It’s that time of year again.
We’re just a few days away from January and new year’s resolutions and fresh starts, so naturally I’ve started thinking about #OneWord365 and what word I’m going to lean into in 2018. Some years, I choose the word with intentionality, a specific goal in mind. Other years, the word chooses me. It comes to me unexpectedly–the first thought upon waking in the morning or washing breakfast dishes or, as it did this year, while driving on a winding, country road in the thick darkness of the first night of solstice.
Well. That’s the word I’ve been given for this new year.
I shared recently that I’ve been reading solely the Gospels lately. Worn out by religion and the damage I’ve seen it do this year, I am keeping company and finding comfort with Jesus in these four books that chronicle his life and death. A few weeks ago, I began John and found myself sitting with a favorite story in chapter 5, the healing at the pool of Bethesda. Many manuscripts say that the pools were a common gathering place for the sick, disabled, and paralyzed; they were waiting for an angel to come to stir the waters, which they believed would heal them. The particular man in John 5 had been at the pool for 38 years, hoping…praying…waiting. Jesus finds this man and asks him, quite simply: “Do you want to be made well?” And the man, bless his heart, lists off all the reasons why that would be impossible. He has no one to help him to the pool, and when he does try to get there, someone always pushes him out of the way. And so he shrinks back. Swallows against the lump of disappointment that burns hot in his throat. Retreats to what is familiar, and he waits some more.
This past year, I have been that man. I have been longing for health, and healing, and wholeness–to be made well, perfect shalom for my mind, body, and soul. And here we are at the close of this year, and I am still waiting. And I think that maybe, just maybe, my one word for 2018 is God’s way of coming to me like he did to this invalid on the Sabbath all those years ago, and that maybe, just maybe, He is asking me too: “Do you want to be made well?”
In the scriptures, we read Jesus’ reply to the man’s litany of excuses. He doesn’t nod sympathetically, or pick up the man and carry him. Instead, I imagine Jesus holding the man’s gaze tenderly, yet firmly, as he answers him. “Pick up your mat and walk.” Stop waiting for others to do for you what I alone can give you. Throw all your excuses as to why you can’t away because I’m here now and I can. Get up, and leave behind the desert of waiting and wandering, and walk into your promised land. Arise, shine, your light has come!
Ironically enough, this isn’t the first time God has used this story to speak to me. The first time was almost a decade ago, when I was a young twenty-something who was going through a divorce and losing everything that was dear to her. My now-ex-husband had made it clear he wasn’t coming back, had contacted a lawyer to move forward with the divorce proceedings, and still, I waited. I hoped. I found myself lying face-first on my living room floor, soaking the carpet with angry tears as I yelled at God because I believed he had abandoned me.
And then; that still, small voice: “Get up off the floor.” Pick up your mat and walk. Do you want to be made well? Because divorce is not the end of your story.
Obviously, this time, my circumstances are much different, but my reaction? Very much the same. And so it should really be no surprise that God chooses to meet me here, all over again, and cup my chin and ask me that familiar question in that familiarly firm and tender way. Do you want to be made well?
You see, just like the infirm man we read about in John 5, being made well is going to require some effort on my part. And yes, it would be so much easier if the healing could take place without a bit of sacrifice, and yes, there are times when God chooses to work that way, but I think that this time, maybe he’s inviting me to be a little part of the miracle. That maybe, being made well isn’t this one, big, once-and-done, miss-it-and-it’s-gone-forever kind of thing, but maybe a “long obedience in the same direction”, a slow journey made from steps of trust, from intentionally choosing the narrow way when I’d much rather walk the wider path. Maybe being made well means I’m going to have to eat my vegetables, and drink more water, and take my vitamins every day, and get enough sleep. It means staying off Twitter, and limiting screen time, and putting the phone away to be present in my real, actual life. It means reading more books, and embracing the early mornings, and the discipline of prayer, and study. It means worrying more about being kind than being right. It means healthy boundaries, and living in community, and remembering we all belong to one another, and choosing to live as if the kingdom is here on earth just as it is in heaven. Being made well means having accountability, and learning to say no, and exchanging what might make me feel better in the moment for what will sustain me in the future. It means, as Jonathan Martin would say, learning to be both vigilant and tender; to see hard things and sometimes say hard things–and yet, not allow our hearts to be hardened. It means biting my tongue sometimes, and speaking when I’d rather not at other times. It means fresh air, and singing more, and writing, even if it’s only a sentence or two a day, and investing in moisturizer with SPF in it because I’ve neglected my skin for too long. It means buying clothes in the size I actually am and not the size I want to be, because ain’t nobody got time to be suffocated by what doesn’t free you, and it means recognizing that’s a metaphor for living an authentic actual life, too. It means more face time and less Facebook, and it means asking for help when I need it, and giving help, even if it’s inconvenient. In short: If I want to be made well, it’s time to get up and start walking.
Another thing I love is well is also what we call a homograph, a pair of words that have the same written form but different meanings. I will be leaning into well in 2018, and it will bring me health, and healing, the beautiful Greek word known as sozo, complete wholeness, and it will be good. But there’s another kind of well I’ve got my eye on, and I see now that I can’t have one without the other.
My favorite books of scripture are the prophets; holy, ancient words that have a way of getting under my skin and sitting heavy in my chest, words that make my blood thump hot and my hands tremble a bit while reading them. I frequently return to Isaiah; it’s a sort of home for me.
Today I read his words in a new light. “With joy,” he declares, “you will draw water from the wells of salvation! And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted'” (12:3-4).
There it is. That’s the well I’m after. I want to be made well for that well. I want the water that does not run dry, the deep well of joy that is found in him, and I want to give thanks, and make his goodness known.
Well. It’s not necessarily the word I would have gone after, but that’s because I’ll always choose the easy path if given an option between that and the hard. But I’ve learned over the years that hard things are often holy things too, and easy might be comfortable, but it doesn’t teach me to grow.
So for the next year, my wish for all of us is to lean into the hard things and refuse to settle for a lesser life. To know deep joy and to drink from deep wells. To take care of ourselves and take care of each other and take care of our world; and when it’s all said and done, to walk away from the year as better versions of ourselves than when we welcomed it.