The Better Way

The Better Way

Apr 19
The Better Way

Once upon a time, an important man learned he had a terrible disease.  There were no physicians that could cure him, no medicine that could make him well.  In desperation, he consulted with a holy man.  The holy man told the diseased man to go bathe in the river seven times and that his disease would be cured.  Immediately, the diseased man began to argue, “Why that river?  It’s filthy!  Surely there are cleaner rivers that will work even better!”  The diseased man’s servant had overheard the conversation.  He took his master aside and shared some wisdom with him, “If the holy man had asked you to do something difficult, you wouldn’t have let that stop you.  You would have made every effort to do the difficult task.  But because the holy man has told you to do something easy, you refuse and question because it doesn’t fit with what you expected.”  The diseased man went and bathed seven times in the dirty river and he was completed cured of his disease.

I see so much of our modern mindset in this story.  We have answers for all sorts of problems, but because the answers don’t fit what we want, we look for alternative answers.

In short, anything that requires us to change is rejected.

If you want to lose weight, there’s a simple, proven method that works reliably.  It involves changing what and how we eat.  To be really effective, it also includes changing how we spend our time and energy.  For most of us, that’s too much change.  We want the result without changing our behavior.

I have gout in my knees.  The flare-ups are excruciatingly painful.  Basically, it’s the result of a diet of too much meat and not enough vegetables.  Guess what changed after my diagnosis?  Nothing.  I found a medication that allows me to continue to live and eat as I was before.

We complain about the state of our national politics.  What do we change?  Nothing.  We want somebody on the other side to change, or else accumulate enough power that we can force them to.

We complain about the state of our economy.  What do we change?  Nothing.  We point at the wealthy and cry that it isn’t fair.  We should have what they have – but without doing what they did to get it.

We complain about not having enough money, or drowning in debt.  What do we change?  Nothing.  We want someone else to pay for our debts or forgive them.  We play the lottery in hopes that a huge payday will solve our problems — without changing US, the ones who created the problems.

We refuse to change.  We want someone else or something else to change without having to change anything about ourselves.  I believe this is why there are so many religions and so many sects and denominations within those religions.  We all look for the religion or church that requires nothing from us — that takes us exactly as we are and asks nothing in return.

We want to be left alone to live our lives however we choose, free from judgment.  Judgment implies that there’s something we need to change.  So we denounce all judgment as wrong lest someone point out where we need to change.

Jesus came to change the entire world.  That includes you.  Jesus didn’t tell anybody, “Stay exactly as you are.”  He didn’t just criticize the wealthy.  He didn’t just criticize the religious leaders of His time.  He pointed out where everyone falls short, where everyone needs to change.  He said, “I am THE Way.  NOBODY comes to the Father except through ME.”

Jesus came to make everyone stop pointing fingers at others and instead point them at themselves.  Sadly, this is where His words in Matthew 7 get misused and abused.

“Don’t judge others and God will not judge you.  If you judge others, you will be judged the same way you judge them.  God will treat you the same way you treat others.”

“Why do you notice the small piece of dust that is in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood that is in your own?  Why do you say to your friend, ‘Let me take that piece of dust out of your eye’? Look at yourself first! You still have that big piece of wood in your own eye.  You are a hypocrite! First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to get the dust out of your friend’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:1-5  “Easy-to-Read Version”)

In the same passage we quote about “not judging,” Jesus told you to judge yourself, to change yourself before you try to change anyone else.  If you are unwilling to change, then you are disqualified from trying to change anyone else.

Interestingly, in the same sermon where we quote Jesus as saying “stop trying to change me,” Jesus had all sorts of things to say about what we need to change.  He said to stop getting divorced – it’s selfish and punishes someone for not changing to fit our unwillingness to change.  He said to stop insulting people – it’s selfish and it punishes someone for not changing to fit our unwillingness to change.  He said to stop hating.  Stop lusting.  Stop fighting back.  Stop sticking up for your rights.  Stop punishing others for not changing to suit you.

