When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
"I've really been using my faith as a crutch lately."
I heard that phrase recently from someone who has been going through a season of loss.
What they meant was: Talking to God and trusting God is about the only way I can get by right now. I'm just too weak and down and desperate to find hope anywhere else.
It was shared sheepishly, almost like a confession of failure. And it brings up an important idea that many wrestle with.
Some have been told by those who are skeptical of religious faith that belief in God is a happy illusion--a way for weak minded people to make the emptiness of life and death more palatable. Now, if faith is self-deception to ignore the challenging complexities of life, then yeah, I understand the critique. That's a misuse of what God invites us into.
But is faith really a crutch? Um...yeah. It sure is. Thank God!
Maybe we should claim that phrase and be at peace with it, rather than being shamed by it or feeling ashamed when that's exactly what it is for us.
I mean, why is it seen as so negative?
The purpose of a crutch is to lighten the weight that broken things have to bear, so that healing can continue to progress.
Yep. That's pretty much a central promise of Jesus. So I'm all for faith as a crutch. I'm nearly always in need of healing and support. "Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on!" I know that song isn't about Jesus, but every one of those phrases is virtually straight out of his mouth.
If we acknowledge that weakness is a part of life, then I would argue that it's not really good practice to walk without a crutch when your leg is broken. It's tempting to act strong. But you'll do more damage, make your pain worse, and make healing impossible.
And outside of that, using a crutch isn't particularly cushy or comfortable. It requires you to practice self restraint, and it often leaves you a bit sore, because you are learning a new way of being! SEE THE PARALLELS??
After many years, my "go to" response when I face struggles these days is finally (usually) to bring them to feet of Jesus. I constantly have to learn and relearn how to release the massive temptation to look strong and fix everything all the time on my own strength and wisdom. Jesus is totally a crutch for me, and I think that's what he tells us he wants to be. God is our strength when our flesh and heart fail (Ps. 73:26).
I do think there's one major problem with fully embracing the crutch metaphor. And that is that when we feel healthy, we may begin to act like Jesus has nothing to offer us. If we are not in crisis or pain, our relationship with God can get neglected, and we learn to bear all the weight on our own legs once again. The tragic thing about that is not only that deep connection with God suffers, but that healthy seasons are the time when training is the most effective. It's in healthy seasons when we invite God to prepare us to handle seasons of loss, heartache, and disappointment. We learn trust and connectedness with Jesus when it feels easier, so that we can practice trust and connectedness with Jesus when it's really hard. (Yes, I know the metaphor breaks down a little there. But don't miss the point).
It's wonderful to understand that Jesus is radically present with us in our weakness. It's less wonderful if we assume he's unnecessary in our strength. Pride goes before the fall.
So this week, maybe we claim the phrase that is sometimes meant to be a put down. Maybe we own the crutchiness of our faith in Jesus, and we thank God for something that takes the pressure off.
Jesus, help me trust you with my whatever is breaking me down today. Relieve me of the overwhelming weight of self-sufficiency, and free me to love and be loved by the power of your spirit.