It's the one that I've tried to write
Over and over again
I'm awake in the infinite cold
Yet you sing to me
Over and over and over again
You know those songs that, if you could choose just a few to have written, you would absolutely love to have been your own? This song is definitely one for me. I remember listening to it over and over and over again, eyes closed, heart aloft. Something about those strings, the sweet guitar pricks, Jon Foreman's vocals gently gliding over the lyrics, that match exactly how I feel as the melody sweeps away my soul.
Lest we ever forget my legalistic past, I remember--with horror now--finally meeting my
My word, you guys. I reallytrulyactually did say that. I don't even remember what the response was, just that Jon was clearly not in agreement with me but gracious. In my heart I felt a sinking, devastating sense that maybe they weren't as for real only and all about Jesus like I was.
They definitely weren't about Jesus the way I was, but by the grace of God they likely were more about Jesus the person and not Jesus the works based religion. That is a very good thing.
Those were some days, friends.
But goodness, today my soul is full. Stepping outside of myself, getting more grace than I could ever, even with my verbose abilities, put into words.
I cannot transpose for you the way my soul sings from the song of grace sung over me, but I can tell you how I experienced it so tangibly.
I sat in a room the other night with other leaders from my time at Mars Hill. People who, like me, stepped out in faith, past our fear and insecurity and the possibility of failing God and others horribly, and hoped that we could bless and help and serve people. People I admire, love, and respect sat around a table with my husband and I, bared their souls. We talked about serving in a ministry where we hoped to love people with the Gospel, yet even our very best intentions couldn't save us from being a part of so much going wrong, from us being wronged, us doing wrong.
The truth is, it shredded my heart. I had to revisit ways I was hurt, but also to face head on how devastating it is to see that I hurt others. Only one woman comes to mind for whom I definitively, deeply, deeply regret something I said to her. And, horror of horrors, I can't remember her last name so I can't find her to apologize, to repent, to make amends for any lasting damage I did. Yet there might be others I don't remember hurting, or don't know I hurt, and also can't seek out to attempt repentance and reparations. That is horrifying to me.
That night was the cap to a day, people. Because just hours before I sat face to face with someone that I wounded, and wounded deeply. I sinned in such a way that people in a large circle were affected, relationships altered and shifted and askew because of my actions, and this person sitting on my couch was at the center. She sat in my home as someone who was once a dear friend, in the past. Because I was her friend. But then I became her leader, and I crushed her.
I just crushed her.
But I convinced myself that I was helping her, that the actions my husband and I took against her and her husband were "speaking the truth in love."
[My word, I have quite a lot to say about that phrase, but we'll save it for another day.]
There was a lot of other stuff at play, but what I absolutely have to own is that we played the primary role in an extremely painful time in their life, this young couple, that included a lot of big changes and a move across the country, with a large chunk of motivation stemming from our sin against them and how they didn't feel at home in their own church. So they ran. But we sent them running.
We did that.
We thought we were doing the will of God, being wise leaders. We thought we were shepherding people.
But, at the core of our hearts was a belief that we could impress God with our performance of producing impressive people. We needed them to be all fixed up. To do that, we had to figure out the stuff that needed fixin' and at the first hint of a possibility we went for the jugular. Of the sin, we told ourselves. Yet it was their actual lives that flailed about as we ripped and shredded away at their throats.
What they kept saying was that we had been such good friends, but then we became their leaders and changed. That they felt like we loved them as friends and people and they cared what we thought respected us. But then, once we had the smallest bit of authority over them, they felt like we only wanted to find what was wrong and fix them. Like they were no longer people, friends, but a project to be accomplished. A spiritual trophy to polish and put on our hierarchical leadership mantle.
I didn't believe them, at the time. I just couldn't see it that way. I was loving them.
But they were right. They were absolutely right.
You know how I conducted myself, even just three years ago? I listened to someone talking to me and filtered everything they said through what I would have called the Gospel. But I was actually straining the conversation--them--through the Law, looking for sin chunks of wrong motives, or not believing God "well enough," or using language that sounded right that was surely covering up all badness underneath...just a ridiculous litany of things. Basically trying to find any way they weren't being perfect and then trying to "love them" by helping them see that, see how unholy they were, so they could root out the sin and repent because they owed it to God to be serious about sin. Sin stops them from loving others. Gotta tear down all idols!
