Cactus Practice

Prickly people develop our character, but how? Is it they who need to morph or is it us? What does God show us when he puts difficult people in our path? Is it a reflection of our own character that needs to be changed or is it a lesson in loving someone who is not very lovable, maybe even detestable? Is it both?

I was chatting with a particularly ‘cactus-y’ teenager over lunch this week. He related his life story to me. It was one of the more repugnant ones I had heard in a while. His story, unfortunately, was no grimmer than some of the others I have heard, but it was equally heart breaking. The saddest part was his hopelessness and the depth of unforgiveness toward himself.

Could I be irritated with him anymore? No, God had put His glasses on my face. I could no longer see this person as sandpaper. I could see him how God sees him--a young kid who was lost, alone, and hopeless. My heart broke.

All at once, I remembered my favorite account in the Bible -the Samaritan Woman. The Samaritan woman was definitely a person in this same category as this kid. Back in the day, she was social poison. She had multiple husbands, a big letter ‘A’ for adulterer on her chest, and her head hung in shame with the extra weight of unforgiveness. There doing her daily chores she met Jesus.

I am struck by two parts of the story. The first is that Jesus took a personal interest in someone who society had branded as an untouchable. In those times, a Jew would take a major detour to avoid Samaria. They did not associate with Samaritans, much less harlots.
7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks
you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (John 4:4-10 NIV).
Jesus cut right through Samaria to love, forgive, and redeem this pitiful pariah right where she was. She didn’t have to clean herself up or do anything to meet him. He met her.

The second is that after she encountered Jesus and drank the Living Water, she was on fire for God and told everyone she saw (John 4:39 - 42). You know what the people in her town were thinking, “Well, surely if God would change this whore’s life, then he would certainly do something for me. I’ve never done anything like that.” People crossed to the other side of the street when she came to town. This time it was different. People drew near and listened. Folks came near because they could already see the difference—the brilliant radiance of the exchanged life.

Back to my luncheon, clearly, this kid did not need my scorn or my advice. I felt the need to relate to him. I knew first hand of feeling like I could never live down my past (literally--multiple husbands, a big letter ‘A’ for adulterer on my chest, and my head hung in shame with the extra weight of unforgiveness). In fact, it haunted me every day of my life until one day Jesus met me at the well.

I guess the answer to my original questions is that prickly people are all around us. They include us. Yes, even we who call ourselves Christ followers were once social poison. The difference, as I told the student, is not that I am better, but that I now have hope. I have a promise that I cling to—the old life has gone, and the new one has come (Ephesians 2: 1- 10). Now, inexplicably, people see the light shining within me (Psalm 34:5). I have no choice but to testify that it is not I who they see shining, but Christ (Galatians 2:20).

“Yes, well, I don’t believe in God”, he said. “I don’t think that I can.”
“That’s ok,” I said. “He believes in you and he loves you regardless if you ever acknowledge him. His arms are open when you are ready.”

The answer is that Cactus Practice lets us share our hope--the only Hope.

Please listen to the song “Untitled Hymn” By Chris Rice and “East to West” by Casting Crowns.

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