Sometimes we hear a story that initially sounds unremarkable. But then we hear what is behind the story and it gives insight that changes our appreciation for what we first heard. A reflective reading about a paralyzed man in scripture once brought about a change in perspective like that for our family. For Larry and I, it was the birth of our thinking about who our Walking Partners are and what they mean to us.
In short form, here’s the Bible’s recount of what happened to the paralyzed man:
Some men came, bringing to (Jesus) a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” MARK 2:3-5
What Larry and I used to remember most about this situation is that the man was physically healed (recorded later in verse 12) while Jesus claimed and proved to be God by also forgiving him. The central message of the story seemed clear, but we discovered there is so much more to be learned from this man’s experience. Reflecting on the back story deepened our faith and opened our eyes to a better way to live.
Consider this: a man’s life was forever transformed (inside and out) because there were friends who brought him to Jesus. His friends didn’t stop short at simply meeting his practical needs. They tore through somebody’s roof to get their friend in front of Jesus where more, so much more, was accomplished. Not only was the paralyzed man healed, he was saved from his sins and would spend eternity with God. To top it all off, many others witnessed it and glorified God.
I often wonder: Did this man ask his friends to take him to Jesus or did they initiate the journey with an offer to come pick him up after lunch? Did the man go willingly or did his friends have to urge him, prod him or just take up the corners of his mat saying, “You may not like it, but we’re going and you can’t do thing one about it!”
I’m glad I don’t know those details of this situation because it leaves all the options open. I’m stretched to consider many ways of walking in friendship that can be eternally meaningful — things like being willing to ask for help, initiating support even when it may not be welcomed, sacrificially giving my time, enthusiastically and tenaciously sharing my faith.
In the mid 1990s, Larry and I went through a storm in our marriage. Our small group of Bible Study friends and two Christian temperament counselors were instrumental in walking us back to a strong relationship with each other and into much deeper intimacy with our Savior Jesus Christ.
A few years later, after Carly was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome in 2000, we had friends who helped us in several practical ways (probably not unlike the friends of the paralyzed man who helped meet many of his daily needs in addition to carrying his mat from time to time). But even more valuable than supporting practical needs, we had friends who came alongside of us in grief and confusion with prayer and Christ-centered encouragement. They helped us gain insight into what God’s purposes might be in our challenges. They took us to the feet of Jesus where the deepest longings of our hearts could be fully satisfied and things of eternal value could be birthed out of our suffering.
For all the support we have received, sometimes people have let us down too. We have been disappointed many times over the years when even close friends or family seemed to forget us. But even then, there were others who helped bring our focus back where it belonged — on our infinitely perfect Heavenly Father rather than on imperfect people who will always fall short. If the world could meet all of our needs, we would forget how desperately we need God. The best Walking Partners compassionately remind us of that.
LORD, I realize there is too much at stake to miss any opportunity to build friendships like this into my life. Help me to be strategic in developing Christ-centered friendships. Show me how to give and receive the kind of friendship that bears fruit of eternal value. AMEN