The Rev. Keely Franke
February 12, 2012
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult not longer matters.”
So begins the book The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. Jered let me borrow this book this week as we prepared for the monthly gathering of young adults. The topic was relationships so we were looking for references to love, which Peck eventually gets to. But we were both stopped by the beginning of this opening paragraph, “Life is difficult.” For the 20s and 30s group this was not a popular phrase in our formative years.
The Boomer generation raised us with the notion that life was great, the feast was set just for us, we were special, the sky was the limit, and everything was possible if we just set our hearts to it. We were the “every child gets a trophy” generation. There was nothing about life being difficult. Imagine our frustration when we grew up and found out that life really is – difficult. Relationships are difficult, our bodies as they age and develop illnesses are difficult, figuring out who we are and where we want to be in life – difficult.
One of the most difficult things for me in adulthood has been living with a chronic pain condition. When I was 22 I developed a condition which took a year of testing and diagnosing for doctors to figure out. When they finally did they had a fancy name for it, but said unfortunately there was nothing they could do for it. You’re not going to die or be harmed from it in any way (physically). We don’t know what causes it or where it comes from, and we don’t know what to do for it. There were some radical, experimental surgeries I could try, but those would certainly harm me physically and weren’t guaranteed to actually help the pain. Suddenly life for me became difficult.
Wanting life to be easy, without any problems or pain, is not a generational issue, however. Nor is it solely a problem of our current society. Rather realizing that life is difficult and accepting that has been the challenge across all time and generations. The Buddha’s great epiphany, after all, over 6,000 years ago while sitting under a fig tree was that life is suffering. The four noble truths of Buddhism deal with this reality that all of life leads to suffering or dis-ease and therefore the goal of enlightenment is the elimination of suffering through detachment.
In the reading from 2 Kings we hear the story of another man many years ago whose life was difficult and filled with suffering. The story of Naaman, the mighty warrior. Naaman was a commander of King Aram’s army and he suffered from Leprosy. Leprosy was a big deal during his time. Not only was it a condition that was very painful but it was also very visible and not something you could easily hide. Usually people with Leprosy were cast out of families and tribes altogether because they were deemed unclean. This was a society very concerned with purity codes and cleanliness and used them to determine who was in and who was out.
Namaan must have been truly powerful and greatly revered then to have stayed in such a high position. And yet he suffered greatly from his condition. The story today tells how a peasant girl who was kidnapped from Israel reports to Namaan’s wife that Namaan could be healed if only he went to see the prophet Elisha in Israel. Desperate for a cure Namaan heads off to the enemy country.
When he finally encounters Elisha, Elisha simply tells him to go and wash in the river Jordan and be made clean. Namaan is incensed. He after all has his own rivers. What he really wants is someone to wave their hand over him and make him all better. He actually says this, “just wave your hand over this spot and make it go away.” Even thousands of years ago people wanted a quick fix it seems. Then his servants ask him one of the best questions in the Bible, “If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?” What Elisha was asking him to do was really quite simple.
In our strivings for quick fixes and easy answers we oftentimes muddle things up and make them really more difficult than they have to be. Engineers and addicts have known for quite some time that the simplest solution is usually the best. Whether it is a mechanical problem, a chemical problem, or an emotional problem, the best solution usually comes with the simple concept, K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Gerald May in his final conclusions about healing addictions in his book “Addiction & Grace” says this: “When it comes to dealing the addictive behavior, we might hope the final answer would be more complicated… [But] it all comes down to quitting it, not engaging in the next addictive behavior, not indulging in the next temptation.” He says, “What has been so complicated now became very simple. Not easy, but simple… The Simplicity of addiction is not to do the next addictive behavior. The simplicity of the spiritual life is living with love.” And I would add the simplicity of healing is an active surrender.
In the gospel another leper comes to Jesus, kneels before him, and says the simple words “If you choose, make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretches out his hand, touching the untouchable, and says, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Both men choose the simple act of surrendering and giving and receiving love. Healing happens when we make the active decision to simply cut out all the chatter. When we get real with ourselves. When we humble ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable and open to the possibility of being whole.
I struggle with these stories of healing. I want myself to be healed from my pain, to be made whole. Like Namaan I would love for someone just to wave their hand over me and make it all better. Or for there to be a simple pill I could take to mask the pain. I don’t want to have to do the hard work of healing or letting go.
But as Bishop Mariann Budde said in a sermon on this text: “Healing begins with acceptance. We can’t change anything about ourselves or our surroundings unless we first accept it. To walk the path of healing, we must first make our peace
with whatever it is – in, among, or around us – that needs to be healed… Sometimes,” she says, “the only healing we get is acceptance, which is hard to imagine settling for when what we really want is to be released from whatever afflicts us.”
I don’t know if I believe in healing which cures ailments. I want to believe. I’ve heard stories like those today that give me hope. What I do believe in are the simple moments of surrender and acceptance that make a person whole. I believe our problems are difficult until we accept them. Our pity parties and desires for easy answers are useless until we step up and actively choose the simple act of being vulnerable, of being willing to be healed, of being chosen to be healed.
Whatever ails you, whatever might be causing great disappointment, whatever seems unfinished, whatever is a struggle in life, whatever is difficult in life, my advice would be to approach it with the K.I.S.S. principle. Keep It Simple, not because you are Stupid. But because you are loved by God, just as you are. Amen.
The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck
Preaching as Spiritual Practice: Gathering up the Fragments by Mariann Edgar Budde