My brother Paul was mentally and physically handicapped. His right arm was paralyzed from a birth defect, and he walked with a limp. He had the same genes of intelligence the rest of us kids had but limited understanding. Brain damage caused by lack of oxygen at birth. So he had a strange mix smart and not smart. He could recite the state capitals in alphabetical order, and he surprised us with insight into the conversation — like an epiphany — when by all appearances, he wasn’t even paying attention.
He longed to marry and get out on his own, but that was not realistic… not without assisted-living anyway. Instead he lived at home his entire life. The year after my father died of cancer, Paul died of a heart attack. He’d had a congenital heart defect, and doctors had originally thought he’d never make it past infancy, so to live as long as he did was in itself a miracle. Still, we’re all pretty sure that since Dad was gone, Paul no longer had a vision for a future, so he just sort of gave up. He was 35.
Why a life like that? A life with no apparent purpose, and no way to self-actualization, independence and a companion? I can’t answer that, and it’s really not my place to. But I will say this: Paul brought a lot of joy to our family. With the drive in our family to do something “worthwhile” (yeah, that’s another post), Paul brought welcome relief! We had a ridiculous amount of fun drinking a Coke and watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. (If you’re of a certain age, you’re probably smiling at that!)
Paul grounded us in just being. Just enjoying. Not always striving. As I struggled my way to wholeness as a very young adult, Paul was just there. We could take a walk in the neighborhood, or talk about my day, or play a board game. In a very driven and “masculine” family, where just “being” was not really enough, Paul’s presence nurtured me.
Paul came to know Jesus as his savior. My oldest sister had introduced all us kids to Jesus, plucking us each out of the chaos, as each of us kids accepted him, Paul included. In later years, as I went through some very driven churches, where just being in Jesus was not enough, you had to 1. pray and 2. study and 3. serve and 4. retain approval (oops, nobody mentions that one) — Paul’s memory still grounds me. Of course those things are great, but only as a result of the life of Jesus, not the goal of it.
In many places, in many churches, just being who you are is not enough. You must keep rules and behave like the church says you are supposed to behave. (And for heaven’s sake, behave and be straight!)
In our dysfunctional churches, as in our dysfunctional families, just drinking a Coke and watching Johnny on TV is not enough. Being the perfect creation you are is not enough. Being is not enough. We must also do. But the lesson I learned from Paul? It’s all about being.
That’s exactly what it means to ‘abide’ — the great invitation Jesus gave his followers hours before he died. Be in Me. Rest in me. Make your home in me. Like a branch on a vine, you stick with me, and I’ll give you all you need for everything that will come your way!
He may call us to a specific task, something he positioned us uniquely to accomplish, but if it’s not by ‘Him in us’, it’s just trash! It’s not by anything we can do but by God’s Spirit that anything worthwhile happens.
Resting and trusting in Jesus is so simple, Paul could do it.