Here’s a message I shared at Omokoroa Community Church last Sunday. You can warm up by reading Psalm 32:1-7.
Many of you will have heard that something noteworthy happened in New Zealand Cricket last week. For the first time in our 84 years of being a Test playing nation, someone scored 300 runs, by themselves. Brendon McCullum, Black Caps captain, batted across 3 days for 750 minutes to bring this up. You could watch the LOTR extended editions in that time, almost. Maybe you could read all three LOTR books in that time. Its an event sports fans have been waiting for, and certainly didn’t expect to see anytime soon.
Some others of you may remember that a New Zealander had come close to scoring 300 before. His name was Martin Crowe. He was one of the great batsmen in the world, particularly respected for batting with only one good leg, and his captaining of the team, especially at the famous 1992 World Cup, when NZ almost won it from nowhere. He scored 299 in a Test in 1991 before getting out, one run short of the milestone. After Brendon McCullum scored his triple century, Martin Crowe wrote an article simply entitled, ‘Thank you, Brendon.’
I want to read some parts of what he wrote, because it is fascinating. He writes,
‘I have shared the belief that I became riddled with cancer due to my toxic suppression of negative events throughout my life. What isn’t known is that one of those demons was my decision to not field against Pakistan in the semi-final of the 1992 World Cup, and to instead put my torn hamstring on ice, elevated and compressed, in an attempt to be fit for the final at the MCG, four days later. I thought we had enough on the board (262 on a slow, low pitch) and the medical advice was that to be fit to play in four days I needed to elevate and ice immediately, and therefore not field. I have regretted that decision for nearly 22 years.
On Saturday…I delivered an address to a large audience as part of the 1992 World Cup team reunion….
As I admitted my regret of that decision, I broke down. As I looked into the eyes of Ian Smith, Andrew Jones, Dipak Patel, Mark Greatbatch and the rest of the squad, I choked up completely. From deep within, the pain of that regret surfaced unexpectedly. I somehow finished my speech and sat down next to my wife, Lorraine. She had not known of this pain, and now it was finally out. As I sat there I realised I was free of a curse that had tormented me for over two decades.
….Yet one demon remained.
February 4, 1991. Basin Reserve. I never forgave myself for getting out for 299 against Sri Lanka. Not a week would go by when I wouldn’t be reminded of the one run I craved so much. It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh. I did not know how to let it go, could never laugh at the absurdity of my anger. Ultimately it contributed to a dislike of myself, and to a notion that I was not worthy enough. I was desperate to be liked and I thought scoring big hundreds would suffice. I even thought one more run would be enough. I was staggeringly naïve to think so. I missed the entire point of life, how it should be appreciated.
In the last year, through counselling and various unexpected moments, I have learnt to let go…I felt a massive weight lift from within….
And now today, with Brendon scoring our nation’s first ever triple-hundred, I have finally removed the one remaining stone in my shoe. It’s pathetic to even have to do so, yet massively necessary.’
Now, I know its tempting to say, ‘Geez mate, its only a game,’ but that would be to miss that something real is happening here, even in the midst of a game of cricket.
Martin Crowe’s article almost perfectly parallels our reading from Psalm 32. He speaks of the weight of living with his failure, of the burden he carried as he kept them to himself. He talks about how they came to define him, as if he was nothing more than this collection of moments when he had come up short, even while the rest of the world held him in respect and honour for his achievements. It wasn’t enough, because the failures were clung on too, scared to let them out lest they be seen by others. The language Crowe uses is amazing for a sportswriter in a sports article,
‘It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh. I did not know how to let go, could never laugh at the absurdity of my anger.’
And we hear an echo of this in Psalm 32,
‘When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.’
The line from Crowe that caught me most however, was when he said,
‘I never forgave myself for getting out for 299…’
Now I’m not great on grammar – but I know that a sentence needs a subject, a verb and sometimes an object. ‘I’ is the subject, this is who the sentence is about. ‘Never forgave’ is the verb. And ‘myself’ is the object, the one who was never forgiven. Interesting. I know we use this phrase a bit in our world, but have we stopped to think about it? It sets ourselves up in opposition to…ourselves! It states that a part of us cannot abide another part of us. It declares a state of civil war within ourselves, and apparently, this state is going to be ongoing, unceasing.
