“Check out time is at 12:00 p.m.,” the women’s retreat coordinator announces to the room full of over-caffeinated, over-sugared, and over-exhausted women.
Really? I checked out late last night when the conversation got uncomfortable.
I check out a lot. Maybe you do too. Sometimes I check out of my own current events for temporary relief, and other times I check out because I don’t want to do something or face something. Not having a confrontational personality, I find “checking out” provides an easy path of least resistance for me. When decisions or events outside my control aren’t unfolding the way I hope, checking out temporarily buffers me from disappointment.
Ultimately, though, I know checking out is unhealthy.
Here are some typical times I am tempted to check out:
When physical or emotional pain comes down the pike
When grief arrives on my doorstep
When loneliness threatens to befriend me
When boredom overwhelms me
When I feel emotionally unsafe
When a conversation spirals into an unresolvable place
When my police officer husband was deployed into dangerous situations
When contending with things over which I have no control
We all check out from time to time. It may look different for each of us, but we all do it. Texting on a cell phone is one of the most common methods of checking out there is. Who hasn’t experienced opening your heart to a friend and just when you’re getting to the most important part of your communication, their phone goes off?
“Just a minute,” they say, “I just need to answer this. One sec.” As their fingers click away on their phone’s keypad, they “leave” the present and enter their very own cyber-universe. It may seem invigorating and empowering to them, but it is beyond annoying to the friend they’ve stranded in mid sentence.
Embracing an addiction is the ultimate expression of someone who has checked out of the present to anesthetize a place of pain in his or her life. We may evade the present by over-eating, over-spending, over-shopping, daydreaming, sleeping, reading, drinking, gambling, taking drugs, looking at pornography, internet browsing, and unsafe risk-taking.
Addictions are the pathways to numbness. What are we saying when we want to be numb and give into an addiction?
“I hate my life.”
“I hate myself.”
“I don’t want to be in this situation.”
“I want things to be different, but feel I can’t make them any better.”
So, I check out.
In the movie, Braveheart, there is a significant scene that challenges me every time I see it. William Wallace has been imprisoned and is awaiting the trial and torture that will come the next morning. In the meantime, Wallace receives a visit from the Princess of Wales who loves him and wants to protect him. In her efforts to spare William from the pain of his suffering, Isabelle offers him a drink of an elixir intended to dull his pain.
Wallace resists. He tells Isabelle he must have “his wits about him” during the coming “purification” and torture, but she persists. He drinks it to appease her, but then spits it out as soon as she leaves. Despite the physical pain he knows is coming, William Wallace refuses to opt out of the present. Why?
Because Wallace has a clear understanding that his life’s purpose is much greater than his impending death.
Jesus understood this. When Jesus offered himself up for our salvation, he knew the sacrifice would require his pain, torture, suffering, and violent death. He knew that our only artery to peace demanded the shedding of his own blood. However, Jesus continued to entrust himself to the One who judges righteously knowing that eternal life for us waited on the other side of his obedience. Jesus knew. He knew his purpose for coming to earth was greater than his own life, and he willingly surrendered it for us.
“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, `Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” John 12:27-28a (NASB)
Even though Jesus recognized that our salvation would require his death, he never moved to a place of disconnect. Jesus was completely in touch with his own humanity and was grieved by what he knew was coming. Jesus didn’t run away or hide. He wasn’t in denial, and he hadn’t checked out emotionally before he was arrested. He was sincerely troubled by what remained for him to accomplish – the crucifixion. In fact, the night he was arrested his disciples had front row seats to the anguish Jesus was feeling:
“And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’” Mark 14:33-34 (NASB)
During a round of agonizing prayer, Jesus’ disciples heard him crying out to his Father:
“Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36 (NASB)
In his greatest hour of physical and spiritual agony, Jesus never “checked out.” He remained in the present, and he remained in control of his own faculties. He could have checked out, but he resisted. Matthew 27:34 says that Jesus was offered wine mixed with gall, but he was unwilling to drink it. So, why just a few verses later was Jesus willing to drink wine he was offered again while on the cross? Was there something different about the wine in verse 34 and the wine in verse 48? Yes, there was.
Right after Jesus cried out to the Father for being forsaken it says, “Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.” Matthew 27:48 (NASB)
The first wine offered to Jesus contained “gall,” but the second did not. Like today’s narcotics, gall was used to dull the effects of torture – to anesthetize pain. The gall also would have blunted Jesus’ senses and opened him to the control of something other than the Holy Spirit, so he rejected it immediately. Jesus refused the wine with gall so he could remain present during his greatest hour of agony and his greatest hour of triumph.
Once Jesus was nailed to the cross, did he really need his “wits about him?” At that point, his life’s conclusion was inevitable; he was going to die. Jesus was nearing his finish line and just had to endure the pain a few more hours. Surely, the gall was a merciful and compassionate assistant for him.
Why did he refuse it?
Jesus wasn’t done. His most significant battle still lay ahead. Because the purpose of his death was greater than his own life, Golgotha brought him face to face with the Enemy for one last battle. Like vultures encircle the dying, Satan’s minions expectantly circled the cross. With one last monumental effort, Satan appeared that afternoon to attempt to subvert and destroy God’s plan for our salvation. It was vital that Jesus remain coherent and in touch with everything going on inside him and everything going on around him.
Despite the fact that Jesus had been beaten beyond recognition and nailed to the cross to die, people below him continued to hurl insults at him. People walking by provoked Jesus, Jewish leaders spit sarcasm at him, Roman soldiers lobbed ridicule his way, and the thieves on either side of him criticized him as well.
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” people taunted from the ground.
“If you are the Son of God,” they were the very same words Satan had used when he tempted Jesus in the desert after Jesus’ baptism. That afternoon as Jesus hung on the cross, Satan spit them back in his face.
“If you are the Son of God…” Satan hissed through every insult.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Even the thieves on either side of Jesus taunted him until one of them realized Jesus was innocent and repented. What did Jesus say then?
“Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Even while he clung to the remaining minutes of his life on earth, there was still a lot for Jesus to accomplish. Mary, his mother, and the Apostle John stood before him. Mary would be bereft of Jesus’ care once he died, so Jesus delegated that privilege to the disciple whom he loved: John.
To Mary Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son!’ To John he exclaimed, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour, John took Mary into his house and cared for her.
To his Father, Jesus cried out with the cry of the ages. Gathering what little strength remained, Jesus yelled, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” In that agonizing moment of separation, Jesus took upon himself all the sin of the world.
To anyone nearby he begged for a drink.
“I am thirsty,” he said.
To this world so desperately in need of a Savior, Jesus uttered the words that completed his assignment and demonstrated his great love for us when he said, “It is finished.”
Finally, in quiet triumph to his Father, Jesus surrendered his earthly body and committed his spirit to his Father’s care.
“Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.”
Jesus didn’t check out on the cross, though he could have. His unrelenting determination to remain in the present while enduring the heinous suffering of the crucifixion purchased something priceless for you and for me. He endured the cross, despised its shame, and conquered sin and Satan in one fell swoop. By remaining in the present on the cross, Jesus did something no one else could do.
He secured our future.
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.