“You can’t handle the truth!”
Those that have seen the film “A Few Good Men” know this scene well. Jack Nicholson, as Marine Col Jessup, screaming at Tom Cruise’s character, Naval lawyer Lt Kaffee, dressing him down for attempting to hold him accountable for the death of a Marine. Kaffee is the cocky, self-absorbed attorney who prefers the plea-bargain to justice. The accused are unapologetic soldiers, trained to value honor over people, and Jessup is the hardened military lifer responsible for guarding the wall that protects our freedom. For Jessup, the truth is that the comforts we dearly treasure are provided by means and at costs about which we’d prefer to be naive because to know them would be to bring upon ourselves an unbearable guilt.
As I peer out at my life from the vantage point of my soul, I see the wreckage of a wall of self-sufficiency that disease has caused. And yet I see now that it may very well have saved my life.
My sweet mother loves to tell me that I’m a good man. I may have only just finished doing the dishes, but I know she means it. She’s seen a lot of men, been hurt by them, been loved by them and is as good a judge of goodness as there is, I suspect. But every time she tells me this, I cringe. Goodness might just mean I haven’t been tempted past the breaking point. Given different circumstances, I might have believed a lie. Instead, I discovered a deeper truth. My need. For a savior. That’s the truth that we really can’t handle.
One of the most difficult things about making my life “public” is that it is ever humbling. You know about my disease and you know about my faith. The physical and the spiritual parts of me wrestle in my soul like Jacob and the angel, and I tell you all about it. I tell you about my crumbled wall.
I have heard a variety of responses to these blog posts, all of them positive, though I don’t kid myself into thinking there are no negative ones–I just haven’t heard those. What has struck me, though, is the frequency that I hear something along the lines of “thank you for being so open.” That I would frequently be thanked for being open must imply that it is unusual, perhaps even some form of bravery. Why? Because I’m displaying my weakness? That’s true. Because I’m trying to be honest about my struggles? True too. Because I’m describing my fears? Yes. But bravery? No. There’s nothing to protect. I’ve nowhere to hide except in Christ. I wonder if the appreciation suggests a hiding behind a wall of self-sufficiency that continues to be protected. Why are we so afraid to be open?
As the title suggests, Jack was in another movie, “As Good as It Gets”. In it, his character, Melvin Udall, has extreme OCD, but, let’s face it, he’s a jerk. He develops an unlikely relationship with Carol Connelly, played by Helen Hunt. At the end of the movie, Melvin and Carol are walking down a New York sidewalk, when Melvin begins to avoid a series of lines on the road. Carol stops and watches him, and then says, “I’m sorry. Whatever this is isn’t going to work.” He tries, with a compliment, to convince her to give him a chance and even attempts an awkward kiss. She stares at him as if to say, “no, this just won’t work.” But then he says, “I can do better” and truly embraces her. A sincere act of love. The possibility of change.
I doggedly refuse to accept that my life or anyone else’s is as good as it gets, and I testify that there has only ever been one good man. And though I’m someone who struggles mightily sometimes to enjoy the moment, as I live, I continually see before me unlimited possibilities. So why not be open? Not living behind a wall of fear and pride, not trying to be good, not trying to appear self-sufficient, has set me free. Rather than protect an image of myself, I project an image of Christ. All my good deeds point to him. All of my failures are forgiven in him. All of my relationships are upheld by him. New life is conceived in him, thus my future promises to be unpredictable, uncertain, and exhausting but never boring, superficial, or static. And to me, that’s truly living.