“So here’s to the heartache / Here’s to the mistakes / We’ll drink to all the years, the tears / That led to this place…and you will see / with time comes grace.”
— Here’s to the Heartache, Nothing More
It’s cool right now to tear things down. Whether that means a hilariously snarky movie review, or a scathing critique of the church, the things that are unpopular in the promotional public eye are the reasons why we can still stand up and shout such accusations in the first place.
The topic of grace has been on my mind more and more emphatically for the last six or seven months.
Last summer I went to Colorado for four months. May-August. I didn’t want to go, which may come as a surprise to some people. In fact, the “I don’t want to go” permeated to “I’ll go just to get this over with since I said I’d try a summer here once” levels. I was incredibly angry and confused, and in my anger and confusion I figured that my friend who I’d be staying with wouldn’t want me around her children and that the people I normally saw every year and laughed with every year would find they didn’t want to be around me anymore ‘cuz I wasn’t any fun.
I told my friend as much.
And she said to come anyways.
I cried on the way there, and I felt downright hostile when I got off the plane…and think I cried even more in the car on the two hour trip from the airport to her house. I felt empty and drained and defeated. I was dreadfully tired and the only reason I felt I could cling to for being there at all was “I’m excited to do some work for this ministry I love.”
Instead of condemnation and ostracization, I found grace. I found people I’d known for almost ten years and people I just met that summer willing to come alongside me and be my friend…even when I was crying, even when I was angry and bitingly bitter and shakingly upset. I found people who talked to me, and let me talk to them.
For the first time in my recent memory someone reached out to me when she didn’t need to and asked me if I wanted to get dinner even though we didn’t know each other. At all. Another new friend invited me to hang out with her–sometimes even her and her boyfriend–on errands and mini-adventures. And old friends appeared out of nowhere, filling this void of enwrapping community that I had convinced myself was a pure lie of fantasy birthed by a faulty memory.
I left my local church, officially, last summer while I was in Colorado. I sent both my pastors an e-mail saying that I needed to find somewhere else to worship.
And while it was freeing, it was also incredibly painful. It took until I found this church to overcome a deep, deep hurt from when I was little, and it seemed meant to be that I would just exchange one set of hurt, anger and confusion for another.
I’m still having a little bit of trouble feeling safe in a church setting anymore. It’s true when it’s said how the church is full of problems because it’s full of people. Anywhere there’s people there will be problems because even redeemed people are imperfect. As God’s children, we’re covered by the blood of Christ and while we now have the capacity to choose God over sin, that doesn’t mean we are not still fighting against the wrong thing while striving to do that right thing. While we’re on this earth, there will always be that struggle.
But there is still this…shying away fear of association. It’s easy to look at church now and just see the potential for failure and betrayal, to see the inevitable grapple–intentional or not–for control over people. But what I think is so critical to remember is that not all church leaders who try to control their congregation do it out of greed, they do it out of love. They care so deeply for their congregation that they want everyone to be spiritually safe and well-maintained.
Unfortunately, when one imperfect person tries to control another imperfect person, scars are left. Perhaps because someone was being forced into a mold they weren’t made for (people are too unique for molds), or perhaps because the person being forced wanted so much to please a changeable, fallible human instead of focusing on the already-obtained approval of an unchangable, infallible God.
Scars can also be left on the person doing the shoving. While there is a possibility they’ll never see the error of their attempting to play the role of the Holy Spirit in convicting and changing a person’s heart, the day may come when they do realize that. And that cannot be easy to come to terms with.
In this era where being critical is seen near-exclusively as humorously harmless or an entitled response to personal injustice…it’s hard to remember that we love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19) and that “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
While I believe full-heartedly that people who have taken advantage of others (either knowingly or unknowingly) should be called out and, when necessary, brought to legal justice, I also believe that it is critical to make sure our anger at the injustice aligns as just that…an anger at the injustice. I also believe that during those times it’s critical to fight against the desire to sit in our self-justification that hey, we were wronged; we deserve to be angry. Glamorizing ourselves as victims does no one any favors–neither ourselves nor anyone else.
I am still struggling with the concept that God’s grace doesn’t just apply to me but that it also applies to the people who hurt me. It’s so easy for me to be Jonah and take more pleasure in watching other people burn for their injustices against me than to rejoice when they’ve been brought back into alignment with God’s forgiveness and His desire for them. I’m having increasingly long periods of being okay with churches again and “church people,” but still, every now and then, I will have a dramatically intense relapse where I want nothing to do with being around people I met at church. It honestly doesn’t even matter if I meet people outside of church and they go to church…it’s just meeting people at church that makes it instinctively more difficult for me to accept.
But even with this flaw in my heart and head…God has been continuing to shower me in grace. True grace. It’s easy to be gracious with the people who are gracious back. However I haven’t been easy to live with lately, but instead of this constant barrage of condemnation from God…He’s given me little encouragements, little reminders of love throughout the months.
I realized it, actually, when I got home from Colorado and I was vacuuming for my friend’s mom. I vacuum their house once a week and…well I’m slow and a bit clumsy. For weeks every time I ran into the doorjamb I’d have a panic attack that I’d be in trouble. Or that I was taking too long. Or that I wasn’t taking long enough. Or that I wasn’t doing a thorough enough job. Or…or…something.
But instead, her parents have always counteracted my instinctual anxiety with a teasing that I’m working too hard, just swoosh! swoosh! and be done with it! Or that they were grateful that I vacuumed at all. “Anything’s better than it was!” Her parents have shown me unfathomable amounts of kindness, patience and unconditional affection that I can’t even put into words.
And that was the moment I began to notice the other tiny, precious ways God spoke grace into my life. An insane amount of post-its in the mail from one friend. Another friend getting kleenex for his car when I was sick and we were driving over an hour away. Another friend’s patience and forgiveness after I’d blown her off for over a year.
I’ve been told I should write sarcastic reviews because I have a dry sense of humor. The reason I never have, however, is because I feel like there are so many seriously negative things that I don’t see a beneficial purpose to me contributing to that mass unnecessarily through concentrated humor. (This isn’t to say I’m not snarky, I am just growing more tired of it as I get older.)
While I am probably the last person to be called an optimist, I do believe that it is possible to find and frame the silver linings of our clouds without negating either the cloud itself nor its silver lining. Sometimes it takes a little longer to find the positive element that is, truly, there.
In the end, I’ve been learning to be patient. I’ve been learning to rest in God’s love and comfort that He doesn’t tell me to not be hurt, He tells me to forgive. I’ve found a lot of comfort in that. I pray that as time goes on I’ll eventually no longer feel hurt and remember to place my faith and trust in God, not man. But even then, I also pray that I’ll remember that God has a purpose for every human being–even the ill-intentioned and/or misinformed ones.
I’ve been learning to remember Psalm 46:10a: “Be still and know that I am God.” (KJV)