us in a nutshell who you are.” Thank goodness the request was not for a boatload.
“Well, I struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction and I’m always a little worried that maybe that will never change and my world will collapse around me because I’m not being who God wants me to be and I’m concerned about the whole smiting thing . . . and people finding out . . . and being hated . . . and rejected . . . and humiliated . . . and . . . ”
For Christians who battle a relentless and unwelcome sexual temptation, walking the fine line between who we really are and who we want others to think we are, puts us in constant danger of falling out of the boat and into the river. Some days we would welcome being swept away to a peaceful place downstream. Most days we tread water and fight currents. We know that “what you don’t know” will hurt you and it will hurt me, so we don’t tell. The facts become so deeply buried that leaving them there could hardly be called denial. Right?
Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” — Mark 8:34
There are a lot of important words in that verse:
He called — Jesus wanted to make sure everyone heard Him. He didn’t whisper; He called.
The crowd — Jesus was telling everyone they had an opportunity, not just a few people here and there.
Whoever wants — So, yes, He was talking to everyone, but it was only going to work for the ones who wanted it.
My disciple — Not someone else’s or something else’s.
Deny — Hmmm . . . there’s a requirement here.
Themselves — Now that’s interesting. Not some dark deed or a Hostess Twinkie, but self? Each one?
Take Up — Action words again. Mercy . . . first you have to listen . . . then you have to want . . . then you have to deny . . . and now you have to take up? Take up what? And where is this leading?
Their cross — Oh, that. You take yours; I’ll take mine.
Follow Me — Wow, easier sung than done. “Where He leads me, I will follow.” Drat those distractions.
Ummm . . . Jesus? Would You mind if maybe I take up someone else’s cross and follow you? Would that work? Perhaps the skydiver guy’s? Mine is too heavy and someone might see me dragging it around. Actually, someone might trip and fall into the deep furrows behind me.
I’m not only not unfamiliar with denial, I’m practiced at it. Unfortunately, though it was clearly denial, it was the wrong kind of denial, the hiding behind a self-projected and self-protected self, instead of a laying down of a self-rejected self. As you can clearly see, I was a bit full of . . . my self. That’s what the wrong kind of denial does. It spins us into a spiral of sorting and picking, piecing together the parts of ourselves we want to display, practicing comfortable answers to discomforting questions. It can lead to a deadly dance of the despairing Ds: deny, deceive, delay, depart, decay, destroy. Depressing.
I don’t think Jesus is asking us to come screaming out of our shadowy recesses and declare our dastardly deeds and caustic compulsions and twisted temptations and startling stumblings like some leper calling out before himself a warning to all who hear. Sometimes transparency is better accepted by those around us after a bit of healing has taken place . . . after a season of cross-bearing and following Him. In a perfect world, Christians would be able to bear their own crosses and lend you a hand with yours, but most can’t and few will. I’ve discovered some of those few and am amazed, but realize they do so only through Christ. Unfortunately, we live in that imperfect world where even Christians feign shock at sin, perhaps having only glanced at the pages of God’s Word, creating a simplified view from selective verses.
We sin. We fall. We plunge headlong into Satan’s schemes. And the cross gets all the heavier it seems as we get all the weaker. And then, just about the time our face is about to hit the rocks, we hear . . .
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:28.
Don’t you just get so tired sometimes that you want to throw your hands up and say, “I give up. This is me. Get over it.” You want to proclaim yourself free from the struggle, refusing any longer to deny “who you really are?”
That’s not denial. That’s acceptance. That’s not soaring into freedom; it’s settling for bondage. It really is giving up, not giving up our selves. Perhaps the denial of denying is one of the toughest temptations of all, leading to a disastrous surrender. “I just can’t.” Who wants to go thump-thump-thumping down a long and hard road stooped over with a cross on his back when it is so much easier to just log on to a computer and let your eyes glaze over at airbrushed pictures or meet up with another wanderer trying to convince himself he’s used up all his tokens for the turnaround turnpike and may as well see where the dead-end ends?
You’re right. You can’t. That’s the thing about denial. When you deny yourself, you become His. Remember? That was in the verse too. That was the promise. “My disciple.” Jesus loves His disciples. You think He won’t be looking over His shoulder as you fall in behind Him bearing your cross? You think He’s going to let you slide down into the dust with a “too bad, so sad,” retort because your cross was too heavy in the early-going?
If Jesus didn’t love me . . . if He hadn’t forgiven me . . . if He didn’t want me . . . if He didn’t need me . . . I’d chuck this cross into the mighty river, have a picnic and watch it fade from view into the horizon. But He does . . . and I won’t.
Yes, it’s hard. And you will have to bear the ignorance of those who think your sin is worse than theirs and that you are less than they. That’s just a cross you’ll have to bear.
But you don’t have to do it alone.
(Note: My new book, Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do is now available at my new website: http://thomhunter.com/. I believe the book is a great resource for pastors or youth leaders who are trying to become better able to handle sexual brokenness issues among church members. You can purchase it Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com or through your local bookstore. The book is available in soft-cover, hard-back or Kindle and Nook e-books. I hope you find it helpful in your ministry. Thank you!)