Parenting is hard. Anyone who tells you differently either never had kids or they are lying so hard their pants are about to spontaneously combust. The reason why it is hard, is because we all want to do it right but no one has any clue as to what the right way is. It is hard because children do not come with instruction books. There is not a troubleshooting guide for when it feels like a child is malfunctioning. Every new parent has been there, usually within the first week of parenthood, where they are holding a screaming baby and they have no idea why it is crying or what to do about it. Kids do not come with instruction books, but goodness gracious people will sell them to you. When our son was first born, we had some sleeping trouble the first month. I am not kidding, I think we bought three different books alone just on the subject of getting kids to sleep. All three books said to do something different, and of course none of them worked! There are countless thoughts about the best practices for raising children, and what makes it worse is everyone thinks there way is the only “right” way. This is especially true when children get older and discipline becomes an issue. I think entire forests have been leveled to print the books on that subject. There are a lot of strong opinions about the best way to discipline a child. Regardless of the technique, it is all done for the same reason. Sometimes children need a course correction. They need an attitude adjustment. Whether it is literal or not though, all parents agree that sometimes kids need, to use a colorful idiom, a swift kick in the pants.
It is a very evocative phrase isn’t it? A “swift kick in the pants” summons up an immediate mental image, and honestly it is not the most pleasant one. No one ever really wants to be kicked for any reason. I tried looking up the origins of this phrase, and could not find when it really came into use. However, one curious thing did stand out. In multiple places the phrase “swift kick in the pants” was classified as a motivational or inspirational idiom. It is odd, but it is also true in how we use and understand that phrase. Thankfully, a swift kick in the pants is not a literal phrase, but it refers to something working as a catalyst in our lives. A swift kick in the pants is corrective, but it is the correction we need. A swift kick in the pants is often viewed as stinging; not because it hurts us but because it convicts us. A swift kick in the pants is a dose of truth that serves as the catalyst for us to bring about real and lasting change in our lives. It is hard and a little uncomfortable to face, but a swift kick in the pants is a positive thing because it is usually what we need right when we need it. Because none of us are perfect, we probably all have some area in our life, where we are slipping or some area we have some bad practices. We all have an area in our lives where we could use a swift kick in the pants. This morning’s scripture reminds us that there are times when that is exactly what God gives us.
This morning’s scripture continues are exploration of the book of Acts. The early Christians who were preaching the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection are now facing real and severe persecution. One of the people who headed this up was Saul. In Acts 8:3 it is recorded, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Not satisfied with breaking up the church in Jerusalem, Saul is moving to do the same in Damascus. It is on the road to Damascus, that Saul has his come to Jesus moment. It is on the road to Damascus that he receives a swift kick in the pants. It might seem kind of odd to us that God would reach out to one of the people trying to persecute the church. We have to keep in mind though that Saul was a devout Pharisee. He was someone who truly wanted to follow God, and he clearly had a lot of zeal and passion. He had just gotten off course. His priorities were misplaced and out of alignment. He needed a good swift kick in the pants to set him straight, and that is exactly what happened on the road to Damascus. It turns out it did him good too. We can read on to find that Saul switches course. He goes from persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ to one of its apostles. He changes his name to Paul and fully dedicates his life to preaching that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. During this time he would write up to 13 epistles which we have included in the bible. That was all possible, because of what we read in this morning’s scripture. God directly intervened in the life of Paul, and served as the catalyst that changed him for the better.
This morning’s scripture though leaves us with an uncomfortable problem to deal with. On the road to Damascus, Paul was blinded. That’s not exactly a positive development. Ultimately, this experience communicated to him how blind he had been to the truth during his time of persecuting. However, can you imagine how scary and painful this experience must have been for Paul to go through? It was a swift kick to the pants that was for the best, but it caused Paul some suffering in the process. The uncomfortable problem that this leaves us with, is figuring out how God does this today. God does care deeply about us, and because of that God cares too much to leave us where we are at. This means that sometimes God does put us in uncomfortable situations to serve as a swift kick in the pants. However, we can err too far and try to assign all suffering a higher purpose. A pastor who has served as a mentor for me told a story of a time that she went to a hospital to visit and console a couple who had just miscarried a child. In this heartbreaking moment, the hospital chaplain came in. In an attempt to be comforting the chaplain told the grieving mother that she should be at peace because God has a reason for this. Understandably, this statement had the exact opposite of the intended effect. Telling a grieving mother that the death of their child to be is part of God’s greater plan is not comforting and it is terrible theology. God does not orchestrate and plan all suffering in the world as part of a greater plan. Every set back, heartbreak, and misfortune we suffer is not caused by God as some sort of teaching point. God can and does redeem the worst of situations. God can and does bring light in to the darkness, but this does not mean that God purposely causes the darkness just for that purpose. Suffering is part of living in a fallen and broken world, it is the natural result of our fallen state.
