When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a …

I’m positively starved for a bit of GRACE this week, and so I’m scrapping the doggone lectionary and focusing on John 9, where a beaten-down family and their son who is blind is being victimized once again. This time by Jesus’ own disciples.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Are you kidding me? Why not just shove a knife into one of their hearts—same effect.

     Jesus responds: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  (And no, this doesn’t mean God afflicted him as a baby with blindness in order to heal him, so that he would be able to receive faith through Christ. God DOES NOT work that way; that kind of abuse and manipulation can never be ascribed to God with one quick look at all the time Jesus spent healing people, regardless of their faith.)

     I wish I’d had this biblical narrative about the man born blind to contemplate back when our daughter was diagnosed on the autism spectrum 20 years ago. I hadn’t yet fallen in love with scripture as a means of transformation in my life, and so I got caught up in my questions of guilt and blame, just as the disciples do. It’s tragic how narrow and distorted the questions we ask about our lives become when we look at them through the lens of CAUSE. This is the lens we all use when trying to figure out how something bad, wrong, challenging, unfortunate, or unhappy happens to us or those we care about.

      The unavoidable trap this way of thinking sets for us, though, is So now that I think I know the cause…HOW DO I FIX IT? Right? If I can first understand the cause, then I can undo things to make them better. And…if the situation at hand is figuring out what caused your stomachache last night, focusing on “how do I fix it,” may help you discover a dairy intolerance or an aversion to gluten. Not a bad thing.

     But in a great number of life’s complexities, asking “how do I FIX it?” is like a surgeon walking into an operating room with a hammer looking for nails. I walked around like this in my daughter’s life for years before I realized that my “hammer mentality” was not allowing me to fully accept her situation for what it really was. I finally realized I wasn’t responsible to “fix it.” The complicated situations we are presented with in our lives, like having children who are born with a congenital abnormality… these situations are not best helped with questions of cause and blame and who’s going to fix this. The first question I find more helpful to ask in these deeply complicated life circumstances is,

“Where in this tender place of human vulnerability, do I see or feel a presence of God’s power and goodness?”

     There is a wonderful Zen story of a poor, old farmer whose only horse ran away one early spring day—his only plow and source of transport. The neighbors came to him and said, “Oh, so sad. What a tragedy.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

     The next day his horse returned, joined by 3 other wild horses. The neighbors exclaimed, “What wonderful fortune!” “Maybe,” said the farmer.

     While the farmer’s son was training the new horses, he fell off and broke his leg. “Ah, what terrible luck!” the neighbors chided. “Maybe,” said the farmer

     The king’s soldiers arrived to the village the following week conscripting young men into the military to fight in the latest war. When they saw the old man and the lame son, they walked on by. “Your family is a favored one!” the neighbors celebrated.

     I imagine that the farmer eventually stopped them by saying something like, “I am neither cursed, nor am I lucky, but rather I am blessed when I can experience peace and joy in any situation, trusting in a Source greater than myself to see me through.”

     In our Christian tradition, we call ‘peace and joy in any situation’ one of the many forms of the grace of God. Grace. Which is most easily found in our places of vulnerability. In our scripture today, God’s grace began to ease the pain of the blind man’s parents when Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Can you remember a time when someone’s words brought forgiveness or belonging and connection like a gentle rain to your soul? When grace touches us, it often softens up the rough and raw places within us, like a bit of balm on dry, irritated skin in winter.

May we be given grace this day to put down the bloody hammers in our lives.

But first, may we have the grace to notice our unhelpful love for nails.



1 comment on “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a …

  1. Thank you for the ways in which you offer healing and hope through your words and personal reflection. This post is most helpful in understanding and accepting our pain without blame or guilt, which is the first step in experiencing grace. This has often been difficult for me, but with your words and encouragement, may I learn to open my heart to receive this gift.


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