Frank was a one-eyed dwarf who was raised by an abusive alcoholic father in a small coal-mining town where the unemployment rate was 18%. His wife of seven years left him the day before Christmas in 2008 after he lost his janitorial job at the local high school for smoking pot during his breaks. Broke and broken down, Frank took to wandering the streets at night in a drunken stupor, muttering under his breath, “Nobody understands what I’m going through. Nobody’s felt this much pain. Nobody’s gone through so much dirty, rotten shit as I have.”
But Frank was wrong. He was not special.
Yes, he may be the only one-eyed dwarf in the history of the world who’s gone through exactly that series of unfortunate events. But he’s not the only one with a physical challenge or disability. Not the only one raised in an alcoholic home. Not the only one in a broken marriage. Certainly, not the only one fired for doing something stupid.
The first step in dealing with personal problems is to acknowledge that they don’t exist.
There’s about ten gazillion people in the world who’ve walked that same road. Frank isn’t special. He isn’t a unique sufferer. Frank is simply human.
And so are we. We talk about our troubles as “personal problems.” We often mean they’re something special to us. Our personal struggle. Our personal thorn in the flesh. Our personal brown, toxic snowflake that’s just landed on our outstretched tongue. But they’re not.
The first step in dealing with personal problems is to acknowledge that they don’t exist. That alone strips them of some of their power. Because it forces us to confess that we are not unique. Nothing we’re dealing with is a novelty of the human condition because the royally screwed up human condition is, like, really, really old. We’re just the most recent ones dealt this deck of cards. Our great-great-great-great grandparents struggled with skirt-chasing husbands, insufficient funds, rude neighbors, idiot coworkers, and hemorrhoids, just like we do.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not downplaying or minimizing suffering. If anything, I’m maximizing it, deepening it, universalizing it. To be human is to live a life that often sucks. Big time. The world is not nice. We live in a world where babies are left in cars on summer days by dads who are too busy checking Facebook when they get out to remember the kids in the back seat. We live in a world where women get breast cancer. Twelve year old kids gun down other kids on the street. Suicide bombers massacre innocent people in concerts. And, everyone, eventually, dies.
No one is entitled to say they have a personal problem. They have a human problem. A problem shared, in some shape or form, by people in Calcutta, Detroit, Moscow, and Rome.
And if problems are universal, we need a universal solution.
This universal solution doesn’t seem, at first, like much of a solution. That’s because it’s not your typical kind of solution. It’s not a wonder drug, a psychological treatment, or a financial seminar led by Dave Ramsey.
It’s simply another human being.
But this human being is, in fact, unique. Because unlike us, he actually wanted problems—our problems, the universal, human problems. He made it his mission. He’s a problem-chaser. Only he doesn’t come to make everything look nice and smell pretty again. He doesn’t walk around throwing handfuls of rose petals on people’s heads and singing kumbaya.
Instead, he gives us something better, deeper, longer-lasting. He gives us hope. He takes away our shame. He gives us a reason to live that’s bigger than ourselves. He makes us see that we’re part of a bigger world, full of suffering people, just like us, who also need what he is oh-so-willing to give.
He doesn’t solve our problems. He makes them his own. He sinks into our pain. He’ll feel stupid with us. He’ll hear the doctor’s bad diagnosis with us. He’ll sit with us when we binge watch YouTube because we’re too depressed to do anything else. And he’ll gradually bend our heads upward from staring at our own navels to look him in the eye.
In those eyes we see love—not a feel-good love of Selena Gomez songs. His is an ironclad love. Love that won’t leave when we shove him away. Love that won’t go away when we puke our guts out over stress. Love that is stubborn, immovable, rooted in the very heart of God.
This rather unique human being is God grounded in our humanity. The man Jesus.
I really wish he’d just throw all our problems into some cosmic black hole. But I guess he’s too smart for that. Or too good for that. Instead, he co-opts them. He takes our boatloads of hurt and disappointment, all our stupid decisions, all our me-centered actions and nails them to his own body.
You can’t get much more committed than that.
All the world hangs with him on a horrible, ugly, gorgeous tree. There’s humanity’s problems, addictions, bombings, and death, shining like fire burning inside his wounds. It’s the fire of compassion. The fire of divine love, reducing to ashes inside the body of God a world fat with hurt.
When he steps forth alive from his tomb, we gasp at The End. So that’s it. All that stuff he died with will pass away. It can’t leave him dead. As surely as he lives, so will we, with lives shorn of problems. Easter is our glimpse of the end and the beginning. The end of all the bad and the beginning of all the good.
Jesus isn’t a personal savior of personal problems of individual people. He’s the savior of this whole mass of messed up humanity, the redeemer of the world that we are all part of together.
It’s such a privilege that we are not unique. He is. We’re simply the very fortunate creatures whom God just can’t get enough of, can’t help enough, can’t not care for.
And if that’s not love, then you tell me what is.
My new book, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, will be available October, 2017. You can read more about it and pre-order your copy at Amazon. Thank you!