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Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity by Jim Palmer



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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Jim Palmer

Thursday, November 11

When Jesus saw him standing there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
—John 5:6


I’ve encountered two dead-end roads with regards to the wounds of my childhood. One of them is the road of denial, for which I found plenty of metaphorical support in Christianity, once I twisted it around to my own dysfunctional liking. Somehow I found in that whole “the old is gone and new has come” theme, permission to avoid facing the hurt and sadness of my past. 

For me, the “born again” idea meant I could cast off the first 18 years of my life and start over. That worked fairly well for a string of years, until those wounds caught up to me in the form of deep depression and self-hatred.

The other dead-end road I traveled was the road of acceptance. I found plenty of theological wiggle room to fashion the notion that I would always be a wounded, broken man just holding on ‘til heaven, when I would be instantaneously healed and made whole. What I’ve come to is this, God doesn’t want me to either deny or accept the wounds of my childhood.

When I find sadness, brokenness, and dysfunction inside me, I embrace them in order to lay them before the healing love of God. As he brings new freedom and healing into my life, I walk in it. For many years I was a grown up man with this little kid inside convinced he was stupid, worthless, and ugly. 

I can still vividly remember the first time I experienced God looking directly into the eyes of that little boy and telling him he was loved. My prayer for any person who has suffered from an abusive past of any kind is that they will see themselves through God’s eyes and rest in his love.

It seems strange that Jesus would ask a lifelong invalid if he wants to get well. Isn’t it patently obvious that the man would give anything to be healed? To be honest, for years I based much of my identity on being a survivor of an abusive childhood. There was something strangely comforting about knowing that people’s expectations of me might be less once they knew my past, or that I would be thought of more highly because of what I had to overcome. Jesus’ question hits close to home; he once posed it to me this way, “Jim, would you rather define yourself in terms of what you didn’t have or what I want to give?”

James Baldwin once said, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

Yes God, I want to be well.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.