In elementary school I had a teacher that used to make our class take home reading logs every night. Each night we were supposed to read for a certain number of minutes and then had to have a parent sign off on the log, indicating that we had actually done our homework. Well I loved (and still love) to read. I never had to be forced to sit down with a book. In fact, more often than not I read well beyond the required amount of time that was listed in the reading logs. Plus, I was always very on top of my homework.
So it was never the reading itself that was an issue... it was the reading log that became an issue. My parents had never had to get into the habit of checking my backpack for school work and I never got into the habit of showing them. So getting a parent to sign off on a reading log every night, suddenly became my worst nightmare. I was doing my readings each day and then getting in trouble because I didn’t have the signature to prove it. The need for a signature started to choke my passion for and ease with reading.
One night I came home in tears, beating myself up for my forgetfulness and stupidity. I was a perfectionist growing up, so even something as simple as missing a signature on a reading log brought me to a point of overwhelming shame and self-disgust. After talking me down from what I’m sure was hysterics, my mom came up with a solution: forgery. That night my mom sat me down and signed her initials at the top of a page. She then practiced with me as I learned how to loop the letters in cursive and connect them together to match hers. She explained I was never allowed to use these initials if I hadn’t done the reading, but was never to beat myself up again like that if I had and simply didn’t have the letters of her name to prove it. My mom knew me intimately—as both a daughter and a student. She knew that I wouldn’t ever miss a reading and that I wouldn’t fake her signature if I had. She also knew that I would beat myself up for something that she didn’t fully believe was fair judgment of a kid’s discipline or education (that’s a tangent for another day...). So my mom, from a place of love, released me from the expectations that had become paralyzing to me.
Please Note: I know, I know, I have the COOLEST mom.
The next time I forgot to have my parents sign my log, a little piece of my heart went haywire. The goody-two-shoes girl inside of me wanted to throw up and pass out and skip school at the thought of faking a signature. The same goody-two-shoes girl inside of me wanted to receive credit for work that I had actually done and simply didn’t have proof of. So, before we went into class, I quickly got out my log and looped my mom’s initials like I was taught.
Here is the thing: I KNOW there are rules both written and unspoken about forging your parent’s signature on school assignments. I know you’re not supposed to do it. I know it’s “bad.” But friends, you must know that I started to love reading again, and stopped hating that class and coming home in tears. When your own parent sits you down and gives you not only permission to forge their signature but teaches you how to do it... somehow it instantly seems (at least a little) reasonable. Somehow a freedom opens up without a cloud of overwhelming guilt or condemnation. There is a distinct grace for your mistake—an authority that calls for forgiveness and then calls you to step into it.
In Jerusalem there is a pool called Bethesda, where people believed if you were the first to be in the pool when it bubbled up, you could be healed. In John 5, Jesus comes across a man near the pool who has been there for 38 years, helplessly waiting to be healed because he cannot get to the pool when the water gets stirred up. “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” John 5:8-9 ESV Every time I read this moment I am overwhelmed with how incredible that moment must’ve felt to the healed man. After 38 years of being unable to move for himself, he is able to stand up, pick up his things, and walk away fully healed instantly because of the words of Jesus. I cannot imagine anything but excitement and joy and freedom in that moment.
But the very end of that very same verse says, “Now that day was the Sabbath.” John 5:9b ESV So the very first thing that happens to this man after being healed isn’t people celebrating with him, it is religious elites saying, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” John 5:10 ESV This hurts my heart, friends... because technically, the Jews are correct. It was the Sabbath. And he wasn’t supposed to carry his bed and walk with it. For a brief moment, I’m sure the healed man’s heart went hysterical. Likely he knew the Sabbath laws. Likely he knew what he was doing was technically “wrong” or “bad.” But Jesus, in his healing, covered the man in a new authority and grace. So, instead of being overwhelmed with shame and doubt, the man simply says, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’’ John 5:11 ESV
Freedom is infectious. Once we are given an authority of freedom, there grows in us a new sense of ease and a new spark of bravery. When my mom gave me the permission to write her initials, I was suddenly at ease going to school each morning. As a kid, I saw her authority as more powerful than my teacher’s, so I felt a safety net under me if I “failed.” Because I felt coated with and covered by her authority, I also had the bravery to go against the grain a little. I had the guts to push boundaries I would’ve never dared push on my own (nor should I have…). In the same way, when Jesus heals the invalid man at the pool, the authority of Jesus becomes obvious to him. This man has been waiting 38 years for healing and in an instant, Jesus healed him just by speaking. Suddenly, this man--who I’m sure would’ve never risked provoking a Pharisee--has the peace and bravery to break a Sabbath law because the Healer told him to.
Friends, we are given authority “over all power of the enemy.” Luke 10:19 ESV We are given an authority that gifts the most powerful peace and bravery because He lives within us. (I am not saying we have an authority to break laws or forge signatures… just to be clear.) But we do have a God who sat down and taught us how to copy His very own signature in the person of Jesus Christ. So we are given an authority that tells us we are free indeed.
And when we choose to have an encounter with Jesus powerful enough to understand that we are free, we become coated with peace and confidence. When we walk in peace and confidence, we are able to fearlessly venture into deep water. We are able to swim upstream from a culture that says divide instead of unite. We are able to love people that provoke and antagonize. We are able to lay down our lives when everyone around us is trying to build theirs up. So even if it is terrifying or awkward or if the whole world is questioning the decision, I hope to always have the courage to pick up my mat, and walk.