When I was little, I took ballet lessons like all my friends. Unlike all my friends, I was terrible. My legs and arms refused to conform to my ballerina dreams. If it would have been acceptable to move a 9-year-old into the preschool class, that’s what my teacher would have done. I was the skinniest kid in the class. This was highlighted by my gappy buck teeth and my massive curly hair. I moved awkwardly across the floor like a rhythmless tutu-wearing mop.
And, I always got in trouble—for being late, for talking and for chewing gum in class.
One day, I actually remembered my gum before I got caught. So, I considered my options—I could stick it on a nearby ballerina, throw it across the dance floor, or claim it was planted in my mouth.
I honestly don’t know why I didn’t consider swallowing it. What came to mind instead was what I call the “TV Good Idea”—essentially, something I saw in a movie that I figured one day I’d need to recall.
So, I stuck my gum behind my ear, just like Violet in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea for bald people or people in movies, but when your hair is so big that it doesn’t fit in pictures, you shouldn’t put gum anywhere near your head.
As I danced, the gum moved further and further up my hair. It soon looked like I’d fallen bun-first into a vat of silly putty.
When I got home, my mom and I set our faces toward the de-gumming process. Remedies were limited (#daysbeforegoogle), but I was desperate to try anything. I certainly didn’t want to have to cut off my hair at the scalp. We tried peanut butter, Dawn, ice—but these things were no match for the gum.
Finally, the time had come. My mom took the scissors and cut out a big chunk of hair behind my ear.
As a general rule, I’d rather fix things than remove them. I like reusing more than throwing things away. There’s something too dramatic about getting rid of something altogether.
Nobody likes surgery, so we try endless home remedies for our problems. But they often avoid the inevitable. You can only attempt to surface-fix something for so long. You can put leaves on your broken femur, but eventually, you should go see a doctor.
But we’ll do anything to avoid the pain of full extraction.
Cutting off, removing, getting rid of—these things feel unnecessary.
In our discipleship, we often want to be in two worlds—one, the world where we have our cake. Two, the world where we eat it. One, the world where we live as we want to live. Two, the world where we live as people who belong to God.
So, when awful, broken things pop up in our lives, when our harmful practices turn into habits, when relationships turn toxic, we’re reticent to write them off.
Maybe it’s redeemable. How bad can it be? Maybe if I scale back, justify further, yell less, gossip less—then I can stay right where I am.
I wish surgery wasn’t inevitable for me right now. I’m struggling to give into the process. I will do anything to avoid giving up what God’s asking me to hand over. If God wants my arrogance, he’s going to have to pry it out of my hands. If God wants to heal me, he’ll have to sedate me.
Unfortunately, God doesn’t use sedation to gain our cooperation. I know of no example where Jesus forces healing or chases people down so that they’ll receive sight.
Surgery requires our compliance.
Instead of coercion, Jesus asks questions: Do you want to get well?
Do you want to live? You get to choose.
But here’s the secret: if you really want life, then we can’t just bandage the sin. We have to cut it out.
It’s difficult when self-indulgence and withholding love have become so natural.
But the things I’m afraid to have removed are the very things that are killing me.
Elective surgery is not a real thing in the kingdom. Any thing that God removes is done because it needs to be removed so that life can happen.
And I want to live. I want to breathe. If I’m going to do this thing, I don’t want to do it half-way.
There’s no way around the removal process. The vine-dresser prunes what bears fruit so that it can bear more fruit.
If you want to bear fruit, you’d better get used to shearers.
We don’t perform the surgery. We show up, whatever that means, even when we show up in disbelief and with hands that don’t want to let go.
Surgery may not change how well we dance, but at least we’re fully alive. We may still lack rhythm, but when we cooperate with the deeper work, we’ll finally move with freedom.