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  • John Bryant

Mark 9: 42-50: "The Unbearable Burden of Self-Will"


“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


I read this passage, and I think of the different parts of myself, the different things I experience as I somehow try to understand this life as a Christian. I think of the major forces I deal with, the parts of my life that are the hardest:


The mind’s intimidation, this mental illness I have.

The body’s anticipation, this trauma I have.

The devil’s condemnation, the fact that there is an accuser, a deceiver, still at work against God’s people.


I think of the mind’s intimidation, the body’s anticipation, the devil’s condemnation. And I think of what they have in common.


What I feel like they have in common is that all exercise poor leadership over the legitimate desires of the soul.


The soul has needs. The need for every soul is the need to be seen, the need to be safe, and the need to be fed.


Seen: Every soul, every person, needs to be seen, considered, known, appreciated, regarded. Safe: Every soul needs to be secure, held, shielded, guarded, cared for, kept.

Fed: Every soul needs to be fulfilled, satisfied, given meaning.


This is what we need to be okay.

These are the soul’s legitimate needs, as I understand them.


The question is how are they met?


The mind’s intimidation, the body’s anticipation, the devil’s condemnation, always lying about what I need to be okay. They exercise a fierce pull over the legitimate desires of the soul.


They either lie because they’re trying to protect me (mind and body) or lying because they want to kill me (the devil).


Either way what they are is bad shepherds of the legitimate desires of the soul.


But like the eye or the hand, they may exercise a fierce pull, but can’t make me sin. There is a worse shepherd, and though Christ mends the brokenness of mind and body and casts out Satan’s influence, he is consistently grieved and amazed in an even more awful way at another shepherd: the hardness of the heart.


It is our hardness of heart that is our true shepherd of the legitimate desires of the soul. Christ is consistently grieved by it, by what the hardness of heart will do to feel seen, to feel safe, to feel fed. What it will do to make things right. By the dark pull of what we will do to be okay. To secure those needs.


Our hardness of heart: the hardest thing to put to words. What is it? Our deep and fierce desire to clothe our own shame, cast out our own fear, overturn our own condemnation, bear our own suffering, escape our own death, even bury our own pride. Our fierce desire to make ourselves seen, safe, fed. Our desire to make things right. Our dependence on ourselves.


There was benedictine Monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, who said “he who casts away the pleasant yoke and light load of charity [Christ’s love], will have to bear unwillingly the unbearable burden of his own will.”


There is brokenness Christ must mend, there is darkness he must cast out. But there is also a burden to great for us to bear, a burden that drags us to hell, the burden of our own dependence on ourselves. The unbearable burden of life as we would have it.


What we need, more than anything, is a Christ who can be for us what we can’t be for our own selves, our own selves, what we need is Christ’s sabbath rest from shame, fear, pride, suffering, condemnation, and death, a way to know that that is who Christ is for us. I’ve thought a lot about it, and made a map of it for myself. A way to claim who Christ said he is for us.


By the Word of His Death

Christ is

The Burial of our soul’s pride

The Clothing of our soul’s shame

The Casting out of our soul’s fear

The Enduring of our soul’s suffering

The Overturning of our soul’s condemnation


And we know and claim this by hearing.


But also through the Spirit of His Resurrection,

Christ is


Our honor in humiliation

Our quiet in anticipation

Our consolation in loss

Our focus in distraction

Our composure in misery

Our stillness in distress

Our shield in accusation

Our standing place in intimidation

Our obedience in dread

Our diligence in complication

Our gentleness in grievance

Our purpose in discouragement

Our faithfulness in obligation

Our patience in frustration

Our stillness in confusion

Our resilience in tension

Our steadfastness in temptation

Our protection in risk

Our calm in peril

Our rest in provocation

Our perseverance in restlessness

Our restraint in anger


So many things Christ has to be for us. And we know and claim this through prayer.


There are three things in this wilderness that have been given back to me, that can’t be taken by the mind’s intimidation, the body’s anticipation, devil’s condemnation. The things that feel more and more like they can’t be taken from me: my trust, my attention, my gentleness. A trust that shepherds my attention, and an attention that deepens my capacity for gentleness.


But also in His Fellowship, the fellowship gathered to wait for His Return, Christ is


Our Expectation in gathering

Our Joy in offering

Our Rest in serving

Our Satisfaction in being together

Our Reconciliation in disconnection and misunderstanding.


And we know and claim this in offering ourselves to one another, in offering ourselves to His Fellowship.


Seen by Christ. Seen as we behold by hearing

Safe through Christ. Safe as are are patient through prayer

Fed in Christ. Fed as we bear witness in offering.

By hearing, through prayer, and in offering. By His Word, through His Spirit, and in His Fellowship, my trust is joined to Christ, the only good shepherd. The only good shepherd. Who clothes our shame, buries our pride, casts out our fear, endures our suffering, defeats our death, overturns our condemnation.


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