You Hold the Key
The embarrassment I was experiencing brought beads of sweat to my forehead. I was looking at a picture my mother recently posted to Facebook of the family celebrating my niece’s birthday at an amusement park. There I was sitting crisscross-applesauce on the grass eating my lunch. I was all slouched over with terrible back posture, looking back over my right shoulder to face the camera. Hanging from my mouth was the plastic spoon from which I was sucking off every last gooey bit of peanut butter. I’d never looked fatter, and the picture was now on Facebook for everyone I knew to see.
I didn’t like being unhealthy. I wanted to be able to keep up with my kids and play sports without feeling like I was going to die. But I didn’t know where to start.
Then I had an epiphany when I ran across an old story I’d heard lots of times growing up. My family is Christian, and the story comes from our faith tradition. It went something like this:
Once upon a time in a city far away… there was a pool near a gate.
Now the pool at this gate was special. As tradition tells the story, on certain occasions the waters of the pool were “stirred” by an angel. When this happened, the first person into the pool would be healed of whatever physical ailment was affecting them. And this poor guy (we’ll call him Winston), an invalid for some 38 years, couldn’t get himself into the pool before anybody else to receive healing.
Enter Jesus, the Great Physician.
It’s not clear what draws Jesus’s gaze towards Winston. If I read the scripture correctly, there are likely others around with various ailments- blind, lame, paralyzed, etc… But something about this one guy stood out to Christ. Perhaps it was because Jesus witnessed a stirring and the subsequent rush of humanity into the pool. Of course only one can be healed and a blind guy (we’ll call him … Shaun) runs as fast as he can in the direction that his friends have pointed him, trips over a rock and lands, SPLASH!, three feet deep into the pool. Upon receiving the healing powers, Shaun begins to perform the backstroke and takes in all of the beauty of the blue heavens above him. Respectful Ooh’s and ah’s can be heard all around for about 10 seconds before they are interrupted by loud wails of Winston’s lament a few feet away.
“Well wooptie-doo for you, Shaun! You had friends to point you in the right direction and you have fully functioning legs to get you into the pool! So now you’re swimming around like Michael Phelps while I, the one with no friends, the one who’s been sitting here since your parents were children continue to suffer! I hope you enjoy it you little *&#@*$…”
As Winston proceeds to tear into the recently healed, formerly blind boy, Jesus takes note of Winston’s….displeasure.
“Hey, Pete,” Jesus says to his follower, “What’s up with that guy?”
“Oh, that guy…” Peter begins. “He’s been here longer than anyone can remember. He’s a bit of a nuisance. Always yelling and stuff about not being able to get into the pool. Ignore him. He’ll be quiet soon. Jesus doesn’t ignore him but instead takes pity on poor Winston, approaches him and asks if he wants to get well.
Now I can’t prove it, but I think there has been some significant editing to Winston’s response. I imagine Winston looked at Jesus sideways, paused and began by saying, “Are you effing serious? No, I’ve been sitting here in my own excrement for the past 38 years because I thought all these people gathered here would want to spend their quality time staring at me. Of course I want to get well! But,” Winston continued through clenched teeth, “if you didn’t notice, I have legs like ramen noodles and can’t get into the pool quickly enough by myself AND I don’t have any friends to help me either!”
Jesus, a little taken aback yells back, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Winston does so, and the rest, as they say is, well, it’s Christian tradition.
Clearly, I’ve taken some creative liberties with this story.
But I wanted to point out what I believe is the most important part. It’s not the miracle itself- but the fact that before it could happen, Jesus actually asked the invalid if he wanted to get well. Everything about the situation suggested he did. It seemed obvious, but Jesus still asked. He wasn’t simply going to heal the man until hearing him say he wanted to be healed. Perhaps the man enjoyed begging for a living. Perhaps he was happy in his ailment. Some people are. They are content to be in their current condition, even if it’s unhealthy and there are ways to get better.
This was the case with me and my weight. I’d talked about wanting to lose weight for some time. I even made efforts in the past to lose weight. A couple of years ago I exercised for about a month and a half and lost 20 or so lbs. I remember taking a picture of the scale reading of 239 lbs because I was so happy that I weighed in the 230s again. But I stopped eating right and exercising. I began gaining weight again, and two years later, in I weighed 264 lbs. This was one pound lighter that the weight at which I promised my wife I would get a trainer to help me lose weight. One more bag of potato chips and I was going to have to admit I was out of control. I couldn’t let that happen. My pride forced me into action. I wanted to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle. I finally did. I took action to begin to get healthy. I picked up my fat and walked. (Actually, I started watching my caloric intake and exercising regularly, but that doesn’t rhyme with “pick up your mat and walk.”)
Life is that way.
We need to want something, really want it before we take action to make it happen.
And, like so many other situations, the action proves the want. The pianist wants to play better, so he practices. The student wants better grades so she studies. The homeowner wants healthier grass so he fertilizes. The writer wants to write better so she writes. Etc, etc…
When I looked around me, I saw I had all the tools to reach my goals. I had shoes, I had sidewalks, I had legs, and I had people who cared about me to help me. I just had to decide I wanted to do it.
So do you want to get healthy? Do you want to live a healthy lifestyle? Do you want…?
Pick up your… well, just get to work already.