I’m totally okay with PDA. When I see couples being affectionate in public, I think, “How nice that they’re in love.” Now, there’s a limit to what I can take and what I feel is appropriate, but there have been so few instances when I felt like couples crossed that line. For the most part, hand-holding, hugging, leaning, and the occasional smooch is all okay with me. Go for it.

What I have found is not my strong suit is PDE. That’s Public Displays of Emotion. It’s not that I’m not an emotional guy or that I don’t feel things and feel them deeply, it’s just that I’d rather not erupt my innards for all to see. I tend to play things a little closer to the vest, whether I’m wearing a vest or not. I’m usually not. 

I want to talk with you today about distances. Distances are funny things. Right now, there’s a distance between where you are and where you want to be. To help you come along, ask yourself this question: What is the distance between where I am and where I want to be? Or maybe even start with: Where do I really want to be? What is between where I am and where that is? Next, ask yourself honestly what that distance is made up of. Is it repression? Is it wastefulness? Is it laziness? Is it misaligned priorities? Is it fear? Is it busyness? If I could have anything happen for you (and for me while I’m at it), it’s that this coming season would find us with a much smaller distance between where we are and where we desire to be. But I think that starts with addressing the monster called distance. Give it a name. Be brazen in naming it. Name it, and you’ll chip away its power. 

A friend recently asked me which of the Bible stories I gravitated toward most; people connect to different stories for different reasons. I did give him an answer, but honestly, I didn’t have a single story I could pick out from all of scripture. That’s too tall a task.

But one that connects with where I am and where I have been for the past couple of years happens next to a pool. Let me set the scene but promise me you’re not going to jump to conclusions or tune out, okay? It’s such a brief exchange between Jesus and a particular man, it’s easy to overlook. 

Let me first go back to PDE. It’s happened a few times in the past couple of weeks. Someone will see me, approach me, and weirdly, tenderly ask, “You okay, Jerry?” with that cocked-head, soft-eyed look. Clearly, I haven’t held things as close to the vest as I have wanted. Recently someone right out of the blue asked me, “Jerry, how can I pray for you?”  I hadn’t asked for prayer, I hadn’t frowned, I hadn’t pouted, I hadn’t–that I was aware of–given any indication of stress or distress. Still, the question came. Likely prompted by some kind of vibe I was giving off. I shallowly admitted to them that I was a bit stretched thin, but nothing out of the ordinary. I thanked them for the question and never answered it. Kind of a jerk move, now that I think about it. Or my personal favorite: “Jerry, you look tired.” How do I respond to that?!? I usually smile while performing a set of jumping jacks. Proving them wrong. See? I’m fine.

Okay, back to the Jesus story I was mentioning. This brief exchange holds 6 words at its core. Just six. Look it up in John’s gospel, chapter five. Read the first nine verses. Go ahead. Never read the bible before? Don’t know where to find it, you say? Technology to the rescue. Just click here. What did you notice? What detail(s) stood out to you? Did you figure out the six words at the core of the story? They were: “Do you want to get well?” 

Here’s a mindblower: Jesus is standing by the pool in your life and asking you. The. Same. Exact. Question. “Do you want to get well?” So do you? Do you want to close the distance? Do you want to move past pain? Do you want to reprioritize things? Do you want to stop being lazy? Do you want to reignite a brighter fire that drives a stronger focus? Well…do you? 

Secondary to the story is the man’s response. Let’s be honest, it was as lame as he was. But so relatable. He was like, “I can’t catch a break. I can’t get ahead. I’m always behind. It seems like the system is twisted and favors the faster, cuter, better, richer, and stronger, and I’m none of those things. It’s all so unfair.” He made excuses that to him were legitimate, and maybe there was some validity. But notice Jesus never gave them credence by even acknowledging them. Jesus didn’t commiserate. Didn’t coddle. Didn’t console. So you and I can keep making excuses for the distance, but Jesus is already ready to meet us past them. The question then echoes: “Do you want to get well?” Jesus is all-at-once with you, immanent in your problems and yet already beyond them inviting you to see things differently. 

Do you remember the pool party episode of “The Office”? They were all partying poolside in Robert California’s soon-to-be former home and Daryl was explaining that even though he’s been working out so he’s got muscle, it’s still buried underneath the fat that still needs to be burned off. Why do I bring this up? Because even though there might be muck and gunk in your life that you’re still working through, that doesn’t mean there’s not truth and beauty present as well. Both are possible. There’s a mess, but there’s also a masterpiece. One doesn’t negate the other. At its heart, this is the process of sanctification. You are a mess and you are a masterpiece. You’re a messterpiece. 

What of that distance though? What are the things that make it up? Name them clearly. If you want to slay that giant, you’ll have to look him in the eyes first. What are the things that you want to define the next season? You’ll need to name those as well. This is perhaps even more critical to do. I’m going to rattle things off right now; unedited, unprocessed, unpolished, in no order…

I want to stop living with the present and past constricting my future.

I want to step out in ways that frighten me but are good for me.

I want to double down on the over-quarter-century of experience I have in my field. I have so much to offer. I’m not done. Not by a long shot.

I want my marriage to find its strongest days, stronger than ever before. 

I want to let go of expecting so much from others and expect more from myself.

I want Jesus far more than any other person, institution, organization, position, success, or accolade. 

I want clarity to drive my decisions, even in the minutia. 

I want to reacquaint my world with the idea of zeal. I want others to know it by knowing me.

I want to forgive myself for the countless failures in my past. Not in a way that diminishes their impact, but in a way that frees me from how they’ve held me in shameful shackles. 

My mind stopped there. So I’ll end the list there. I’m sure there are more, but for integrity’s sake, I’ll stop the list. That list flew out of my fingers as I typed as quickly as I could to get it down. I hope there’s something there for you because there’s definitely a truckload there for me. 

Where is the distance in your heart? In your thoughts? In your desires? In your plans? In your attitudes? What is that distance made up of? What are you wanting for your life in the next season you’re headed into? 

You can certainly leave a comment. I’d love to know where you’re at (if anywhere) in all this. If you’d rather email me privately, you can use the email: jvarner@southsidechurchva.org