January 17, 2007

Ancient Family Secret

2007 1502 page5 capfter we ran my blog in the Review recently (“Scratching the Surface,” November 1, 2006), in which I shared my struggle with eczema, a skin condition that has plagued me for 20 years, I suddenly became aware of the risk of such a disclosure. When such an article is run, there are usually well-meaning people who send some “ancient family secret” to rid oneself of the ailment, such as, “If you go to the hills of eastern Asia, look under a moss-covered rock, scrape the fuzz, make it into a tea, and . . . ,” then all your ills will be cured!
That was far from what happened.
I received thoughtful responses from a number of men and women. And while they did share some treatments that had worked for them, the main focus of their letters was to let me know that they appreciated hearing from someone about their struggle. One woman, Ellen, sent me a plaque that contained a cross-stitched message: “. . . and, lo, I am with you always.”
As an editor, I receive numerous letters from readers about articles and/or editorials I’ve written. Some people agree; others seek to debate a theological point. I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue—which only happens, however, if people are courageous enough to sign their names! But the gentle concern of these people who responded to my blog touched me deeply.
2007 1502 page5It can be scary sometimes to share our struggles; to allow people into our fractured worlds. But isn’t that the very reason we are Christians? To embrace the person of Jesus Christ, and acknowledge our need of Him? Not that we engage in verbal and emotional exhibitionism—loudly and boastfully exposing our wounds to others to attract attention. But to seek to share with others from our experiences those things that may help them along their Christian journey.
Our society, though, values the strong person who “has it all together.” And we Christians are not immune to this false standard of measurement of a person’s worth. From pedigrees to positions to public images, every day we make judgments about our Christian brothers’ and sisters’ worth. It’s good to strive for excellence in professional or personal pursuits through education and advancement. It’s also good—and right—to express our faith through good works. And I think it’s also good to dress well, considering the environments in which we live and work. But do we use educational and professional accomplishments to measure how valuable a man or woman is in God’s sight? Do we think that being involved in spiritual activities will make us spiritual? Do we hide behind our “fig leaves,” thinking that they will cover our imperfections?
In the book of Philippians the apostle Paul states, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have” (Phil. 1:29, 30).
The context of this chapter is Paul imprisoned for preaching about the cross of Christ. Actually, at the time of his first visit to Philippi, Paul had been beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:22, 23). The suffering he was experiencing was directly linked to professing Christ as Lord and Savior.
Could it be that when we embrace the risen Christ and acknowledge those areas in our lives that are fractured and in need of His sanctifying grace—our weaknesses, our fearfulness, our brokenness—can also involve suffering for His sake? Christians may not be beaten and placed in prison for these acknowledgements, but how many people suffer emotionally and spiritually for being rejected because they don’t measure up to the “standards” of those other “strong” souls who have reached a higher standard of “perfection”? Unfortunately, many of us speak of God’s grace, but can’t bring ourselves to acknowledge that we need it.
I’m thinking that I might be mistaken. There actually could be an ancient family secret for healing my eczema—or, at least, to help me endure it. Far from being found underneath a moss-covered rock in eastern Asia, it was unearthed in those gentle letters from you.

Bonita Joyner Shields is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.