He lived every bit of it.  He modeled what it looks like to live a life without being jealous of other people or what they have.  He didn’t brag about how much better He was than everyone else, even though it was true.  He wasn’t rude.  He wasn’t cruel.  While He did get angry, it seemed to take a lot to get Him there.  Rather than keep track of all the ways people had hurt Him, He forgave them.  He was never excited about the bad that happened to anyone.  He never wanted anyone to get “what they have coming.”  He never gave up on people, but always trusted and hoped that they would find a way to change and live the life He modeled for them.  He was the perfect example of what it means to be loving.  Rather than seek what was good for Himself, He gave it up so others could be better because of it.

We have a very simple prescription for making the world better and brighter.  But like the diseased man, we insist that there must be another way, something that fits better with how we already live.  Jesus said, “I AM the way.”  He showed us the way.  He told us the way.  We look at His life, read His words, and say, “There’s got to be another way.”

Jesus said that there IS, in fact, another way – an easy-to-find, widely-travelled way.  He also said that you wouldn’t like where it goes.

There’s only one way that leads to a life of joy.  But it’s hard.  It focuses entirely on changing you rather than changing anyone else.  It emphasizes giving up your rights rather than insisting on them.  It demands that you do what nobody else will do, be who nobody else will be.

It demands everything that you are and makes you everything that you weren’t.

There was a time when my marriage was pretty miserable.  Neither of us were happy.  We were just going through the motions.  We talked about divorce – neither of us really wanted it, but neither of us really wanted to stay either.  It was terrible.

Now my marriage is pretty awesome and life is dangerously close to perfect.  The difference wasn’t that we got a bigger, better house.  It wasn’t that we made more money.  It wasn’t counseling or therapy.  It wasn’t medications.  It wasn’t having children.  It wasn’t getting more or better stuff.  It wasn’t that one of us finally surrendered to the demands of the other.

The simple truth is that we found happiness when we stopped trying to change one another.   Instead, we each focused on changing ourselves.  A simple formula, shared thousands of years ago by the One who has all the answers.

It comes as no surprise to me that every unhappy person I meet is trying to change someone else.

3 comments

  1. Joyce Jones

    Life could and would be so simple and joyous if we would live this lesson everyday. Oh,to be happy…..and the answer is simple. ♡

  2. Sarah

    Chris,

    You are so smart! Every so often I go to a post to see if you have anything inspirational to say, and you just blow my mind! I never knew you were miserable in your marriage at one time and that you found the solution was to change you! Believe it or not, that is inspirational to me too. I know this in my heart, but as you said, it is hard to take that step because it is so hard. I love life, but then I hate it, and when I hate it, it is because I am in it, I who am making the world worse through my unhappiness. I meet so many wonderful people, but walk away, wondering why God allowed me to, for I deserve to meet only hateful people. Oh Chris, some days I am so sad and some days I am so happy. I went to church today, and I was crying again. That is usually my gage of happiness, of whether I am going down the right path or not. It is so hard when you meet people who like you, but then go home…I tell myself, just let God like you,,and if anyone else likes you, that is just the cherry on top. Isn’t that what Jesus did?

    So, you have my curiosity peaked. You wouldn’t ask your readers to change unless you changed yourself. What did you change?

    Oh, and your post here is brilliant, I hope it is read by many for it sums up the ultimate truth of life most of us foolishly avoid facing. I hope your post does not become one of those trees that has not fallen just because no one saw it fall.

    Keep up the good work Chris! You truly have the gift of brilliance, and sometimes I wonder if brilliance is not a gift in itself but rather the byproduct of surrendering to the truth.

    • The hardest part, the biggest change, was “getting over” myself. I had to stop thinking about what I wanted or what I thought I wasn’t getting. Instead, I focused on what I had to give and I gave it.

      I realized that I didn’t deserve to receive anything that I wasn’t willing to give. It’s the very thing God modeled for us — He gave first that which He wished to receive. He wants our love, so He loved us first.

      That’s what I’ve learned to do — to be and give everything that I ever want to receive.

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