There’s a story in the scriptures that haunts me. (okay, more than one) but this one I return to time and time again. Here is an excerpt:
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Mark 9:14-29 haunts my dreams. I am possessed by a demon, one since childhood. It’s fear. I have spent countless therapy sessions and spiritual direction session trying to overcome this fear. I have spent years, decades, attempting to drive it out.
Fear can manifest itself in many, many ways. Too many to count. We have individual fears and communal fears. Our parents use fear in positive and negative ways to teach us lessons. Our teachers use fear to motivate us. Politicians use fear to manipulate us. We turn our fear on each other and act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others.
Then we rationalize it, say it’s to keep us safe. We say it’s for our own good, protecting us from harm.
I have attempted every way possible to drive out this demon over the years but have always fallen short.
As a minister I believe in the grace and mercy of God, of second chances (or third, fourth, well an infinite number) but as a human being who has for so long been possessed by fear it seem impossible to drive out.
I return to Mark 9 over and over again and am haunted by this exchange.
There are so many angles to this story I could preach on it for years, but where I lie today is at the disciples feet.
“Why couldn’t we drive it out?” They ask.
This is an all too familiar question. Why can’t I just make this go away. Why can’t we just stop acting out of fear, or better yet having fear at all? How do I stop this demon from controlling my life, where’s my magic wand, where’s my ability to drive this out for myself?
Jesus’ answer is one of the most frightening things I have ever heard. “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
It knocks the wind out of me. I ward off a panic attack. It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard.
Why can’t we? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I drive out the demon of fear in me that rears its ugly head when things should be left alone? Why can’t it’s demon twin anxiety leave me the hell alone? Why can’t we as a society recognize when it takes possession of us and we fling them into the abyss before we fall to the ground foaming at the mouth?
Jesus’ answer? Because this kind can come out only by prayer.
Do you know how terrifying that is? Fear is fed by our ego, our need to be in control, our need to be superior, and honestly for me, the insecurity that comes with being human and having relationship with other broken people.
Sometimes the motivation to not exercise the demon is masked in the rationalization of protecting ourselves. Just today there is fighting using fear as “protection” in our country over guns, Muslims, refugees, and immigrants. We have a war on women, a war on drugs, and must proclaim on a regular basis that #blacklivesmatter because equality is still a figment of our imagination. The amount of oppression we dawn as “protection” is just a way of feeding that demon of fear.
So why can’t we? Why can’t I?
“This kind can come out only by prayer” Jesus says. Love conquers all. I have to learn to trust myself before I can trust my neighbor. I have to first learn to trust God before I can trust myself.
I am ready to turn this demon over to God. I am ready to give it up in my personal life. I am ready to stop hurting myself and those that I love by pretending to protect when really I am hurting.
I suspect there will be regression and I ask for forgiveness in advance, but there it is, Jesus, I can’t do it alone, will you help me? Will you help my unbelief?