The reason I did that to others was that I did it to myself. I lived that way, constantly. It was the obsessive sin of "morbid introspection" (I have heard this a thousand times but could not figure out to whom I should attribute its original usage.) This is a disease wherein you try to root out sin by constantly looking at yourself to find it, just compulsively looking inward, deeper and deeper, with the foolish presumption that you'll get to the root and miraculously be less inherently sinful.
It is a heavy burden to bear. I was crushed under this weight and then also pushed and pulled that weight onto others. Some people I don't even know how I affected, like I mentioned from looking back at ministry the other night, but this friend, sitting on my couch earlier that day?
What is so incredible to me is that God wouldn't let me write her. I tried, over the last 6 months or so, to find the words, but they were stuck down inside me and I couldn't get them out.
I know why now. Had I reached out, I would have said I was writing to repent. But I would have squirmed out from under how deeply I hurt her, shifted the weightiness onto more nebulous shoulders. I would have said I absolutely owned my sin against her, but I also would have emphasized the machine of Mars Hill, the way it put people through the meat grinder, the way I was spiritually deceived to believe that it was good and true to act as I did. I would have tried to say it was like 30% my fault for doing some wrong stuff but 70% Mars Hill's fault for teaching me that was the right thing to do. I mean, I wouldn't have used numbers, but my message would have been clear: she was a victim of my victimization at Mars Hill.
I don't believe that now.
Yes, Mars Hill was REALLY messed up. Remember the other night that I mentioned? As we discussed stuff we saw, experienced, and did as leaders, there were people from other churches listening in, to learn from our discussion to try and make their own ministries healthier for their people. They lovingly spoke life into us, that what we lived through is not the normative experience even for people from bad churches. Mars Hill was a special kind of coercive and awful. And it was devastating to realize just how screwed up Mars Hill was. And perhaps still I will write about that later, but I have no excuse.
For as horribly wrong and off from the Gospel Mars Hill was in so many ways, I wanted to believe the things I was taught. I willfully chose to be spiritually deceived. When a teaching or method felt off, I would bury it, or complain to my husband or closest friends, but I never actually did much except maybe toss up a few halfhearted prayers about people sucking. But I stayed in because I got something out of the machine, thus sought to be the very best cog I could be and turned a blind eye to the bloody pile of bodies coming out the other end.
I hurt my friend not because I was helplessly unable to stop what happened to her. I did it. I chose to hurt her, to wield power over her, to spiritually abuse her. Yes, I was spiritually abused, but also I chose to spiritually abuse.
|This smiling, loving mama on her son's first birthday is the face of a spiritual abuser|
God showed me that. He brought me to the end of my excuses, let me see enough of the motives and intents of my heart to have not a single reason to squirm away anymore. He gloriously once again let me see that I truly am the worst of all sinners, to receive the grace I so desperately need to stop denying it. And he let me tell my friend that, to own how I hurt her to her face.
You know what's beautiful about the Gospel? She forgave me. But not on my couch when I owned how I hurt her.
No; her response to Christ depended not on me "making it right".
See, three years ago, when she and her husband sinned in response to how we hurt them by shutting us out, I carried that hurt for well over two years. I felt like I maybe hurt them by trying to love them but they really hurt us when they shut out God and us. I was sorta bad for not perfectly handling my attempts to love them, but they were really bad for just flat out being sinful and not letting us love them, then being very unloving and murdering us in their hearts. They got grazed by friendly fire but turned their gun on me and shot me in my heart, intentionally. My hurt was all I could see, all that mattered.
And then I spent a good six months realizing that my hurt was a pale shadow compared to how I hurt them.
It was only in the last six months that I have been able to come to the place I spoke of, to fully realize (as best I can tell) how my sin was my fault and not Mars Hill's.
But my friend? She forgave me a long time ago. To hear me repenting to her was just extra grace, because it brought actual reconciliation. Her forgiveness of me, though, had nothing to do with me and everything with her relationship with Christ. She even said that God used how we hurt them to break them out of their comfort zone, to get her husband to go to Bible college and start pursuing his calling to be a church planter. Had everything been good and lovely they might have simply remained comfortable, but instead followed God's call that they had been avoiding a bit. That she didn't just forgive me but was thankful for how God worked even my harm against her for good.
And that was what broke me, heaved my eyes fully off of myself and my sin and onto grace and forgiveness. Because not even my sin is the point. Jesus, his grace through all circumstances, is what actually matters. That was why I went to the meeting that night already splayed open. To be real about the shame and hurt that flowed from others onto me and from me onto others.
