Dan Berrigan once commented that if Jesus returned to earth he would take a whip and drive out both the patients and doctors from all counselling and psychologists’ offices with the words: “Take up your couch and walk! You’ve been given skin to survive in this world!” There is wisdom and challenge in those words. God covered our nerves with skin, we are not so hypersensitive. He has also given us a remarkable resiliency and an incredible capacity to heal. We are tougher and more elastic than we actually think. I remember my first surprising reminder of this. As a young child playing hockey I was bullied and hit by a bigger kid. I fell and began to cry, convinced that I was seriously hurt. I waited vainly for the world to stop and for everyone to come and examine my hurt. But the game went on and I lay on the ice, ignored, until someone came and challenged me with the fact that I was not really hurt at all. I was only feeling sorry for myself and was quite capable, if I wanted, of continuing to play. It came as a surprise to realize that I was not so fragile after all. I could take a lick. It was humiliating, to be sure, but I was quite capable of bouncing back.
As we get older, the games, the bullying and the hurts become less physical, more psychological, more sophisticated. But one dynamic remains constant, most often we are not as hurt as we think. Invariably there is more self-pity than actual wound. As human beings we are, in fact, gifted with an incredible resiliency. Skin, bones, psyches, hearts, when pushed to it, these have a remarkable bounce. They don’t break so easily and, when they do, they have an unbelievable capacity to heal. We can take a fall, a hurt, a cut, a rejection. It doesn’t kill us, we heal; there is seldom an excuse for paralysis, never one for despair. We are tougher than we think. It is when we forget this that we get ourselves into trouble and find ourselves far away from the feast, happiness and celebration that God has put at the heart of life. The most incredible and challenging of all of Christ’s teachings is that we can in fact be happy, that we can celebrate and enjoy life, even though we and the world we live in are far from perfect. Mostly we do not believe this. Mostly we go through life protesting our right to despair, partly paralyzed by self-pity and limping when there is not enough reason to limp.
Silently or out loud, we tell God and others: “If you knew how much I have been hurt, you wouldn’t tell me that I can be happy! If you only knew how fragile I am! If you only knew how sensitive I am and how easily I can be hurt! If you only knew how unfair it is for me. If you only knew how I have been rejected! If you only knew…! It is too late for me. I am too wounded!” But that posture and attitude is, in the end, a form of self-pity, a mini-masturbation which sells us short. It sells God short too for he endowed us with more than that. He gave us more resiliency, more bounce, more toughness, more capacity for healing and, God knows, more reason to hope than we allow ourselves in our hypersensitivity. It is good to be sensitive, but too often we are unhealthy hypersensitive. We think that our bones are broken when they aren’t, that our psyches and hearts don’t have any more bounce when they do, that a wound will never heal when it will, and that we are paralyzed when we aren’t. So we limp or lie down and offer a myriad of excuses which explain why we cannot be happy. The challenge is needed: take up your couch and walk, you’ve been given skin! We are tougher than we give ourselves credit for.
Knowing this should help us move out towards celebration, beyond our hurts. With the elasticity of body, psyche, and heart that God has given us we are not allowed to despair. Ultimately we can absorb anything and bounce back. Because of this we are allowed to make some mistakes and to take some bad falls. We will get hurt, but we may never say: “I hurt too much to enter the game of celebration again. I am beyond healing!” We are never beyond healing. Christ’s challenge to celebrate is uncompromising. It challenges us to our own capacities, to our own toughness, to love beyond hurt. It challenges us to risk great hurt. Nikos Kazantzakis starts his autobiography with these words:
“Three kinds of souls, three prayers: 1) I am a bow in your hands, Lord, draw me, lest I rot. 2) Do not overdraw me, Lord, I shall break. 3) Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break!” When we know how resilient God has made us, we risk the third prayer.