And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:3-5
Who, in your life, are you certain would do this for you? What relationships have you nurtured and developed to the point you can now count on them to be there for you when you most need someone to carry you? And you will, at some point, need someone to carry you…we all do.
In his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg refers to it as “the fellowship of the mat”: that hard reality that, at some point, every one of us will need to be carried…will need to be loved by a few people who will go above and beyond the call of normal friendship duty and will carry us extraordinary lengths in order to get us through whatever dark season awaits us. We will all be called upon to do it for someone else at times and we will all need someone to do it for us.
But having those kinds of relationships in our lives does not happen accidentally. Whether it is family or just close friends, the truth is, those relationships are hard work, and not all of us are necessarily up to the task. This reality does not sit well with our current culture. Much of the cultural pressure today is toward a kind of love or acceptance or affirmation that is devoid of any hard conversations or difficult truths (or any truth at all, for that matter). We all want to be loved, i.e., cared for and accepted, but none of us want to bear the heavy responsibility of actually being made better. None of us want to be the bearer of hard truths and we certainly do not want to be the recipient of it. And when someone does actually love us enough to tell us the hard truth, we call them “haters” or “intolerant”…or worse.
Don’t we see that in this story of the paralytic in Mark 2? Can you envision the paralytic as the metaphorical 2016 western culture man? Jesus says to him, “Your sins are forgiven” and he responds, “Wait, what? My sins? Why are you talking about my sins? I thought you were Jesus. I thought you would help me. That’s why you came, isn’t it? How can you call yourself ‘Jesus’ and just want to talk about my sin?” In our culture, this Jesus is seen as intolerant and judgmental…certainly nothing at all like the “real Jesus”. But Jesus knows this about us. So, Jesus responds, “I can and will heal you, if that’s what it takes for you to hear the truth…but make no mistake, speaking the truth about sin is why I came.” As for the friends who carried him, we don’t know much about their motives. But we know they had faith…in who Jesus is and in why He came.
There is a lie that permeates our western world today that says we are all entitled to have people carry us on our mats to a God who will make us more comfortable. It’s a double lie, actually: about the nature of God and about the nature of real friendships. Believing the lie, I believe you have a responsibility to carry me on my matt, but if you try to help me in any way that makes me uncomfortable, then you’re not really loving me at all…in fact, you’re probably not even a Christian. The problem, of course, is that love without truth is not love at all. And genuine friendship without responsibility or accountability is likewise a mirage.
Having people in my life that I can count on to go beyond what makes either of us comfortable in order to love each other well takes a great deal of work on my part. I have to learn to forge those relationships through difficult conversations and hard seasons. I have to risk transparency and vulnerability and I have to rid myself of my own tendencies that tend to push people away from me rather than draw them toward me. I have to become willing to listen to truths I would rather not listen to. I have to want to be better than my current self, and I have to accept that I cannot do that on my own…I need Godly friends who will do more than just make me comfortable, I need them to push me to be better and, yes, to carry me from time to time.
The questions, then, are these: am I willing to do the hard work of forging those friendships in my life? Am I willing to endure the pain of driving relationships deeper by making myself vulnerable to them, so they are there when I need them? You see, as it turns out, being truly loved by someone who will carry me when I need carrying, requires a healthy dose of discomfort on everyone’s part.
© Blake Coffee