A young girl walks along a sidewalk when a police officer suddenly flies into her from behind, knocking her off her feet with such force that she slams into the wall beside her and falls to the ground. Stunned or perhaps momentarily unconscious, she lies there motionless while he quickly handcuffs her arms behind her back.
That video clip on the morning news was a lead-in to a discussion on possible excessive force used by the police department. I didn’t wait to hear the details but turned off the TV, aware that I’d seen the clip in response to a question I’d been asking God about a coworker of mine.
“How are you today?” he mutters, his face and voice directed at the floor rather than toward the customers he is required to address. Needless to say, they often don’t even hear him speak. Unsure if the question is directed to them when they do, they fail to answer. Met with only silence in response, he asks the question again but in the same way, netting the same silence in return. When he poses the question a third time I want to break the awkward silence by telling him to simply look up at the person he’s speaking to.
But that’s the issue. He won’t look anyone in the eye. Raising his arm to cover his face from view, he peers under it to analyze the groceries coming down the belt towards him, mentally grouping the items that should be bagged together before they reach him. He bags them with his head down and answers any questions the same way. When forced to speak, he lifts the neck of his shirt to cover his mouth. Everything about him indicates a desire to be invisible. It’s an obvious struggle for him to fulfill the requirements of a job that forces him to deal with the public on a daily basis.
His attitude frustrates coworkers and confuses the shoppers. Some mock him, but most people just look at him in bewilderment and then grant him the solitude he craves. Others try to speak to him kindly and draw him out, but he keeps himself hidden behind doors he has shut to his inner being. I’ve noticed that his supervisors are unusually patient with him and am surprised that they tolerate his many quirks. But perhaps it’s because they know his history that they cut him a little extra slack.
I’ve heard that he hasn’t always been this way. Apparently he is very bright, went to college and excelled in his studies. But just as his future was opening before him, an altercation with a family member (or so the story goes) knocked him down emotionally and severely damaged him, handcuffing his ability to function normally. Now even an entry-level position in a grocery store is frequently more than his fragile psyche can handle.
Some of us have likewise been blindsided in life by circumstances that have knocked us completely off course. While recovering and moving on as best we can, we remain handicapped by that incident and live lives far below the level that God intended. Those around us become confused and then frustrated at our inability to overcome the trial and begin to abandon us, accelerating our descent into isolation and despair.
What we need is an intervention, and thankfully God has provided One. Thinking about this coworker one day at work as he bagged groceries at the end of my lane, I pictured Jesus walking up to him, pulling that arm down from across his face, lifting his head up with his finger and gently turning his head with his hand, forcing him to look Him in the eye. There he would find the love and acceptance he so desperately needed, as well as freedom from his shackles, the regaining of the hope he lost, and the opening once more of the future that was taken from him.
For some of us the pain is compounded by the fact that it is the religious system itself that has failed and wounded us, making us reluctant to trust spiritual advisors of any kind. Yet we err when we confuse the fallible institutions of man with the unerring love of a merciful and loving God. How it must frustrate the heart of God when such situations keep us away from the help, healing and wholeness that are found in a true relationship with Him!
We need to lift our eyes off the situations that are dragging us down and direct our gaze onto the face of the One who has defeated the very things we fear. Truly Jesus is the eye of the storm so to speak, the place of calm in the midst of chaotic events swirling around us. In Him we find the peace and strength we need to confront the situations that threaten us and the key that unlocks the handcuffs holding us back from the future awaiting us. Once we are settled in Him, we can look our storms in the eye and speak His word of victory over our situations, even as the wind blows around us and the rain pelts us in the face.
Elizabeth Smart did just that recently. You may remember her as the young girl who was kidnapped several years ago and held captive for nine months by a criminal who was just recently sentenced to life in prison. When given the opportunity to face him in court and to speak her mind, she spoke of the beautiful life she has now and told him that he no longer has the power to affect her existence in any way.
It’s important to remember that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). We, too, need to face our adversary and speak our confidence that his influence over our lives has been defeated by the power, grace and glory of Jesus Christ, who rules and reigns in us.
When we look to Jesus in our storms, we find the courage to look our accuser in the face… and the love and confidence within us to look others in the eye, as well.
“…He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.” (Luke 8:24 NIV)