I was in a personal growth class some twenty years ago. The instructor was a best-selling author and founder of the program. There were 27 of us in the class, ranging from a 20 year old ex-male prostitute to a 60 year old grandmother. Every time someone had an issue, he would pick on them with the same questions.
“So why does that bother you?” he asked in response to the most obvious troubles. I thought with annoyance, ‘Why do you think it bothers them?’ One man was beaten by his father. A woman was sexually molested. Another man was teased mercilessly as a kid. Many times, participants became teary-eyed or angry as he persisted with his questioning, sometimes for as long as thirty minutes. Was it a form of bullying?
Finally, I burst out loud at him. “You are a shit disturber!”
He looked at me and smiled. “Is that what you think I’m doing?”
“Well that’s how it comes across,” I answered evenly, puffing up my chest.
“What does that phrase mean for you, to be a shit disturber?” he asked.
I knew the questioning would begin but I dove in anyway. “It means you like getting people upset.”
“Are you saying you think I do this to give myself pleasure?”
I pondered. “Yea, I guess that’s what I think.” Even as I said it, self-doubt creeped in.
Suddenly, he turned the tables on me. “Are you a shit-disturber?”
“I like to get a rise out of people.”
“I dunno know.” I thought about it. “I suppose it’s fun for me at their expense.”
“Is that what I’m doing?”
I took a moment to envision the dialogues he had been having with my fellow students. “I guess not. People do seem to be getting something out of it.”
He turned to the class. “What do you think?” Various individuals spoke up passionately in support of his approach. Then he moved on.
Afterwards, I journaled the episode as was my habit. As I was writing, a sudden awareness struck me. “He’s not a shit-disturber, he’s a love disturber!” My instructor wanted to ‘wake’ people up to the unconscious beliefs that caused their anger, fear and unhappiness. In the process, he was freeing them to love and be loved.
Six months later, I met Jesus in the gospels for the first time as an adult. Of his many striking qualities, Jesus’ willingness to be a shit-disturber also stood out for me. He was a rule-breaker. His disciples ate grain on the Sabbath, provoking the religious leaders of the day who said, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24) He replied by pointing to scripture where the law was broken to feed the hungry. He concluded, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”
On another occasion, Martha complained to him about her sister Mary’s unwillingness to help in the kitchen saying, “Tell her to help me!” But he defended Mary saying, “Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42) Perhaps he was the first women’s liberator.
Jesus broke another rule by healing a man’s shriveled hand on the Sabbath. “Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4) When they responded in silence, he was deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts. Then he went ahead and did it anyway, causing them to plot to kill him.
Jesus was the ultimate love-disturber. His deeds and words are as radical today as they were 2000 years ago. Those of us who call ourselves Christians must often hang our heads in shame at how poorly we say and do what he asked of us. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
If we want the “peace that surpasses all understanding,” (Phil 4:7); if we want, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27); if we want “The kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:21) we must become willing to have our own shit disturbed in order that we might become a love disturber to those God puts in our path.
We must be bold. We must disturb others in a loving way. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted but the enemy multiplies kisses.” Love is not what it seems when we see it as Jesus sees it.
When we look at the plank in our own eye (Matt 7:5), we disturb our inner self. We realize that the speck in the eye of our brother or sister is God’s gift to us. Each upsetting, frustrating behaviour is his way of disturbing us into learning how to love another person as they are now, just as Jesus loves us as we are now, sinners redeemed by his grace. Then we shall have our reward – his peace – now.
in his love,