There are times when I sit down to write and I just want to utter this guttural scream, like
I look back on my day, in my calm, I’m-not-breaking-dishware-nor-writing-emails-I’ll-deeply-regret-later reflective mode, and start noting all the things that contributed–and built up to–that scream.
Some days, many or most of the contributors are self-inflicted. Those are fun days. It takes special grace to let yourself off the hook when you’re directly responsible for all the blood-spurting bullet holes in your own foot. Of the Jesus followers I know, most are better at extending grace to others than receiving it for themselves. On those self-injuring days, there’s an argument in my head that boils down to: “But it’s true. I did screw up. I deserve to feel miserable.” This logic would suggest that grace somehow depends on having a reasonable alibi: If I’m feeling bad but can explain why I shouldn’t, then I can receive grace.
But this is, in fact, the opposite of how grace functions. I don’t need grace if I have mitigating factors for why I screwed up. The argument “but I have it coming” does not render grace null and void. The prodigal son’s speech, “Look, I deserve all this, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you, I should be demoted from beloved son to ordinary servant,” does not win the day. He doesn’t even make it to the end before his father rudely interrupts him with an embrace and a robe, a ring and a party.
So if you step back and run that parallel, when you are castigating yourself and arguing for why you don’t deserve grace, God isn’t listening through the end of your speech. He’s already getting the sandals for your bloody, bare feet, when it was entirely your fault they got bloodied. Yes, you did this to yourself, so you must know that “I told you so” speech God has prepared for you?
Grace means that the almighty God of the universe has chosen forgetfulness. Grace means God acknowledges that you screwed up, sinned, betrayed him, let yourself down, probably did some damage to other people, and now God is going to bless you instead of punishing you for that. Sure, you can punish yourself. Free will means you can keep whipping yourself over those failures and refuse to take the robe God is offering to cover your wounded, emaciated body. But you don’t have to.
However, grace requires acknowledging that you need it. You can’t keep your prideful self-image and receive grace. You can have one of those. Choose wisely.
Today, however, was a different kind of wounding day. (Yes, that was a long tangent, albeit a passionate one. I hope it was a helpful one.) Few of them today were self-inflicted. The scream at the beginning was pain that my soul absorbed today. Sorry if that sounds overdramatic. It was a rough day.
I love young adults. God has given me something, some combination of empathy and an 18-year-old’s sense of humor and compassion and a constitutional inability to grow up that, when combined with the trust many of them extend to me, blends into this alchemy of relationship.
I also stopped playing God about…I’d like to say 30 years ago, but we’ll say 10-15 years ago, to play it safe. It’s been a process.
Therefore, when I hear an agonizing story from a young adult, I’m less likely to go into savior mode and more inclined to pray and listen to God for ways I can help. Sometimes I get a nudge, or I intuit how to respond. Sometimes I can’t do anything more than listen, which I’ve come to believe is love, in and of itself.
Sometimes, though, I want to yell at God. I know that’s not very pastorly-sounding when I’m being all calm and composed and not breaking anything, but seriously. I told my wife tonight that my biggest question I have for God might be why some people experience God’s presence while others never do. I’m on the outside, only seeing it from my point of view and not through their eyes, so I don’t know if God is constantly seeking them, sending thousands of signs and they are choosing to ignore all of it. That may be. I’m big on the whole free will thing.
If, however, as this person described, they ask and ask and never experience the presence of God, never see anything that they can recognize as communication, and have no sense of God’s reality—GAAAAAAAH!!!!! I. DON’T. GET. THAT!
Sorry. *Breathe.* *Breathe.*
I don’t get that.
I really don’t.
There is an approach to following God that says, “Never question God, because God always knows and you don’t, God always does what’s right while you don’t have a clue. Trust God, give thanks for literally everything, and keep your doubts to yourself.”
That isn’t my approach.
I think hearing what I heard today tapped into deeper, built up pain over hearing similar stories from too many people who are dear to me, who are still lost/struggling/wandering far from God/deeply in pain.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I think we’re supposed to agonize over people who suffer. I think Jesus did. [/pullquote]
I think we’re supposed to agonize over people who suffer. I think Jesus did. Most of the time, I’m too guarded and self-protective to let it hit me as hard as it should. I’m afraid it will capsize my little boat. I don’t have any advice on this, though I’m told sorrowing over others will expand our hearts.
That was the worst of it today, but by no means all of it. I took a score of other emotional hits, some related to our current situation, some to other people I love. Then, as a grand finale, my “therapy” for the evening backfired.
Which brings me here, on my couch (literally), writing this as therapy. So thanks for reading and helping. Thanks for letting me scream a little in a non-destructive way.
If you pray: Pray for my friend, whose family has been through a nightmare and who has basically given up on God.
Pray that I would have a bigger heart.
And maybe pray that I can see how God is present with people who feel so abandoned.