One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that whatever pain or brokenness we’re facing is unfixable and not our fault. That “this is just the way it is, and there’s really nothing that can be done.” Actually, the lie is far more subtle than that, but it becomes our reality the longer we believe it.
I mean, sometimes we actually tell ourselves it’s “not our fault” that we’re sick, or that our marriage failed, or that our kids are rebellious, or that our boss is a jerk, or what we can’t kick that addiction. (FYI - just because something isn’t your fault, doesn’t mean it isn’t your problem.) But most of the time we tell ourselves a lie that begins with three little words: “I can’t because.”
Maybe you’ve had a conversation with someone that started out “I have this problem in my marriage.” As you seek to offer wise counsel, each suggestion is met with the lie.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea, but I can’t because....”
It sounds a lot like a rationalization or an excuse, but in reality, it’s a lie. Most people don’t know they’re lying, but they are. They think they’re simply explaining why their situation is different, and can’t be changed or fixed. They’ve bought into a lie that will destroy your soul one day at a time.
“I can’t fix my marriage because my spouse is evil. I can’t fix the problem I have a work because my co-workers are impossible to work with. I can’t get a better job because there aren’t any good jobs around here. I can’t change because this is just how God made me. I can’t lose weight because... I can’t overcome this addiction because... I can’t because...”
There’s a story in chapter 5 of John’s gospel that begins with Jesus headed to Jerusalem for the feast of the Jews. As He approaches the temple, he passes by a pool called Bethesda where the Bible says “a great number of disabled people used to lie.”
It was at this pool that Jews believed you could be healed if, at just the right moment - when the water was stirred up by angels - you were the first into the water. So a crowd of disabled people would come and wait. The blind, the sick, the paralyzed would all come and wait by the pool for the right moment when their miracle would appear.
On this day Jesus approaches a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years. The Bible doesn’t tell us how he got sick. Maybe he was born sick, or perhaps something happened to him when he was young. It’s interesting to me that the Bible doesn’t say. I think it’s because how he ended up that way isn’t the point. What matters in the story is that today, thirty-eight years later, he had legs, but they didn’t work.
So every day he came and waited at the pool.
On this day, as he waited, Jesus approaches and asks him a question. “Do you want to get well?”
Seriously friends, this is the most soul-piercing question in maybe the entire Bible. There’s a choice. You can be sick, or you can be well. But you won’t get well until you’re tired of being sick. I think that what Jesus is really pointing out is that far too often, we’d rather be sick.
Getting well is hard. Getting well means acknowledging that there’s something wrong, and then doing the hard work of changing that something. It can be excruciatingly painful, especially if we’ve been sick for a while.
Imagine that there is something wrong with your leg, and walking your entire life with a limp. It’s been like that for so long you’ve just gotten used to it. You’ve adapted. You could fix it, but to do that, they’d have to break it and re-set it and wait for it to heal. That’d be really painful, so you just keep limping.
Besides, it wasn’t your fault that something happened to your leg, so why should you have to change? Good point, except here’s the thing. If I ran into your leg with my car, that would be my fault. But it’s still your broken leg. You still have to get healed. There’s nothing I, or anyone else can do to be healed of your broken leg. And yet, we often limp because the thing that caused the pain wasn’t our fault.
Never mind that it’d only be more painful for a short period of time, and then you’d be healed. We are so conditioned to avoid pain, even temporary pain, in favor of the dull ache that we’ve just accepted as part of life.
Especially emotional pain. There are a lot of people walking around with an emotional limp. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, because pain is real. It really is, and some of you have experienced pain at the hands of a spouse, a parent, a friend, or a predator. That pain is devastating and shouldn’t be understated, but that’s not the issue. This isn’t an issue of what caused the pain.
The man at the pool was legitimately an invalid. People legitimately get hurt in relationships, or experience losing their job, or their marriage, or their child. None of that changes what has to happen next.
No one chooses to experience pain, but only you can choose to stay in pain. No one chooses to be victimized, but only you can choose to stay a victim. That’s the difference between a victim and a survivor. People who chose to stay victims, create new victims. Survivors decide that they are going to get well.
The issue is whether or not you want to continue to live with the dull ache in your soul, or do you want to get well?
Back to our friend at the pool. The man responds like we so often do. “I do, but I can’t because I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.” He was still waiting for his miracle to show up.
Jesus is having none of it and says “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!”
Stop for a minute. The man has a choice. He can choose to be sick, or he can choose to pick up his mat and be healed. He had to do something hard, something he hadn’t done for thirty-eight years. He had to do something that might hurt. His legs were probably weak, which means the chances are good that he might fall down, which might hurt.
Imagine if the man had again said “I can’t because,” while waiting for his miracle to show up. Imagine if he’d have explained his “truth” to Jesus and how his life experience means that even though he was sure Jesus meant well, the normal rules of “getting well” don’t apply.
Instead, he was cured. He believed. He stood up and walked. Now that he knew, he chose to no longer be a victim. He did the thing he was told he needed to do to change his situation. He recognized that it was in fact beyond his own ability to heal himself, but that wasn’t what Jesus expected. Jesus just expected him to stand up. And he believed. He stood up.
And he was well.
Whatever you’re facing, you can see change in your circumstance. Your outcome can be different, no matter how long you’ve been walking with a limp. No matter how deep the hurt, no matter how great the pain, no matter how powerful the addiction, no matter how devastating the sickness, you can be well.
Do you want to get well?