In a littered parking lot where small, bottle-shaped and crumpled-up brown paper bags — tossed aside in worthless emptiness — slid around the pavement in circles of dust in a November wind, we sat, my father and I. Only the pieces of green and brown broken glass and crushed blue cans broke up the grayness of the captive landscape, dotted with the discarded pull-tabs of those who had passed the day or night sitting on a lonely curb. This little bit of openness sat beneath a cold gray sky with four old brown buildings on each side where people peeked from behind the broken blinds. We were parked in a dismal blend, and we did not know we were on the verge of making choices.
His sad eyes, his wrinkled shaking hands, his dirty coat, his baggy pants and worn-out boots . . . his falling smile and failing teeth . . . blended and faded and he seemed as one with his surroundings, not to be pulled free from them, but instead to embrace them. “This is me,” his countenance shrugged as he looked out the car window. “There is no where else.”
Of course there was . . . I drove right to it, straight from dismal into daylight . . . alone. And he lived out his life and died there, hiding furiously and occasionally seeking with futility. Choosing. Blending. Swirling. Dust.
Five years ago, I sat in a dismal parking lot myself with sad eyes and a failing smile and watched the swirling dust, longing to be just swept up in it and carried out to . . . somewhere. Somewhere where I could swirl unnoticed and unchallenged. What choice, I thought, do I have? I wanted new growth to push out of the cracked pavement and a piercing sun to come streaming through the clouds, comforting me with warmth. I wanted an audible voice of clarity to rise above the whirl of the ceaseless breeze and say “This is not you. There is somewhere else to go.” I pulled my collar around my ears as if I might be able to shut out the sounds of my inner questions, the shouts of my doubt. I had, in my hand, a crumpled piece of paper; I chose to unfold it; called the number and began to stumble out of dismal.
Our world seems caught up in the idea of choice. It seems to be the first defense and the first defiance. “I had no choice.” “You made your choice.” These could as easily be re-stated. “It’s not my fault.” “It’s all your fault.” And then we make choices on top of those “choices,” letting people drive out of dismal as we stay behind and wave weakly from the parking lot . . . or driving out ourselves as we watch the ones we leave grow smaller in the rear-view mirror of our car . . . and our memory.
What choice do we have, anyway?
The Christian who struggles with any form of sexual sin — whether sitting entranced in front of a computer viewing naked men and women, to cruising on-line or in public places for anonymous sex partners, to retreating into darkened moods of fantasy to masturbate alone, to making phone calls to out-of-reach longed-for-lovers — moves into and out of cycles, revolving around an inner need to satisfy a longing for a relationship that does not exist in dismal. Dismal is the furnace that burns up hope, turns beauty to ashes, and leaves it there for relentless winds to sweep away. Dismal is a choice. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Abandon hope? Nope.
I think sometimes strugglers can become so accustomed to the heat that they cannot feel the nice cool breeze of change when it comes. We make pillows from the ashes of defeat and rest our heads and close our eyes and fake a cheaper peace. “I am okay with who I am. God made me this way.” And the breeze — instead of ushering in hope — begins to suck the life out of us. We wanted a hurricane, powerful enough to collapse all the places we had built inside in which we hide. We wanted a mighty wave to sweep the landscape clean from shore to shore, but instead, we’re stuck with the broken stubbles that cling to the barren ground and make us look . . . so broken.
So, we defend what we are. And we reject what we could be.
The defense of defeat comes in words like “The Bible doesn’t count.” “Leave God out of it.” “You’re just intolerant.”
And those who are standing at a comfortable distance from the furnace of dismal have their own defense. They wrap themselves in the indulgence of ignorance, too lazy to learn the truth, too wary to share it if they did. “He made his choice.” They can’t even bend to the point of “There but for the grace of God go I.” No, not there. Their sins are sweeter.
God have mercy.
Don’t we all want the same thing? To celebrate the emerging from the furnace, whether we are rushing in to pull the smoldering free . . . or reaching forth in singed hope for a hand that says, “come quickly, follow me?”
Don’t we all want to see the beauty of a new sapling struggling green from the ashes of the blackened forest?
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of His splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
— Isaiah 61:1-4
Choices? Brokenhearted or free? Mourning or comfort? Praise or despair? Ancient ruins or oaks of righteousness? Beauty or ashes?
As Christians, we’re in this together. We are the body. Whether your discomfort is your brokenness or your discomfort is their brokenness, we can’t undo without coming undone.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
— Romans 12:4-5
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?
Catchy saying, but bad advice for people on both sides of the sin issue. If I take my sin and flee and you keep your sin and stay, how have we enhanced the body? But, if we help each other relinquish our sins and resist further temptation by forming a bond of accountability against it, the body grows stronger. The silliness of the seemingly sinless in the church — removing those spotted ones in the flock for the protection of the pure — are shooting themselves in the foot . . . if they still have a leg to stand on.
Sexual strugglers — especially those who proclaim their God-designed gayness — are singing themselves into comas of denial, digging through scriptures for some hidden clue that will paint a smiley face on the dark circle into which they are descending. God’s Word is not based on a theory that if enough of us believe it a certain way that our way becomes truth. God’s Word is just truth. Just as clearly as eternal life is eternal, sin is sin. Grace is grace too. Why choose the sin over the grace?
Some sexual sinners are just so fed up with the concept that God is mad at them that they come to the comforting conclusion that there is no God.
Is God — Who really is real — really mad at you?
That’s part of living in dismal. Part of swirling in the dust. A distraction to chase away the evidence of grace.
You forgave the iniquity of Your people
and covered all their sins.
— Psalm 85:2
That doesn’t sound very angry to me. Forgave? All? Covered? Yes . . . but He doesn’t want you to go back there.
I mentioned above that it was five years ago that I rescued a crumpled piece of paper wadded up in a fist of resistance and dialed a number. Five years. I did not walk free when I pulled out of the parking lot of dismal on that dreary day. All I had was an appointment with someone, a beginning, a promise that someone might not turn away when faced with the truth of where I was that day, but might instead turn towards and help me re-establish the route to the truth of where I should have been.
It takes time to find our way in to dismal, to build the furnace . . . and it takes time to be led out, to trust that there is comfort in the freshness of forgiveness, the coaxing breeze of mercy and the gentle rains of grace.
I know the pain of those who inch forward and fall on the broken glass of the past and sit in sorrow with the glazed expression of a car wreck survivor wondering if you will ever drive again. You can. I think you will. But not if you sound the horn of retreat. Not if you shrink in defeat under the sinful judgment of those who gawk at the wreckage. That is not of God. For people who are sent into the world to save it, Christians can be so distracting sometimes to those who are gasping for air. Don’t make despair of it; they’re failing like you are, just in more fashionable attire.
You can choose. And here’s my advice.
Reject the road of the rebellious ones who have re-written the Bible for their own comfort.
Reject the rejection of the self-righteous who are pointing you down the road to ruin, offering vague promises to check on you later to see if you’ve redeemed yourself.
Reject yourself. If you were able to take care of this issue on your own, you would already have done so. Face it, this so-called season of fun long ago ran it’s course. It’s a dark game.
Choose the light. Choose truth.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us.
— 1 John 1:7-11
Don’t get caught up in the “this sin is greater” game. Don’t dwell on the “well, you just don’t know.” He does. Don’t focus on the consequences; those can be better viewed and dealt with from a healed position. And don’t look for the quick fix; it will only make a stumble look like a dive from a cliff.
Just walk . . . in the light. And listen . . . to the truth. And ignore the distractions from whichever side they come.
God does not do hot and dusty dismal. God does healing rain.