Have you ever been paralyzed?
Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the evils of the world, so overcome by feelings of powerlessness, that you’ve been unable to move, unable to cope, gripped by fear, plagued by nightmares, and day-mares, the evil playing in your mind like a never ending horror film fest? Have you ever been devoid of hope?
Have you ever staggered under the weight of a 200-pound man on a stretcher, like the four friends mentioned in Mark’s gospel? What was in your stretcher?
Have you ever gathered up all the terrible things that have happened to your family, your friends, strangers you read about in magazines, or saw on the TV news and carried those stories around as if they were your own? Have you ever spent all your time trying to fix life for someone else, someone who was paralyzed? Have you ever given them all your resources, your money, your home, your heart, your hope, only to find that they remained in the stretcher, still breaking your back with their weight?
I have, and I can tell you from experience that when you’re paralyzed, or when you’re carrying the paralyzed, you aren’t doing real work in the world, you’re not working for true peace and justice, and you can’t bring hope to those in need, because you don’t have any yourself.
During my last two years of college, I worked in the campus police department, educating students and staff about sexual assault. My boss had me read dozens and dozens of books and articles on the subject, filled with grim statistics and first hand accounts. I knew more than any person ever should about the subject, and the scenes filled my head. I was afraid to walk across campus, afraid of encountering a lone male anywhere, afraid to be in my house alone, afraid to ever have a child, lest she become a victim. If I hadn’t already married Kevin, I never would’ve gone on another date.
I did everything to avoid being the next victim. I walked with my keys protruding between my fingers like little daggers. I took self-defense classes. I got a license to carry mace. I locked all the doors and windows at night, even when it was 90 degrees inside. I did everything I could to “empower” myself, but it was no use. I was paralyzed by fear and I gathered up the stories from women I met, women who came up to me after the programs and said, “It happened to me.” I didn’t consider the fact that they were here, walking and talking, and telling me their stories a sign that there was hope for healing. No, I took their stories, and added them to the stretcher I carried around, the stretcher of all the awful things in the world that were my responsibility to make right.
I can look back and give the right advice, “Turn it over to God! Lay it down before Jesus.” I can say this like it’s easy, no problem, ease the stretcher to the floor at Jesus’ feet, watch him wave a hand, and presto chango, everything’s fine. But the fact is, when you’re paralyzed, you can’t get to Jesus. You can’t get anywhere. You have to lie there shouting for help, until Jesus comes to you. Or until, who knows when, four good friends or some complete stranger will be moved to help you. And these people who help, the ones who aren’t going to own your problem for themselves, the ones who aren’t going to carry you around forever, they will be smart enough to understand that all they can really do is to deliver you to Jesus. And they’ll realize it’s not always so easy to get to him, so they’ll come up with a plan, they’ll drag you onto a roof, cut a hole in it, lower you down to get his full attention.
It takes resourcefulness, it takes planning, it takes knowing your own limits and gifts, to do what those friends did. Maybe you’ve been in a position to be one of those friends, to act with the power you have and trust God to do the rest. I believe that when we know ourselves and our limits and when we turn the rest over, that’s when we ourselves become the resources the world needs to bring about peace, justice and hope.
When you’re paralyzed, you’re hopeless. When Jesus’ empowers you by lifting your sins, pushing you out of your fear, out of your dark, dark place, it changes your life. It changes your life, but you still have a lifetime of patterns and fears that don’t magically disappear. They are there, waiting to grab you, waiting to paralyze you again with their doomsday predictions. They are there, offering you the handle of a stretcher, asking you to pick it up, and hold it, just for a little while. It can take all your strength to refuse.