An ancient story from the poet Rumi tells about a young man named Nasuh who had a job in a women’s bathhouse. He was able to work at this job because his face looked feminine and could pass for a woman’s, but he was all man, through and through. He -thoroughly enjoyed helping the women bathe, but his deception and lust eventually affected his -conscience, so he went to see a holy man.
“Please pray for me,” he asked the holy man, after confessing his deceptive behavior.
The holy man’s response took him aback: “May God cause you to change your life in the way you know you should.” After that, the saint said nothing to Nasuh or to anyone else. He knew the secret, but he also knew that God was aware of Nasuh’s secret and was working to transform him.
Perhaps this story gets you a little riled up, particularly if you are a woman, because this holy man told no one about Nasuh’s deception. If you’re like me, you would expect the holy man to make Nasuh come clean and punish him for his dishonesty. It makes sense, humanly speaking, that when someone confesses a struggle with sinful tendencies, those who know should act boldly and forcefully to eradicate the sin. In the case of Nasuh, no one was hurt, but the privacy of those women had been violated. While this issue is important, the holy man could see that God was already effecting change in Nasuh, and he was content to let God’s transformation fully develop.
When we are confronted with sinful behaviors in ourselves or others, we sometimes believe that attacking the issue head-on is the best way to becoming more Christ-like. We think sinful behaviors should be topics of sermons, expounding on how God is displeased by this conduct. But this usurps the authority of God to change hearts; he alone can bring about true and lasting transformation. And if we examine our motives, we may find we are lapsing back into a behavioral pattern of trying to win God’s approval when we already have it, thanks to our inclusion in Jesus Christ.
The issue of transformation really comes down to trusting God and releasing our need to control. Though it is difficult, we can learn to prayerfully wait and allow God to change hearts. By reminding everyone of God’s constant love and acceptance of all, we can provide the good ground for transformation to occur, the type of change that will be lasting and healing for all.
In Nasuh’s story, his change of heart happens when one of the women loses a precious jewel from her earring in the bathhouse. It is nowhere to be found, and because it is worth a lot of money, everyone is strip-searched. Nasuh hides in a closet, afraid of his masculinity being discovered, though he is innocent of stealing the jewel. He fervently prays to God, asking for help, and when the women call him from the closet to be searched, his repentance becomes complete:
At that moment his spirit grows wings, and lifts.
His ego falls like a battered wall.
He unites with God, alive, but emptied of Nasuh.
(Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi)
He stands there waiting, and in that instant, someone shouts, “Here it is! I’ve found it!” When they begin apologizing to him for suspecting him of theft, he refuses their apology, saying he is the one who must apologize. He declares his gratitude to God for changing his heart:
And now, I am sewn back into wholeness!
Whatever I’ve done, now was not done.
Whatever obedience I didn’t do, now I did!
(Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi)
When we trust God for transformation, we recognize our human limitations to effect change in ourselves and others. We realize more completely that in God’s eyes, all sin has been forgiven and we have been fully restored. By understanding this, we let go of our need to control the process of change, resting in the loving arms of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and trusting that humanity’s healing will be completed in God’s perfect timing. Even as Nasuh was healed of his lust and deception, so we too can be “sewn back into wholeness” by our loving God.