Friday, October 16, 2009

Ouch Moments

Some people have "Aha" moments. You know, when something becomes clear to you in an instant, or when you finally discover something you've been searching for or thinking about for a long time. Rather like Archimedes crying "Eureka!" (I've found it!) when he discovered that he displaced water when he got into his bathtub. Or those folks in the cartoons who get little lightbulbs above their heads. We think, "Aha!" as the idea comes to us.

Well, I have those, too. But I also have what I call "Ouch" moments. Those are the times when you read something or hear something that is obviously pointed directly at you and your own behavior or attitudes. It's typically something that you realize is true about you, but which is rather unflattering. I get Ouch moments sometimes while listening to our preacher. I haven't yet figured out why he's preaching directly at me, but he does it with distressing regularity.

I had an Ouch moment the other day, and it was in concert with a friend's Ouch moment, too. My buddy was telling several of us about some time he'd spent alone with God. He was seeking to hear from God, and he opened his Bible to read this passage in Isaiah:

And now the LORD says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength-
he says:
"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."
Isaiah 49:5-6

Except for one small glitch. In verse 6, my friend read two words out of order. I was listening rather than reading along, and didn't notice it at the time. He read, "Is it too small a thing . . ." instead of "It is too small a thing . . ." That turned a statement into this question: "Is it too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept?"

My immediate response was "Ouch!" In fact, I said that out loud. That verse, when put that way, hit me squarely between the eyes. Now there is no disputing that the verse doesn't ask that question. For Isaiah, that wasn't an Ouch moment. (He had plenty of others.) Isaiah heard it correctly. We didn't. But hearing it incorrectly had a big impact on my friend, and on me.

Please, please don't misunderstand me here. I'm not suggesting that we try to misread scripture and draw lessons from it. But the principle expressed by that question is one that is found throughout scripture. God told David he was not to be the one to build the temple. He told Paul that God's grace was sufficient, and he wasn't going to heal him. In addition, this principle is something we all should recognize and feel in our bones. We often want God to do one thing for us, or with us, or through us, and God tells us that he has something else in mind. And he gently tells us that he has blessed us in other ways, given us other talents, performed other deeds through us. "But that's not what I wanted," we whine. So God gives us that Ouch moment.

I've had lots of Ouch moments in my life. Some are painful, such as the time I heard and saw myself scolding my son on videotape. That was me? I really sounded like that? I hate it when people sound like that with their kids. Ouch! That left a mark.

Some Ouch moments are hilarious. One of my favorites is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (How's that for a theological movie?)

In the film, the peasants have brought a woman (whom they have dressed like a witch) to Sir Bedivere, crying "A witch! A witch! Burn her!"

Bedivere asks, "How do you know she's a witch?"

One of the peasants (John Cleese) replies, "She turned me into a newt!"

His Ouch moment came when all of them look at him in his obvious non-newtness.
After a moment of embarrassment he mumbles, "I got better." And they went on to more silliness, eventually deciding that if the woman weighed the same as a duck, she was a witch.

Our Ouch moments are teaching moments, if we have the wit and courage to recognize them.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go bandage up this wound . . .

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