8/27/2014

In Which I Don't Try to Do What Is Godly

Recently something stared me straight in the face, daring me to deny it:

I am a writer. 

You might think I know this because I see veritable talent in my prose, or because other people have told me how my writing has been a source of grace in their lives. Those are never the kinds of things that get to me. I push against thinking I have a gift, for fear that I might be prideful about that. I also resist the idea that people might be blessed by what I do because I never want to find my identity in what other people think of me. Which, if I am honest, a healthy amount of wisdom gets drowned out by fear of pride, and I deny the ways God has gifted me by focusing on avoiding sin. Don't be proud. Don't care too much what other people think. Don't try to be wrong. Don't be wrong. Don't do. Don't say. Don't think. Don't feel. Just don't.

Ironically, the avoidance of sin is often the biggest sin of all. It means I am looking at myself to figure out what is good and bad, and then I try to be good / do good and avoid the bad. I call myself a Christian. A Christian is simply a person who recognizes they are a sinner, incapable of pleasing a perfect God. But God himself became a man, the God-man Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect, sinless life and died on the cross. His blood, perfect and sinless, atones for my sin if I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth that I need Jesus to be my substitute for the death my sin deserves. Upon becoming a Christian, God accepts Jesus' record and not mine for the rest of my life, even when I fail. Repeatedly.

A Christian is a person who needs Jesus. A truly godly Christian transparently lives in such a way that they allow others to see it.

The Gospel is quite simple: I am a sinner who needs Jesus because he is perfect and I am not. The beauty is that I have a new nature capable of choosing surrender to God, yet I am still a sinner who chooses my own comfort, my own glory, my own pleasures, instead of God. The sin is in my motives, my thoughts, my desires, my actions. Yet, as I continue to fail, God continues to see Christ's perfect record. He then frees me to stop trying to be perfect, to stop trying to avoid sin, and just admit that I need him. I can't be perfect. I can't think the right thoughts, feel the right feelings, crave only always his glory and never my own. 

Talk about freedom. To be truly free is to rest in my desperate need for Jesus, to no longer try and be him.

Who cares if I have wrong motives? Wrong thoughts? So what? I am not embracing licentiousness, nor am I endorsing sin. Rather, I am allowed in my faulty ways to see that Jesus' death was necessary and is now sufficiently powerful to atone for the fact that I am a sinner.

Jesus didn't die on the cross so that I could live in fear of needing his grace. Nor did he suffer the rejection of his friends, the shredding of his flesh, the impaling of his limbs, so that I might spend my life trying to perform in such a way that he would have done all of that for nothing. I need Jesus. So it's his grace to me to live like it, simply admitting that I can't do what is godly because I am not God. I am a human who, despite my deep love for Jesus and desire to please him, forgets that what pleases God is his son.

When I confess my failure to be godly, to be perfect, is when I am best able to surrender to my need for Jesus. It is in that surrender, the repentance of (turning away from) self-reliance, that Christ is most clearly evident in my life. God gets the glory because people don't need to figure out how to be like me, do what I did--they see that only Jesus pleases God and my repentance of self-reliance allows them to see the beauty of Christ's faithful forgiveness and restoration of those who cast themselves completely on him and his grace.

Why am I writing all of this? Most of my readers are Christians themselves, so it probably seems like quite a bit of preaching to the choir. I might contend that plenty of choir members have been fooled into thinking the Gospel is to read the Bible, pray, go hear pastors who teach the little-g gospel of "do the godly thing and be like Jesus" that runs rampant in American churches and culture. One of my favorite preachers, Tullian Tchividjian, often says that it is not offensive to tell people that they have failed, but that they can follow these 8 steps of self-sufficiency godly living back into the good grace and favor of God. Even worse is thinking the offensive part is to say "I used to be bad but I'm good now," as though getting better over time is what is offensive about the gospel.

No; what is offensive--what makes the Gospel truly an offensive attack on people's philosophy of how to live--is telling people that there is nothing they can do. They cannot give their money or time or resources enough; they cannot pray or study their Bible or attend church and church functions enough; they cannot build wells and provide housing and schools and medicine and churches to the poor around this world enough; they cannot evangelize their neighbors and coworkers and families by being "on mission" enough; they cannot commit their lives and livelihoods and careers and hobbies and families to Christ enough. They can do nothing. NOTHING. Christ has already done it all and their efforts to be like him do not please God, do not impress him.

Much of American (and beyond, I am sure) Christianity just does. not. get. this. Even churches [defunct link to Mars Hill, which no longer exists] who pride themselves on getting the gospel "right" think that repentance and godliness is to, in the face of controversy and strife, rightly discern and then do "what is godly." Discernment bloggers make names for themselves on the treatise that they have figured out what is godly and then teach others how to...well, not discern for themselves, but rather to trust the writer and keep coming back to them for how to rightly discern whatever situation or product or cultural ideology the writer is now talking about. Maybe at best they give minimal personal opinion but then a bunch of other resources for the people with whom they agree. Entire coalitions for the Gospel throw around the word antinomian* (meaning no law, or basically, you are saved so do whatever you want and God is cool with that because, you know, Jesus) when people talk about Christ's perfect record rendering our efforts futile.

