The Cruel Reality of Hamstrings and Sin

Reality can be a cruel wake up call. I had just turned 30. Compared to many in graduate school I was young, but there were a growing number of young students directly out of college. Each week many of those younger students would gather together and play Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate Frisbee is basically soccer with a Frisbee. There is a lot of sprinting. When I played there was also a lot of heavy breathing and a little whimpering.

One week several new people showed up. One was a friend of mine who was a former track star. He was 22. He broke out in a sprint. I, along with my competitive ego, broke out in a sprint to catch him. My mind said, “You’re still faster than a 22 year old.” My hamstring said, “no you’re not.” I felt like Forrest Gump running through the jungle when he got shot, “Somethin’ reached up and bit me.” I swore I saw the number “30” standing over me saying, “Welcome to the rest of your life. Welcome to your new reality.” The reality was that I was older. I have to stretch, I have to warm up, I have to eat better. In order to be who I would like to be I have to do things differently. Reality, ugh.

Reality is no fun.  I think this is why we spend much of our time in denial, distraction, and defensiveness; we don’t want to face reality. The problem is that if we never face reality, we will never improve our situation. We will never be all we can possibly be. Sin is that reality that we’d like to ignore that keeps us from living a full life.

What is sin?  I have touched on the subject in another post here. (The Problem of Pleasure)

In the article I quote Susanna Wesley’s definition of sin:

Whatever weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, or obscures your sense of God, or takes away your relish for spiritual things, in short if anything increases the authority and the power of the flesh over the spirit that to you becomes sin however good it is in itself.

When I lived in Nashville, a friend and I would get together about once a week and share what was going on in our life. We would share the good, the bad, and the ugly. One day we were sharing about the sin in our life. We shared temptations, vices, actions, words and thoughts. An interesting struggle came up in the middle of this conversation. The struggle was in our reluctance to share these sins with God.

In confessing these thoughts and actions, these sins to one another, I don’t think I was actually looking for forgiveness as much as acceptance and someone to normalize my behavior. I didn’t necessarily want to change what I was doing, as much as I wanted to feel normal about what I was doing. In confessing to one another my friend and I realized that even though we didn’t always like what we saw we could at least normalize our behaviors and thoughts so we weren’t uncomfortable in our own skin.

The reality of our state of reluctance was that to share our sins with one another we could stay in a state of rationalization and denial. If we bring our life before God, he sheds the light of reality which is very uncomfortable. With rationalization and denial we can confess with no expectation to change, but God loves us too much to leave us in a state of denial. My friend and I knew God enough to know we were sinners, but our shame and fear kept us away from confession.

In our conversations we discovered two realities. Reality one: We were worse off than we thought. Reality two: God was much kinder than we thought.

Worse off Than We Thought:

Even in our confession and thinking we thought we were doing well, we missed the point. We confessed to get rid of guilt, not to be better people. We were also oblivious to the fact that we liked our sins. The funny thing with knowing God a little bit is that you realize that He is good and that there is a good way to live a life. So knowing the truth we Christians say “Lord I don’t want to do (name sin here).” The reality is, at least for me and my friend, that we might say this prayer, but we don’t believe it. We are worse off than we think because we want to sin, but we know it isn’t good for us or others.

God is Kinder Than We Thought:

John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

In my guilt I am slow in confessing to God because I don’t want to disappoint him. I am slow because I don’t want to admit to myself that I am not perfect. I am slow because I don’t like being wrong. I am slow because I am embarrassed. Pride and shame. But the reality is that God’s desire is not to shame us away from him but to love us to him. I imagine there is relief in his voice when we finally confess. Why? Because he likes us, he loves us, and he doesn’t want anything to come between us.

So how do I step into this reality? I have to trust God’s love enough to be real with myself so that I can change and become the person I would like to be. Richard Foster shared a prayer in his book “Celebration of Discipline”.  He said that he doesn’t pray, “Lord, I don’t want to do this.” Instead he prays, “Lord, I don’t want to want to sin, so help me not to want to want to sin.”  This is an honest prayer. We must be honest with ourselves and with God. Only through this reality can we begin to change our behaviors and run this race of life without pulling a spiritual hamstring.

God’s desire is to strengthen us, transform us, and give us the tools to become the people we long to be. We have to face reality, and that reality is not always pleasant. But God is.

If you have had doubts about the character of God, I want to encourage you to look up some of the following scriptures.

Philippians 2:7

2 Corinthians 5:21

Galatians 5:1

What are the implications of these words to the character of God and what we can hope to find in him?

for further reading see John Steinbeck’s book “East of Eden”.

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