This leads to the question though, how can we if what we are going through is God getting our attention or not? This is a difficult question to answer, and unfortunately there are no easy answers. Life is just too complex for that. I can not give you three signs or five keys, or any kind of other helpful list. The circumstances of our individual lives are so unique, that a one-sized fits all approach does not work. This is a question that I can not definitively answer for you, but from my understanding and experience I can share what some of the elements a swift kick in the pants from God might have.
First, a swift kick in the pants will move us forward; not knock us down. I think this is most helpful in understanding if any form of suffering is God getting our attention. Jesus appearing to Paul and asking “why are you persecuting me” convicted him to his soul. It caused him to pause before ultimately moving him forward in the right direction. True suffering, is like a punch in the gut. It catches us off guard, it knocks the wind right out of us and drops us to the floor. We are left reeling and asking “why?” A swift kick in the pants can catch off guard, it can sting, but we very quickly know “the why”. When something in our life is true suffering it leaves us spinning and trying to find some way to reorient ourselves to normal. However, a swift kick in the pants leaves us feeling motivated to change. This is a key difference.
Second, a spiritual swift kick in the pants will get our attention and orient us back towards Jesus. Looking at the story from Acts, that is what happened with Paul. Many of us are probably familiar with the poem Footprints. Where someone is walking on the sand with Jesus, and when they look back at their path see places where there are only one set of footprints. At first the person thinks Jesus was not with them, but the poem reveals that is where Jesus carried them. I do not know about you, but if I created my own footprints in the sand image it would look radically different. There would be footprints in the sand where the two sets diverged, because I went wondering off from the path that I was supposed to be walking with Christ. Next to many of these footprints would also be deep trenches, where I stubbornly put my feet down and God had to pull me kicking and screaming back to where I was supposed to be. It might be true for you as well, but those times of stubborn pride and selfishness is when God gives us a swift kick in the pants. It is then when the circumstances of our lives or the truthful words of someone else show us that we have deviated from God’s plan for our lives. Those events no matter how big or small they are serve as the catalyst to motivate us to get back to walking in step with our Jesus.
Finally, a spiritual swift kick in the pants will change our thoughts and attitudes. Paul’s conversion was obviously a radical and dramatic change in his thoughts and attitudes. Often the way we experience this is not quite so dramatic, but when God intervenes with a swift kick it should change the way we view the world. A good example of this looks something like this:
On the road to Damascus, God confronted Paul’s sinful attitudes, and they changed. Our attitudes, biases, and thoughts that are not from God are challenged to change when we encounter the holy.
When it comes to the expression “a swift kick in the pants”, there is one other peculiarity I have noticed. It is almost always used by people in the second or third person. It is always “They need to be straightened out with a swift kick in the pants” Or it is “what you need is a swift kick in the pants.” It is rarely stated in the first person: “what I need is a swift kick in the pants.” However, none of us are perfect and from time to time that kind of course correction is exactly what we need.
As you consider your faith, as you consider the way that you are being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, how is this true for you? Perhaps there is some step in faith that you need to take, but you have been dragging your feet. You have been able to motivate yourself to move forward. Perhaps you know you have strayed away from God’s plan for your life or you have strayed away from the decisions you know are the right ones to make. Perhaps, you are clinging to an outdated, judgmental attitude that prevents you from loving all people the way that God loves them. As you thoughtfully reflect on your own heart and soul, if need be may this be the swift kick that you need to do or change what you know God already wants you to do.
The takeaway from this morning’s scripture is that God loves us too much to leave us where we are at. This morning’s scripture show us that God loves us enough that God will be involved in our lives to mold and shape us in to the best people we can be. Sometime though this requires a swift kick to the pants. When those times happen, may we be like Paul and may we make the changes in our lives that we are being led to make. Because we know that once Paul made the adjustments he needed to make, God used him to do incredible things, and I have no doubt that God has plans to use each and every one of us in incredible ways as well.