In February Sarah and I were able to visit Jackie Pullinger in Hong Kong for a week.
[Those of you who haven’t heard of Jackie, google her – in short, she’s a British woman and hero of the faith who has been living in Hong Kong for the last 55 years, living and working with gangsters and addicts, and helping them get free through faith in Jesus.]
Whilst in Hong Kong we heard story after story of ex-Triad gang members leaving lives of violence and crime; of ex-heroin addicts detoxing without withdrawal pains through praying in tongues. And – crucially – we learnt of the ongoing journey of inner healing each person was on, as the Holy Spirit revealed more layers of the pain that led to coping behaviours of gang membership and addiction in the first place.
We heard over and over again the same refrain – a variation on the theme of, ‘Despite being clean from drugs, I kept coming up against oppressive thoughts or dysfunctional behaviours. It was only when Jesus revealed to me the root of these things that I was finally able to get free from them.’
The work God wants to do in each of us as he rehabilitates us through his Holy Spirit (yes, we are all addicts in need of rehab!), is both a deeper work and a longer work than we could ever imagine. At any point in the process we can choose to give up, bury our head in the sand, or run away. God, however, will continue to pursue us in his love.
A couple of weeks ago I sensed God speak to me in two fairly unremarkable ways, which I wanted to share with the three or four of you who will read this.
Here in Cape Town, autumn is kicking in. Colder weather, mornings especially, and healthy amounts of rain. I was sitting in our garden and looked up at the flower beds. There were loads of bits of broken glass on the surface of the soil caught my eye. My immediate emotion was frustration, as I have spent hours and hours over the last six years digging and raking up all the old rubbish buried under the yard. Broken glass is up there with buried cat poos – particularly unwelcome if you’re weeding!
As I sat there, it began to rain again (it had been raining all night, but had briefly cleared up), and I felt God say:
Yes, you dug deep and got rid of the broken glass, and you did a good job with what you saw. But the rain comes with the changing of the seasons. And when it comes, it mixes up the soil again, bringing what’s still buried underneath to the surface. I realized that I had done the work for summer – I had found and dug out many rocks, stones, food packaging, strips of old carpet (!), various plastics and a lot of broken glass. But now that autumn was coming, it brought to the surface what remained unseen in summer through the rain turning the soil. I considered how true this is for the garden of my heart, and remembered the stories of light-filled ex-gangsters in Hong Kong.
I find the garden analogy useful, because when left untended the predominant growth in any garden is not beautiful flowers, but weeds. Any heart left untended for too long will experience something similar. But as we dig deep through our damaged souls, we might remove the brokenness that we’re aware of by handing it over to Jesus, and turn from it in repentance and by developing new healthy habits. But we can only deal with what we can see. God, in his wisdom, knows we can only deal with a certain amount of mess at a time. When the seaso
ns in life change, new issues are often brought to the surface – we feel various thought patterns or negative behaviours or habits come to the surface. Which gives us a new opportunity to dig deep and root out all that’s not good soil. And we are then able to thrive, in the same ground, but in a new season. And our view towards the broken glass transforms from one of frustration to realizing that it was the kindest thing God could do for us in allowing it to come up!
That same afternoon, I was doing some distinctly amateur carpentry, when one of our housemates came out from the front house, walked past me and tried to open the prayer room door – which he succeeded in doing, but in the process ended up pulling the handle off and breaking it. My immediate emotion – again, frustration. If only he knew the number of times I’ve had to replace that door handle. I must have replaced it four or five times in the last year, each time having to make new screw marks in the wood. Really not a big issue, just annoying.
As we looked for another handle in the various jumbled boxes in the store room, I felt the Lord speak again, this time in a question: See how boring it gets replacing the same door handle? Frustrating going round and round with the same issue hey? Thing is, unless you get to the root of the problem, no amount of new door handles is going to fix it. I actually knew what the root issue was, but hadn’t done anything about it. The door was always difficult to lock because the position of the chiseled-out hole in the door frame was slightly off. So, you would instinctively pull harder on the handle to try and align the lock, resulting in lots of broken handles. Whilst we did obviously need to replace the handle, to fix the problem for good we really needed to chisel out a tiny (like 1mm) extra bit in the door frame for the lock to turn into.
And – you guessed it – I began to think about the specific issues I get tired of coming up again in my life; quite apart from the number of prayer times I’ve led others through who would say something like ‘I don’t know why I feel so unable to break free from the same thing over and over.’ So I wonder – might it be that we get so used to trying to solve an issue by replacing the handle again, all the while ignoring the actual root of the problem? What if, when we next recognize dysfunctional behaviour in us which we are aware of but from which we are seemingly unable to break free, we take time to sit with Jesus and together discern ‘what is the root here?’ rather than assuming we already know.
I once heard someone say ‘you can only say good bye to what you’ve said hello to.’ In the intensity of COVID19 lockdown, where the world outside is shaking, and so many are struggling with deep angst and powerlessness, the chances are you’ve become aware of some level of dysfunctional behaviour or heart attitude towards something or someone that you’ve been carrying around for some time. Recognising that we generally need to be kinder to ourselves and others at the moment – but that there may be an opportunity that the present confinement affords – could now be the perfect time to ‘go there’?