What’s Lost?Posted: February 19, 2012
The Parable of the Lost Coin is offered as a rejoinder to the accusations of the conventionally righteous people that Jesus was having contact with unsavory people: tax collectors, prostitutes, the poorest of the poor who had no hope of keeping all of the complicated kosher rules of washing and food restrictions. The good shepherd goes and looks for the lost sheep, the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the floor searching for the lost coin, the good Father never gives up hoping that the prodigal son will come home. Rob Bell, a prominent evangelical preacher wrote a book entitled Love Wins, where he challenged the traditional doctrine of hell, and promoted the notion that in God’s infinite love all that is lost will be found.
Over the last few weeks we have talked about reaching out beyond the walls of the church, reaching out to the socially marginalized, so this morning I would like to examine the Parable of the Lost Coin from a different perspective. In a clergy group in which I used to participate, after I had made an especially sarcastic remark, a member of the group turned to me and said, “Hurst, there is yet a corner of your soul that is unredeemed.” My guess is that there is more than a corner of my soul that is unredeemed, and so I would like to invite all of us to consider this morning, what parts of our personalities or spirits are yet to be redeemed? What’s lost? What about us still needs to be found?
“Repentance,” according to Scott Peck in his book, What Return Can I Make, “is turning to walk with God. Who were we walking with before we repented?” asks Peck. “We were walking alone, because we preferred it that way.” Actually, we never walk alone, God is always there but we often keep God at a great distance, so that God’s presence never seems real to us. Repentance is finding our way back to a relationship with God.
In finding our way back to a relationship with God, we may have to be willing to begin by acknowledging God is God and we are not. Sort of like the counselor who said to her client, “I’m not aware of why you have come to see me, so perhaps, you could start at the very beginning.”
“Of course.” replied the client. “In the beginning, I created the Heavens and the Earth…”
As long as we are still trying to replace God with self, we are not going to find our way back to a relationship with God. The first two steps in the spiritual recovery of Twelve Step programs are to recognize our lives are out of control, and acknowledge our need for a higher power, God, in our lives. Recovery programs ask the question with what are we trying to fill the God hole in our lives – alcohol, drugs, food, work, stuff? All of our addictions including consumerism the mass addiction of our age are just attempts to replace God with something else as the center of our lives. Many of us don’t have to look very far to find the unredeemed corner of our souls. But strangely enough for many of us to take the step of seeking God, we have to hit bottom. Some devastating event like a recession, losing a job, losing a spouse, a kid, our house, our 401K is required before we stop trying to stuff the hole in our souls with something else, and instead go in search of our relationship with God. Like the Prodigal Son we have to come to our senses. Remember it is not until the Prodigal Son is contemplating eating the pig slop he finally comes to his senses. Some of us have to consume spiritual pig slop before we come to our senses. Only then are we ready to get found.
We have a wonderful resource in our congregation in Jim Norris. In his counseling Jim uses the Internal Family Systems model.
Internal Family Systems sees consciousness as made up of various “parts” or sub-personalities, each with its own perspective, interests, memories, and viewpoint. If you have ever found yourself having an internal dialogue trying to make a decision or think through a problem you can identify with this notion of internal parts. A key understanding of Internal Family Systems is that every part has a positive intent for us, and all the parts are trying to help us or protect us against pain, even if the effects of that part is counterproductive or causes dysfunction. This means that there is never any reason to fight with, coerce, or try to get rid of a part; instead we can allow the Internal Family Systems method to promote internal connection and harmony.
Now sometimes as a result of trauma or painful experience in childhood, some of our parts can become separated and buried deep in the unconscious – they become exiles. And one of the goals of therapy can be to help the exiles come home.
Sometimes the lost parts of our souls are the hurt or damaged pieces. Our memories of being told we were stupid or lazy or inadequate. The bullying we may have suffered. Abuse from parents, siblings, teachers, peers. And the healing of our spirits calls for tenderly and compassionately loving those sometimes hurt, sometimes angry feelings that haunt us.
Often the dysfunctional pieces of our personalities are just waiting to be acknowledged and claimed. A person who was legendary for outbursts of anger, after he had claimed his temper and asked good spiritual friends to pray with him and for him stopped suffering angry outbursts. His dysfunctional anger just wanted to be acknowledged and loved.
It takes courage to ask good spiritual friends to pray with us and for us, when we try to embrace a part of our personality that has gone into exile. I don’t know why or how prayer works. It’s a mystery but it helps, especially when others pray with us and for us. Of course asking other people to pray for the lost parts of our spirits makes us vulnerable. Embracing the shadows of our souls shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, and only with people we believe we can trust. But finding good spiritual friends with whom we can be vulnerable is important to our spiritual health and development.
On the subject of allowing spiritual vulnerability, I have a story from Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Did you have a kid in your neighborhood who always hid so good, nobody could find him? We did. After a while we would give up on him and go off, leaving him to rot wherever he was. Sooner or later he would show up, all mad because we didn’t keep looking for him. And we could get mad back because he wasn’t playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. There’s hiding and there’s finding, we’d say. And he’d say it was hide-and-seek, not hide-and-give-up, and we’d all yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn’t play with him anymore if he didn’t get it straight and who needed him anyhow, and things like that. . . . No matter what, though, the next time he would hide too good again. He’s probably still hidden somewhere, for all I know.
As I write this, the neighborhood games does on, and there is a kid under a pile of leaves in the yard just under my window. He has been there a long time now, and everybody else is found and they are about to give up on him over at the base. I considered going out to the base and telling them where he is hiding. And I thought about setting the leaves on fire to drive him out. Finally, I just yelled out the window, “GET FOUND KID, GET FOUND!” It’s really hard to know how to be helpful sometimes.
<To the extent that most of us are lost, or have parts that are lost, those unredeemed corners of our souls, we are playing hide-and-seek. We play hide-and-seek with God. We play hide-and-seek with the Pastor. We play hide-and-see with the other people in our faith community. We complain, because no one seems to care. No one is able to read our hearts or our minds. No one can intuit our hurt or pain or anger. No one seems to be aware of the hole in our soul. No one seems to understand we are bleeding to death. Of course, we’re not telling anyone either. We’re not asking anyone to pray with us or for us. They’re just supposed to know, and we shouldn’t have to say a word. If they were real Christians then they would just know I’m hurting and need their help. And the reason we don’t want to have to say a word, the reason we don’t want to ask for the prayers of others is because once we get found, we become accountable. We can’t ask people to pray for us and still go on pretending there’s nothing wrong. Once we get found, we might have to change. And of course no one really wants to change. We want to wave a magic wand and have everything around us change, but we get to stay the same – no effort, no pain, no change.
Oh I don’t have to ask others to pray for me, I’ll just take it all to Jesus. But that’s the Jesus who lives in our left hip pocket who only tells us what we want to hear, and who never holds us accountable. Our spiritual friends can help us light the lamp, sweep the room and get found.
It’s up to us. It’s in our hands. God won’t violate our free will. But once we begin asking for the prayers of others, the healing power of Christ might begin to take hold in our lives. Get found Kid! Get found!