You probably see this with the articles your friends consistently post on Facebook--"This person gets it right. Read this article and then agree with me--I mean them." Maybe it's about faith, but maybe it's about suicide / depression / homosexuality / gun control / Israel and Palestine / anything related to parenting / Food Babe vs Monsanto / buying local / your Forever 21 jeans creating 2 year old sex slaves / etc. Are you as exhausted as I am? Are you as weary of know-and-think-and-do-and-feel-and-say-the-right-thingism as I am? Are you as frustrated with yourself for doing this yourself--feeling good when you see posts that agree with you (even clicking "share"), deflated or even angry when you see ones that don't--as I am?

I just can't do it any more. 

Yet this is why I haven't been writing. For fear that, despite my best intentions, I might unwittingly slip right into a crevice, my own little niche, on the stumbling boulder to the Gospel engraved "I think I am pretty godly, so here is what I think about things, and now you can think like I do and we can be right together." I just don't want to do that. So you remember that fear I spoke of toward the beginning of this post? Fear of pride and fear of doing things for the approval of other people? This issue of "do the right thingism" is something I fear will be deep in my bones, undetected, but then evident to others who read my words and feel that pressure to be right like I am, so I don't want to write. 

Enter grace. So what if I have some wrong motives? Is there not grace from Jesus to reveal them to me over time, and then I can repent later if that happens? Can I not allow you to see that I desperately need Jesus by...well, actually needing him and telling you that? And, *gasp,* what if maybe I don't have deep, dark, overruling sinful motives and it's God's grace to me to write? To possibly, maybe, be led by Jesus to write, to lean into him as I do so, and let his grace wash over me and those who read the words that pour out?

So you remember what I opened with? Realizing that I am a writer? My family and I took our very first vacation last week. We went to the Oregon Coast. I, in a delirium of calm, texted a friend that in one hour of relaxing in a little chair in our cottage near the beach I experienced more rest, more peace, more actual relaxation than in all attempts in the last year combined. That little respite, a week of ocean and a cheese factory and more ocean and a gigantic cave for sea lions and the coolest tree and a lighthouse and then another lighthouse and then more ocean and, oh, some more ocean, brought some much needed clarity and rest. 

As an aside, sweet Jesus, I love the ocean. I need more ocean in my life.

The last 15 months have been a wringer for our family. Both of our children were diagnosed with autism. It was a heavy hit financially and our medical insurance isn't the best, so my husband has been working himself to the bone to cover our needs. I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, insulin resistant, explaining why my own wearying efforts to lose weight had been futile. Another hefty financial hit. An incredibly restrictive and difficult diet that has helped me lose weight, hopefully healing the potential diabetes, though the pounds are coming off much more slowly than they are supposed to because my thyroid is just beyond freaking out, and this has made me incredibly dizzy and sick, feeling worse than I ever have. And then, after two years of struggle, we finally felt the freedom and call to leave our church. A church we attended for all but 2 months of our nearly 7 year marriage. It has been incredibly difficult, particularly as we uncover layers of spiritual abuse and poor teaching that have infiltrated our souls to the point that some days we feel like Pontius Pilate--"What is truth?"

I haven't written much. A lot of it is lack of time. Another chunk, quite the slice of the pie, is lack of will due to the fear I spoke of. But then I think most of it is that desire to not come across as having the answers, never wanting to seem like I think I know what is right and expecting others to agree with me.

And yet, I know I am a writer. I am a writer who finds rest and comfort and joy in writing about life as I go through it. That includes autism and the Gospel and my experience and perspective regarding Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill and my sin and struggles and thoughts I wrestle with as I wander purposefully through this world. 

The reason I know I am a writer is that when I encounter life, be it in the wringer or when I'm getting that bit of rest away from it, words bubble up in my soul, and I feel like I'll burst from the pressure of them if I can't make the transfer through my fingertips and into legible form. No matter how infrequently I write, the desire never ebbs or fades. I never stop contemplating what life will look like, how I need wrangle the colors around the Rubik's cube that is my hectic harrowing schedule, to be able to write regularly. To make it a part time job, regardless of pay. This isn't about making a living; by grace, my husband makes enough to financially meet our needs. I can do this as an actual livelihood. Because I want to

And here is how I knew, finally actually now tying up that loose end from the introduction to this post (though, if you read me much, you know I don't so much care for trying to be carefully constructed; I write like I talk, as things flow through my mind): as my husband and I were making our way toward Tigard, OR, to get him a new MacBook to use for his software developing work, I was thinking ahead toward the day when we'll be getting me a MacBook for writing. When it will be something I am consistently able to do as a part of my life, that livelihood I mentioned. Without meaning to, I realized that all week long I had been writing in my head, filtering the events of our vacation the way I have been filtering all of the last year, all of my years, really: in how I would write about them. What form the effervescent thoughts would take in their translation to prose.

I am a writer.

So enough. Enough of the fear. Enough of attempting to evade "do the right thingism" via silence. Enough suffocating because I am censoring myself. Enough. 

And, I hope, more. More writing. More words. More courage. More entries here. More posts that journal my journey. More.


Now, our vacation, in photos. 
















*Or, if not using it themselves, let in hang in the air like a bad stench and don't clear said air when others use the word.

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