Pick Up Your Mat and Walk!
Day 1 of 3: What’s Your Excuse?
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
-John 5:1-7 (NIV)
I love stretching and lying on my yoga mat. Whether I’m in final savasana after a series of poses or simply lying in silence, my mat becomes an island of comfort for me, one that I often don’t want to leave. I suppose you could call it a comfort zone, a space where I am completely at ease and from which I sometimes must force myself to leave in order to do my next task.
I’ve actually lain on many “mats” in my life. There was the mat of an eating disorder that saw my weight plummet to 83 skeletal pounds. That mat was really painful at times, but I remained on it largely as a control and perfection thing. For a while, I honestly didn’t know how to get off of it. There was also the mat of the aftermath of my adultery, a mat that left me feeling that I was no longer worthy of being a vessel for God’s love.
There’ve been other mats in my life on which I’ve sprawled my cozy self, especially out of fear and uncertainty—of insecurity, depression, jobs that no longer served me or I, them. I’ve probably had enough of these comfort zone mats to fill an entire yoga studio!
In today’s biblical text, we see a man lying by the healing pool of Bethesda. The gospel writer tells us the man had been an invalid for thirty-eight years—nearly four decades. We don’t know what his illness or disability was, nor do we know how long he’d stayed by that pool. John gives us only a bit of information about the man.
We do know that Jesus came along and asked the guy if he wanted to get well.
The man’s answer puzzles me.
He didn’t reply “Yes” or “No.” He gave Jesus an excuse, saying he had no one to help him and that every time he tried to enter the pool, someone went ahead of him.
Why didn’t he shout, “Yes! Yes, I want to be made well!”
I wonder… Did he ask anyone to help him? Did someone offer to help, and he declined, wanting to make the attempt on his own? Why did he stay on his mat?
I also wonder… Had the man become too comfortable, even in his suffering? Maybe the pain and angst and possible rejection he experienced had become too familiar. Perhaps he was afraid of how life might be if he were healed. There would certainly be no more excuses.
Many of us can relate.
We know there are people out there, in our towns and possibly in our neighborhood, who need a listening ear, a hug, a donation of clothes, compassion. Many are our friends and acquaintances. We know this, yet we continue to stay on our familiar mats and think about what we should do. Yes, we think; we don’t act.
There’s that job we’d like to have, but we haven’t applied because our self-doubt or fear or just plain comfort in our current job seeps in, keeping us on the mat of a career we don’t enjoy. We don’t seek support in updating our resume or making connections at the company for which we’d like to work. We know we need to move on, but we choose to stay comfy right where our miserable selves are.
We often sink into the mat of not owning who we truly are, as God made us. “What would people think if they knew the real me?” we might ask. Rather than risk judgment, we remain where we are, sinking deeper.
So, what’s your excuse? What do you know you should do or want to do? Where is God calling you to serve and to grow? Are you allowing the Spirit to lead you?
Don’t be like the invalid man. Thirty-eight years is a long time, and it’s time to stop the excuses!
On what “mats” are you currently lying? Make a list of them. Where are you a bit too cozy, making excuses for not moving forward or acting in faith? You know you need to get off. Identify those mats and share your thoughts with a trusted friend. It’s a first step in walking forward!