This is going to be a very Christiany post. If you’re not into that sort of thing, I’d encourage you to read it anyway. It’s something new for me, so maybe it will be something new for you as well. If Christiany posts are exactly what you’re into, this one might make you nervous. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts either way.
Anyone who knows me well has likely heard a little about the mentoring group I’ve been a part of for the past three years. After three years, it’s still hard to explain. When I go to meetings now, Will says, “Have fun at group. Enjoy listening and responding and crying.” That’s pretty much how it goes. There’s not always crying, but the listening and responding part is the best description I can give you. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s not the same listening and responding that we tend to do in life and relationships. It’s listening without judgment or agenda and responding with truth and love. It’s pointing out God in others. It’s reflecting the character of God by telling others how we see the character of God reflected in them. It’s naming and encouraging and truth-telling. It’s hard work, and it’s good.
A couple of weeks ago, we went on our annual retreat, and one of the exercises we did was to brainstorm attributes of God that we’ve experienced. Among them were love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection.
In another exercise, we were encouraged to consider why we do the things we do that are not loving, peaceful, accepting, gracious, hopeful, and protective, and I had a realization. When I choose to do something that goes against the character of God, it is because, in that moment, I want some aspect of God’s character, but I don’t believe he gives it to me freely. I believe instead that I must take it for myself.
Take vanity, for example (no really, take it – Ha! See what I did there? Comic relief). I care about my appearance because I want people to think I’m beautiful because I want them to accept me, to love me. I want to be loved so desperately, and I think the way to get that love is to make myself look good. Then people will compliment me, and I’ll feel good about myself. I’ll feel loved.
Or falsehood. When I tell a lie (or don’t tell the whole truth), I am protecting myself from something, probably shame. I’m not believing that grace, acceptance and protection are available to me, so I’m getting the closest thing to them – avoiding shame and punishment while believing I deserve them both.
What about gossip? When I gossip, let’s be honest, it’s probably because I’m either jealous or self-righteous (or both). I believe that someone else is loved while I am not. I believe that someone else is getting grace that they don’t deserve. I want to be loved. I want the grace that person is receiving. When I gossip, I knock the other person down a notch in my mind so that I feel more loved/lovable.
But here’s the truth. We live, currently (not sometime in the future), in an actual, physical, real world where God loves us perfectly, completely, and unconditionally. And he gives all of himself freely, liberally, without limit to anyone who’s interested. He gives us love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection.
The only requirement from us is that we accept this as reality. And I’ll be honest – sometimes that’s really hard.
Sometimes I don’t want a handout. I just want to do it myself. Sometimes I don’t trust that there are no strings attached, and my skepticism pushes my own agenda forward. Sometimes my perfectionist tendencies come out. I’ve made a mistake, and in my mind, grace is unacceptable. I know I don’t deserve it, and I can’t bring myself to accept that I’m fully loved and accepted, so I choose to punish myself rather than let grace in.
But when I can remember what’s real – that love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection are mine for the taking because the source of them gives them to me freely – I don’t have to fight for myself. I don’t have to take love at someone else’s expense. I don’t have to fend off shame by withholding truth. I don’t have to knock other people down so I feel built up.
This is not about behavior management. It’s not about behavior at all so much as it is about belief. I’ve been in church all my life, and I’ve heard theology, justification, sanctification, atonement, sin, redemption, and repentance described in a hundred different ways that never impacted me like this has. I thought for a long time that the message was, “Stop sinning.” Then I heard, “No, it’s not about your actions. It’s about your heart. Make your heart right.” Then it was, “No, you can’t make your heart right. Only God can do that. You have to surrender to him.” But the explanations for how to surrender to God, if existent at all, are always either vague or based on ME doing a prescribed set of spiritual activities, which doesn’t seem like surrendering very much at all.
But recognizing true reality (redundant, but you understand) and false reality (oxymoron, but you understand) for what they are and choosing truth has made things much clearer for me.
This is what I think Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were all about. I think he came to open up this reality for all people in all places and all times who would accept it. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what’s true and real and available to us all.