Atlas, Prufrock, Zacchaeus, and Me

The radiation treatment God worked through to cure me of my childhood leukemia killed my growth cells. I struggle with the right word here. Were they injured, damaged, removed, made inactive, destroyed, incinerated, obliterated? No word strikes me as correct, likely because I don’t understand what happened to me. I was only one.  

I do understand the consequences of this radiation. I have lived them. The major consequence being life. I am alive today due to how the Lord worked through the medical experts. Bringing them wisdom. Supplying them with courage. In many ways this radiation treatment became an anchor point for my faith. God gave me new life, so I dedicate it to him. 

Of all the minor consequences, though, the most apparent to others is my height. Being twenty-five-years-old, I am four feet, eight inches tall. I mean to emphasis this as being most apparent to others, as foolish as this sounds, for in my pride I often feel much taller than I really am.  

Atlas  

Meeting new people is a humbling experience. One afternoon, during my time as a graduate student, I left my office after studying some very important texts. As a result, I felt that I needed to share God’s good news with a stranger. I felt it was imperative to do so along the two-minute walk to the parking garage. 

I felt like Atlas, as if the salvation of the world rested on my shoulders. I alone had the knowledge to help others. 

I saw a man wearing a Chicago Cubs hat on the corner of Wisconsin and 13th, heading west. I walked north as he waited for his walk light to turn on. I knew I was going to lead with a baseball connection—I too like the Chicago Cubs—but I did not have a plan for anything after this opening line. I decided to go for it anyway:  

“Hey man, go Cubs, right? This is our year.” I said.  

“You look like a small boy.” He said, catching me off guard.

His comment embarrassed me. To hide this fact, I grinned, chuckled, and said in quick response:  

“Yes, I do. Have a good one.”  

What had I gained from this? Why had I abandoned my goal so quickly? One answer works for both questions. I remembered that I was small, weak, and powerless, when moments before I felt tall, strong, and able to do all things.  

Prufrock 

A few weeks ago my wife and I were buying yarn from a fabric and craft store. I stood in the aisle recalling to myself the large novel I had just read in record time, and the large novel I myself planned to write, when someone flickered in my peripheral vision, waking me from my daydream of being interviewed in front of a large group of people. 

Standing under magnificently tall rows of yarn and string, I looked toward the walkway. There was no one there, then almost immediately, a young girl popped her head around. She was looking at me. She was giggling. I heard, or at least I thought I heard, whispering. Then nothing again, and immediately then a boy, presumably her younger brother, popped his head around. He also was looking at me. I smiled, but by the time I did he was gone. 

I looked back at the yarn, my wife in deep contemplation of whether to select this blue or that blue, when an older boy, presumable the other boy and girl’s older brother, took a step into the aisle and looked at me as well. This continued. There must have been five children in this family, and each wanted their turn to stare at me. Some even came for second glances.  

This is not a rare occurrence—kids and adults alike stare at me in public places. I was not offended nor was I angry. I did not talk to them.  

I often ask myself, would it have been worth it to say, “I almost died from cancer, and God saved me. Like this, I was dead spiritually, but in Christ I have new life. I am like Lazarus, who came back from the dead. Believe in Jesus, one and all.” 

But they’ll reply in whispers, “Look at him, he is not tall.”  

I knew they had no intention of talking to me. To them I was like an animal at the zoo, stuck in a cage, meant to be stared at.  

Pride Impedes Obedience  

When I’m embarrassed by the comments and stares of strangers, I turn to someone else’s story to help me understand my own. Am I an Atlas, destined to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders? Am I a Prufrock, destined to be overlooked and mocked, even by my own psyche? Both narratives appeal to my pride, as I make myself out to be something grandiose and tragic.  

The Bible provides better narratives. Not because they are historical, but because they bring peace. Remember Jesus. He emptied himself of his divinity so that he could achieve complete obedience. It was his humility, his kenosis, that brought forth perfect obedience to God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11). 

Zacchaeus too demonstrated a kind of kenosis when he climbed the tree. If I were there, I would have said, “I cannot see over these tall people. I will go home rather than acknowledge that I am short.”

But Zacchaeus emptied himself of pride and climbed a tree so he could see his Savior. On this tree, not unlike Jesus on the cross, his weakness would be made apparent to all.

What rings true to me about these biblical narratives is they demonstrate how humility is necessary for obedience. Pride, however, impedes obedience. If I fear damage to my own reputation, then I’ll never preach God’s Gospel to strangers.  

My apparent weakness is God-given, and perhaps I’ll learn to embrace it as it glorifies him.