Shedding that stubborn skin


One of my favorite parts of the Narnia stories takes place when the good-kid-in-the making, Eustace, is called on to shed his skin.

That sounds like a pretty big job for anyone, but Eustace has worse problems.

When directed to do this, he is a dragon.

Yeah, you heard me. A fire breathing, gold hoarding, thoroughly nasty character that turns up in C.S. Lewis mythology turned theology “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

Eustace was a bad kid. Spoiled, rude, obnoxious, something of a bully if he could get away with it. Not the sort you’d want to take for a long sea trip.

Via an enchanted painting, he and two of his cousins get pulled into the world of Narnia for a long, adventure-filled sea trip that tests, tries and grows all of them.

However, I’d argue that it was Eustace who benefited most.

At the beginning of the story, Eustace was a prize stinker. Think of the person you wanted most to pummel in grade school and then multiply by ten–you’d roughly have Eustace.

Put him on a small ship, with people he quickly made despise him, and two cousins who barely tolerate him, in sometimes life-threatening conditions, and you might say he was lucky he later became a dragon.

If he hadn’t, the others might have fed him to one.

Once enchanted and realizing he is indeed a dragon, he at first sees it as a grand opportunity to exact revenge on his foes back on the ship. Then, he realizes that he no longer really wants to. He learns that he doesn’t want to be alone.

However, with such a frightening countenance, who would want to hang around with him?

Once he awkwardly establishes his identity to his family and crew, it is decided that he can be very useful to them. He tears up trees to repair the ship. He does a number of other things to help that would be hard for the crew to do. And for the first time in his life, he finds he likes being useful.

However, practical heads think he must be left behind when the ships voyage continues. How could a ship haul a dragon, even one that can fly? Where would he sleep? What would he eat?

Eustace, the metaphor for what sin can do to a human who has totally given themselves over to it, and isolated themselves from others, faces a very dismal night of the soul.

Then, Aslan, the Christ figure in the story, shows up.

When directed, Eustace gladly tears away at the dragon skin. And it feels good, like scratching a bad itch. Problem was, no matter how many coats he scratches off, there is a smaller, nastier, better fitting one underneath. Until finally, he can’t scratch the last one off.

“I must do it.” Aslan says.

He tears the final skin off Eustace, and throws him into water in a well. Eustace is again a boy, albeit a much better-behaved one.

This is a fantastic story, if you read it just as that. It hits all the requirements for a humdinger of a great story. But there is something much more to take away from this tale.

It is the story of redemption.

At the time we become a Christian, we wear a layer, perhaps many layers, of acquired sin. Stubbornness, self-deception, pride, you name it. It becomes thicker, and more multi-layered the longer we cling to it, not wanting to give up our autonomy.

We might cling to it for years before awakening to God’s grace. Even after that awakening, we might resist God’s further interventions.

When we first learn that Jesus loves us, and wants to be in our hearts and lives, that first layer is stripped away. If we have support from mature Christians, and a hunger to grow further, many more layers fall off as God works with us.

The thing I realize, though, as I go through my life, is there is always another layer. I haveĀ  had times when I was sure I had it all figured out, was Suzy-Super Christian. Knew what I needed to know. Don’t bother me with conviction, Lord, I’ve got it! Aren’t You proud of me?

And, to be sure, God is proud of us. He loved us eight layers ago when we were in a much worse place. Yet, he loves us SO much, that he cares TOO much to let us stay in our current layer of sin and rebellion. And sometimes, depending on how tightly we have hung on to the layer that currently covers us, only God can tear that layer off.

When we hold on too tight, God pulls our hands away. We leave some spiritual skin behind.

It hurts.

But in retrospect, it hurts, as the rock song says, ‘so good.’

Jesus loves you and me, He really does. He looks at all the ugliness of our sins, way under all those layers, to that person He knows us to be. To that person we can be, if we trust him to pull off the layers that we might not even be aware are there.

It might hurt, it might be very inconvenient, but such obedience brings us to another part of our journey. A place where our walk can be a little more free, and a little closer to Him.

Today, consider your life. What might your ‘dragon’ skin consist of? What does God need to help you remove from your heart, ambitions, practices or thoughts to move you forward?

Amen.

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The Trouble with “Thy Will Be Done.”


Thy Will Be Done.

Wow. That’s a scary proposition. Turn over my ideas, my thoughts, the way I think things should be–to God?

I am made of questions as I ponder this. Why would I want to give up my will to anyone, let alone God?

After all, I have my plans, ambitions, the way that I think things should be. What if God doesn’t agree with my plan? Where will I be then?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with God over my will versus His will for my life. So many times, He’s allowed me to blunder ahead, stubborn and sure that I’m right. Until, painfully, I realize that I am not.

An associate of mine said to me, a long time ago, “I like to be the one who has my hands on the steering wheel of my life. Problem with that is, God calls me to let go. And if I won’t let go willingly, He pulls my hands off the steering wheel. When that happens, I usually leave some skin.”

At the time I heard that, I thought it was a pretty clever thing for someone else to say. Until time passed, and my hands had to be wrenched from the steering wheel of my life. Until I too had to leave some skin on that steering wheel.

It has only come to me gradually that there is only one problem with saying “Thy Will be Done” to God. What is that problem?

Me.

I don’t want to give up my perception of autonomy. I don’t want to surrender my fantasy of control. I don’t want to think even for a second how out of control I am. Sure, I have a comfortable home, loving friends, a great job, adequate income for both needs and wants. I have the world by the tail, don’t I?

But I also have my own past to remind me how quickly things can change for the worse. As a person who has been homeless, jobless, and at one point, without a single person I felt like I could call on for support, I know that I control nothing. Everything good in my life is a gift from God. A gift of His grace.

As I draw closer to God, I find that there is something freeing in giving up my perception of control. It’s a joke, anyway. I control nothing. The certainty of my eventual death proves that. I don’t control the next heartbeat or breath. Whether the world will even be in existence tomorrow. But in knowing that I have no control, I am free to look to the source of all control–God, the Father.

When I give up control, and with the trust of a small child, say with love, “Thy Will Be Done” and try to mean it each time I say it, it becomes a love song to heaven, something great and eternal within my soul. I get out of my own way.

When I wonder how to pray for someone, and say “Thy Will Be Done” about them, I pray the most pure and loving prayer of all. I don’t suggest to the Creator of the Universe what might be best to do for both my loved ones and not so loved ones (though I sure could give God a few ideas!)

When I plan what I study, where I will work, what decisions I should make on the job, when or if I should marry, or when or if a certain type of ministry is right for me, the first course of wisdom are those four words.

The problem with “Thy Will Be Done” for myself and so many others is that in really saying it, we open ourselves up to become the workmanship of Christ. Really His body, hands and feet. We open ourselves up to the unknown.

We open ourselves up to a way that may not be what we think it should be, but the way God knows that it needs to be. By purposefully surrendering our lives day by day, we learn to desire a will that not only loves and desires to protect us, but a will that has our best interests at heart.

And that, my friends, is a very good problem to have.

Amen.