right, wrong, and grace

But over the past ten years, God has been peeling. Peeling and peeling the layers of me. And I am confronted often by who I think I should be and who I am.

And why.

Total honesty: I had a post all ready. Filters for our words, part two: on husbands and social media. Ready to go today.

And then, this thing happened.

A big to-do in the world I come from. And I was sad. Mad. Vocal. I researched. I followed. I watched and I listened. I was outraged. I was grieved.

And then, suddenly, I snapped out of it. For that, I thank my sister, and my husband, the “Ain’t nobody got time for that” lady . . . and the lovely squash I baked for dinner.

I got sucked into a “foolish controversy” yesterday. A “wrangling of words” with some people who are always right. Even when they use faulty metrics from sources they usually oppose, fail to practice principles of confrontation they preach, and paint condemnation with broad brush strokes.

It is surreal. And sort of painful . . . to collide with the world that shaped my mind as a new adult.

I struggle so much with this, this legalism, that took hold of me. The wrongness of them. The rightness of us.

The need to be right is just part of who I am. I can’t entirely blame that on my education. But it was certainly nourished there.

It felt good to be surrounded by people who thought exactly like me. If we differ on nuance, fine. Let’s just not make it an issue. Honestly, I don’t like to fight. Right felt right.

But over the past ten years, God has been peeling. Peeling and peeling the layers of me. And I am confronted often by who I think I should be and who I am.

And why.

And the who I think I should be is weighted so heavily with the years of sermons and books, and principles and seminars. I look back and find no place for the woman whose husband is a Christ-follower & church leader — and yet struggles with pain and addiction to pain pills . . . And suddenly I am there again . . . lost in a world of blue blazers and khaki dress pants, confused by how being right made you live right, because it didn’t. All the rightness in the world did not equip me to deal with addiction.

Yesterday, I thought of all the years of my life I wasted. Believing that certain denominations were wrong and therefore had nothing good to offer and all the while, in a “seeker friendly” — and therefore wrong — mega church on the other end of L.A., a program was launched that held the keys to my salvation.

12 Steps. Imagine that.

Biblical principles to release both Dave and me from bondage to secrets and shame. Truth, through which I finally understood my actual need for God even though I had known Him all my life and had been grounded in solid theology (with a degree from the right school to prove it). And through which I came face to face with the reality of God’s grace. Grace sufficient for me. Power made perfect in weakness.

A place where people prayed over me and Dave with a passion I had never heard in all my life. A place where we sang songs with repetitive choruses, read from a different translation of the Bible, wore t-shirts, and were preached to by recovering addicts. A place where we grieved, and celebrated.

I had never experienced Church like that.

And I broke. The pride. The fear. The defense . . .

. . . but the peeling takes time. These layers are thick.

I listen. I study. I read. I pray. I ask God to give me a heart of compassion rather than rightness (believe me, I have a full tank of that). I fail. I retreat. I strive for perfection. I believe knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And yet, still, I lean toward the comfort of knowing . . .  it’s just so much easier than love.

I am surrounded now by people with whom I don’t always feel completely at home. I don’t take for granted that we see eye to eye on finer points of doctrine. My closest friends worship in churches my education taught me preach a false gospel. And yet, I witness in their lives a deep communion with Christ,  and in their churches a stronger commitment to reaching out in Jesus’ name with actual love and help for the hurting — doing what Jesus would do. And I’ve been studying what they teach — from their writers — the core of what they really believe — and it’s there in Scripture — in interpretations dating back to the earliest days of the Church. And I am beginning to see how so much of what I once believed about them was based on caricature and representations and not reality.

This week, I appreciate anew that I am in a church where I am learning to have a spirit of love along with a spirit of discernment. I was — and still am — sorely lacking in actual grace. For others, as well as for myself.

I’m not always comfortable with grace. I am still overly concerned about appropriate attire (as though poor fishermen had Sunday finery). I am still self-conscious of movement, of kneeling to pray, of closing my eyes and shutting out the world to sing.

And I am slow to raise my hands.

* * * * *

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

— St. Paul, Ephesians 4:1-5