I stumbled the other day. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, thinking of a million other things rather than where my feet were, stepped with my foot half on and half off a driveway, and down I went. A single curse word escaped me as I fell, landing on hands and knees, palms scraped, one knee stinging and the other covered in mulch from the yard next to the driveway. I got up slowly, steadily, testing for damage. Nothing serious. A little less skin on my hands, a rising bruise on one knee. I brushed myself off and moved on, paying closer attention to my feet. But my train of thought had been completely disrupted.
It was ironic, because that same day, I had experienced a stumble of another sort- a sort of spiritual stumble. I had been going along, mind on a million other things, and from somewhere in the past a snaring obstacle caught my feet and I tumbled down.
It wasn’t an old habit I slipped back into, or some past sin I chose to revisit. It wasn’t even something that I did. It was a circumstance from my past that came up suddenly, unexpected and yet not at all unfamiliar, from a time when I was a much lesser, broken person. And as it happened, I stumbled. In my mind I became that lesser one, cowed and beaten by this world. I forgot myself and slipped so easily back into the past, pulled by this specter of another time.
I know I am being vague, but those of you who have survived something- survived isn’t even a word that does it justice- been reborn and made whole from something know that it doesn’t matter what the something is. The emphasis should be on the cleansing, not on the dirt.
Anyhow, much like when I stumbled literally, I was startled by it, and checked myself for damage. This involved asking the question “Am I still the creature of the past, broken and lacking? Or am I the new creation, made whole?”
I am studying the book of James, and had been reading it for a few weeks, and find very applicable to my stumbling. From chapter 1: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Consider my stumble pure joy? Actually, yes. If it produces perseverance in me, then yes it is pure joy. If it causes me to remember that I am still a work in progress, not yet “mature and complete”, still lacking, then bring it. But bring with it the grace to handle it as well. Bring the maturity that will grow out of it.
And when I had that spiritual stumble, I was knocked off the sure footing that I know as a new creature in Christ. This darkness from the past, this feeling of brokenness and unworthiness, swelled so fast within me that I was left startled and worried by it. Again I ask: which am I? The frightened, self-loathing child of the past? Or the child of God of the present?
James helped me there as well. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Was I asking from a position of belief? Belief not simply in my transformation, but in the transformer Himself? Or was I asking as one who doubts, as James puts it, one tossed by the wind? Did I stumble because I was double-minded and unstable? The unstable certainly are prone to stumbling!
I knew the answer before I even asked the question. I stumbled not because I am still a victim of my past, but because being rescued and made whole from it is a process. It is what James meant by “letting perseverance finish its work” and being made “mature and complete”.
Now I am left with a scab on my knee, and a real, but merely fleeting, disquiet in my heart. It acts as a reminder to be thankful that wounds can be healed, and that real stability can be found.