There was a civil war raging inside Martin Crowe, and it was killing him.
There is a civil war raging inside of me, and it is killing me.
Is there a civil war raging inside of you, and does it hurt?
You see, the church has an answer to this war, a peace- process to the conflict we are all caught up in, in us and between us and around us. Its called, confession. Its called owning up, letting go, spilling the beans. Its what Martin Crowe did when he told his old friends about his regret and his failure. Confession. But it has fallen out of favour. Somewhere along the way, we have all agreed that Christians, of all people, need to be seen to live tidy lives; respectable, ordered lives – otherwise the world might think we’re no better than them. Newsflash church, we are no better than them. We aren’t here because we’re better, we’re here because we are broken and we know it, and we know we can’t fix ourselves. We are fundamentally the same, built out of the same stuff, we have weak moments, bad days, secret fears, vulnerable marriages, mean streaks. We aren’t immune to being human. I would go so far as to say, unless we confess, we aren’t fully human. We are like a cardboard cutout with no substance. We’re a 2 dimensional projection of what we wish we looked like. Richard Rohr writes this,
‘All God can love is who you really are, because that’s the only you that really exists. All the rest is just in your head.’
Unless we confess, the brokenness (ie the real us, which is true and alive) stays hidden, bottled up, going bad, turning toxic inside us, and the civil war rages on. We have thought it better to appear sorted, to deny who we are and what we are, and we have lived in that denial so long and so completely that we aren’t sure what the truth about ourselves is anymore. And we are certain that no one could ever know the truth about us and still love us, all because we can’t.
Let me ask you, have you ever found yourself hating a part of yourself, the way you behave in a certain situation, or a habit you just can’t break? Have you ever uttered the words, ‘I can never forgive myself for that…I am so disappointed with myself…I will take this to my grave…’
How can you live in peace if you can’t have peace with yourself?
Let me ask you something else? Who is the enemy Jesus is asking you to love? Who is the persecutor Jesus is asking you to forgive? Who is the one who has betrayed you who Jesus is asking you to embrace? Who is the oppressor who Jesus is asking you to go the extra mile with? Could it not be these parts of ourselves that we loathe so much, that Jesus wants us to make peace with, to be a friend to?
After all, Jesus wants us to love others as we love ourselves.
But if the way we love ourselves is seasoned with hate, unforgiveness and condemnation, then is it any wonder we struggle?
Let me ask you another question. If you, as a whole person were represented by a flock of, say 100 sheep, and one of them, (or 10 of them, or 67 of them) wandered off from the safe pastures, acted really stupidly, ignoring the shepherds voice, and got themselves completely lost, what would Jesus do? What is Jesus doing with those lost sheep that stand for the lost and broken parts of who we are? Let me tell you – he is finding them, he is forgiving them, he is making peace with them.
Can we make peace with ourselves? Could we then make peace with each other? Can we stop condemning ourselves and step into the bright light of God’s love where all that we are and all that we are not can find their resting place. We are not as we will always be – but in the meantime, are we meant to hate ourselves? Or is God calling us to love the enemy within? Can we let this become a community where people can be whole, as they are, who they are – without feeling they need to pretend or perform. God I want that. God I need that.
Confession is how we do it. Its how we start. Its how we own who we are, what we are, and what we are not. Its where we can bring our disappointment into the embrace of God, and find ourselves still loved, still cherished, still accepted – that God doesn’t love us because he doesn’t know us, but because he truly does. All of us. He doesn’t just love parts of us, and leave the rest outside – listen to this in Colossians,
Jesus was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
There is room for all of you, even the parts you despise and cannot accept, God can, God does, God loves. He sees you fully and loves you completely. There is no shame or shaming. You are, with all of your broken pieces, rough edges and ancient hurts, in Christ, in the love of the Father, enlivened by the life of the Spirit. That is the truest truth about yourself. In that freedom, we are safe and so we can confess, we can start to really know and love ourselves, as we discover just how deeply God knows and loves us. And once we have learnt to love ourselves, maybe we can start to love others for real as well.