Tonight at Lifegroup my wife showed us aTED talk from a psychiatrist who spent 6 years studying shame. Her research was astounding. We are simultaneously the most anorexic, overweight, addicted and overmedicated generation of adults in human history, the reason being that our sense of shame is so all encompassing. However, she also spoke about a certain percentile of the population who she referred to as those who live “whole-heartedly.” They aren’t necessarily what we would think of as the most successful people, or the most fill-in-the-blank, although they tend to thrive. The defining quality of these people is a strong sense of belonging, rooted in the belief that they are worthy of love and acceptance. But here’s the twist: nearly all of these “whole-hearted” people, when asked, stated that vulnerability is one of the most important factors in the way they live their lives. Sounds Biblical, right?
It seems counter-intuitive to think that what is, essentially an outward display of weakness, positively correlates to a life well lived. But as usual, modern day research merely shows that the principles spoken of in the Old and New Testaments have always been sincerely and profoundly true. Psalm 22, from where we get the famous line, “my God, why have you forsaken me?” opens with a wretched king David lamenting the success of his enemies, as well as his own helplessness: “I am a worm, not a man!” (v. 6) Many pastors are quick to point out the undulating streams of worship that flow from his mouth in the same breath, but I noticed something new tonight in this passage. Verse 20 has David crying, “Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the dogs!”
I’ll be frank. I’ve been going to church since I was a teenager, so when we talk about being honest with God, being raw and real, brutal with how we feel, yet praising Him simultaneously… I get that. But finding the strength–no, the courage–to somehow say “I am a worm,” while saying “my life is precious.” That is something I’m not used to. I didn’t grow up with it, and odds are few of you reading this grew up with it. That’s because the economy of our current culture is based on lament. We go about our lives, using stress or pain as a status symbol. There is something subconscious in us that says our importance comes from the amount of problems we have. Most of us honestly could do something about these problems if we wanted. We could get more sleep, say no to a few more things. But we don’t, because deep down we still buy into that old lie that our worth comes from what we do.
It’s no different within the walls of our churches, either. Within the body of Christ we are silently competing with one another to see who can sleep the least, or expend the most energy on ministry. We glorify those who give, and those who give beyond their human capacity to give, we make into our own Christian celebrities. That is, until this unhealthy lifestyle lands a leader in the middle of a scandal. Then we disown them.
And yet, here was David, a man who defined himself as a worm. At this point in his life, he really was a worm, too. A king stripped of his crown. How embarrassing! But he still believed his life was precious. Because David, moreso than any other figure in the Old Testament looked to God as his justifier. And so as God hung on a cross, He quoted David: “Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani!” Why have you forsaken me? Christ, who was the very essence of life. The being through which all goodness procedes made Himself to be a worm. It levels the playing field, doesn’t it? The One who is precious made Himself like us. So we are precious. Do you see it yet? It’s going to take plenty of vulnerability to get there.