The Ups and Downs of Conversion

Today’s Old Testament reading cues us in on some of the emotions and dispositions that often go along with conversion.

We meet Naaman. He’s got things pretty good. He’s “highly esteemed and respected by his master” and is quite successful in his professional life as an army commander.

He’s like a lot of us when we’re seemingly at our best. When everything is going well, we’re achieving great things by worldly standards and acclaim is coming our way.

But Naaman’s got a serious problem. It’s being overlooked in the present, but Namaan knows it’s there. He never forgets it.

Naaman is a leper.

And it’s the same for each of us. Each one of us has an individual cross to bear: a weakness, a problem, something the world doesn’t see, yet something with the power to slowly lead us astray or cause us harm.

Naaman’s conversion begins in an unlikely place—he gets some advice from a servant girl living in his household. A girl that his army had captured on a raid a while back. Naaman actually decides to listen to her. Probably a combination of his humility and his desperation, but it jumpstarts the string of events leading to conversion and healing.

And so it is for us! We don’t like to think of ourselves as truly desperate. But when it comes down to it—we are. There’s a humility in recognizing that each of us is desperate for the love of God, for the healing and reconciling that only Jesus can provide. We can’t solve all of our problems or fix our deepest weaknesses on our own—no matter how successful we may be in other areas of our lives.

Following the servant girl’s advice, Naaman heads to Israel and is eventually directed to the prophet Elisha. Elisha directs Naaman to go and wash seven times in the Jordan River.

And what’s Naaman’s response? He’s angry, almost indignant about how simple the cure is.

Now, we could all pile on and criticize Naaman. But we’re often just like him. We struggle through conversion. We get humble enough to start, but then sometimes get angry or resentful about what God calls us to do, especially when it comes down to trusting in God, rather than our own accomplishments or abilities.

Fortunately for Naaman, one of his entourage talks him off the cliff, reminding him that he would have readily accepted an expensive or elusive cure, so why not give this freely offered one a try?  Naaman goes and washes himself and is cured.

When we’re turning towards God in a new way—experiencing a first fundamental conversion, or the ongoing conversion that’s part of following Jesus—it can be tempting to think that the Holy Spirit should be leading us towards special challenges or feats that only we can do because of our abilities. But God pours out his grace and love freely in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the cure. The healer. The reconciler. It seems so obvious, it’s almost disappointing. But it’s true. And when we see conversion through—experiencing the ups and downs of humility, desperation, anger, and joy—we find, as Naaman did, the wonderful freedom in trusting in God.

Copyright 2014, Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Reiss Vermeulen, M.Div., M.N.A., blogs, ministers in parish life and lay/deacon formation, and serves as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. She and her husband, Luke, have been married since 2011 and live in Ypsilanti, MI with their two young sons.

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