But then, through that, there was more reconciliation. Another friend was at that meeting, but I haven't really thought of her as a friend for months. After leaving Mars Hill, I just kept waiting for her to make good on her fervent promise that we wouldn't stop being friends just because we went to different churches. But she didn't; not a single word. So I grew more and more bitter, blaming her for the loss of relationship, my heartache while she seemed just fine to move on. During the meeting, however, I saw how wrecked she was. How Mars Hill's implosion just blew up her life and her faith and she, like so many of us, feels like a baby figuring out what she even believes about Jesus and Christianity after decades, even a lifetime, of being a Christian.
You know what I saw? It was no longer someone who owed me a damn thing. I saw someone who was broken and hurting and I was so busy waiting for her to be a friend to me that I never considered being a friend to her.
Because Jesus is always incredible, she forgave me and felt awful that in her pain she had never considered that I might also be hurting. But we reconciled and heard from each other that we actually did matter to the other. Each of our not-reaching-out stemmed from feeling so broken yet like the other person must have such a healthy community they'd moved on to that we didn't want to burden the other. Because, again, we each were so focused on ourselves that we weren't asking how we could love the other, even if it seemed like a noble cause to not want to burden her with our mess. But we each repented, counted the other's offense as nothing in light of our own, forgave, and reconciled.
I came home that night with all of those things--the reconciliation and forgiveness in the morning; the remembering and reliving and new hearing of such tragic and anti-Gospel pain from Mars Hill, and then more reconciliation in the evening--just amazed. How does the Lord take such broken stuff and make it beautiful?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Because it's the Gospel. Jesus shows us that not only is only he perfect, but he lets us see how faithful, how beautiful, how truly good he is through sin and suffering. It ultimately doesn't matter who we hurt or how, or who hurt us or how. I mean, yes, those hurts matter to Jesus. But the wonder of Christ is that he can and does take all things and work them together for good for those who love him.
And what is more "good" than the Good News? The truth that nothing is too big or small to matter to Jesus. That is why he lived the perfect life, fulfilled every jot and tiddle of the Law, so that his death on the cross would accomplish two things:
1. It would seal his perfect life lived on behalf of all those found in him, which in turn
2. would satisfy his perfect Father's decree that sin and death be conquered by the sacrificed blood of a spotless lamb.
I know you have probably heard your whole life that this is so that when you die you get to spend eternity with Jesus and avoid hell.
But you know what is infinitely as good, if not possibly better?
There is life and joy now.
My reconciliation with my friend on my couch is for today. It's not that we can go through this life wounded and bitter but trying our best to be ok, so then we can spend eternity with joy in the presence of Jesus when he actually does ultimately, completely end our sin and our suffering. No, my Christian identity is not solely my passport into eternity.
I get to enjoy new life, all things worked together for good by my Only Hope, today.
|Of COURSE I read this in It Is Finished the next day.|
One final anecdote: when my friend extended her already-forgiveness to me in my living room, I shared how we had been through the wringer with some other mutual friends. How I spent a long time wishing said friends would move away already because being in the same time zone--let alone a few hundred feet away from them, because they lived quite near us--felt too hard. And then Jesus did that miraculous work where I just could not get out from under how awful my sin was, how suddenly how the way they hurt me was nothing compared to what I did to them. Miracle of grace? They felt the same way. And we reconciled. But then, less than a year later, they did move, way too many states and miles away, and it was bittersweet that it hurt so damn much. My deepest regret was all of that wasted time, all that bitterness held against one another, when we could have forgiven and had sweet relationship while she was still close. Who cares that we have eternity when we wasted years right now?
It still makes me cry ev. er. y. time.
Do you see it? We get to experience life and joy this side of heaven. THIS is why I want my friends and family and strangers to know Jesus, not just to save their souls from hell, but so that they can experience this sweetness I speak of in this life.
Because if you know Jesus then you know there is NOTHING like him. Nothing like forgiveness, nothing like the way all that you once claimed dies when you see both death and life in light of the Gospel, how Christ laid claim to your sin and brokenness so your only claim need be him.
There's a song inside of my soul, friends. And Jesus? He is my only hope.
|Me, on my 20th birthday in red, my favorite shirt: i like switchfoot|
And yes, I know that my hair is really, really horrible.
Oh, and that's a balloon.