Monday, February 25, 2008

Lent Sunday 3

I have struggled over the past year or two as I have been reshaping my paradigm--or having my paradigm reshaped--of what I believe as a Christian and how I view myself, God and the relationship between the two of us.

It has been unsettling and uncomfortable at times. Trying to figure out what I really believe at the core of my being and what I have accepted over the many years of my faith walk has been difficult. The essentials are all the same. God, Jesus, Sin, Salvation. I don't think my views have radically changed in those areas. What has changed is my perspective of those things as seen through the eyes of someone who has walked the planet for seventeen more years than when I took my initial steps in faith. Things I previously knew intellectually have more meaning than they did 5, 10, or 15 years ago. Things I thought I knew but which have been revealed as utter silliness have started to fall away.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled --Matthew 5:6

I hunger and thirst. More than anything I hunger for righteousness for myself and others....not the righteousness of fulfilled commands and shiny garments, but the righteousness of the pure heart, the righteousness moved by love, the righteousness that is unselfish and caring, the righteousness of faith. It's a long time coming.

Thirsting for such a rare thing has its disappointments; in myself, in others, and in the church. Scratching the surface of any of them tends to reveal unpleasant interiors sorely in need of care and renovation. And yet I persist in this relentless longing for it.

The disappointment I feel in others and the church is felt chiefly in myself. How can I expect better of others in light of my own deficiencies? How can I expect unselfishness, purity, love, patience, when my lack of them can be so obvious? It is a crushing thing to want more of oneself and others than seems attainable, no matter how noble the desire.

And, in tandem with this desire for righteousness, I at the same time am filled with a desire for reassurance that I am enough...that my failures will not overtake me at the last second...that "doing my best" will somehow be good enough. To believe such a thing is itself difficult to grasp in the face of a constant stream of messages, books, and well-meaning teachers sure to remind one of the imminent spiritual catastrophes behind every bush and tree.

Once I settle myself upon the peace that Christ has bought for me in all my imperfection, there appear leagues of people dedicated to making sure that believers always feel inadequate, unworthy, and guilty...things most of us need no help to feel.

"Don't just sit something!" is the message that permeates each sermon and teaching. Do more, work harder, pray more passionately; over and over the mantra rings out. But the doing is never enough. There must be some vision we're moving toward, some destiny meant for us, some great purpose we must fulfill.

It tires me out. I have enough unattainable goals without adding to them, thank you very much.

In my rethinking I came to a place where I just stopped worrying about such things. I stopped feeling guilty. I stopped chasing after some ideal picture of what it meant to be a "good" Christian.

The funny thing is I still haven't decided if this new attitude is apathy or faith. In my giving up the hunt I have had to rely on the hope that Jesus is enough. He's enough to cover over my flaws. He's enough to help me in my unbelief. He's enough to show me mercy when I haven't deserved it. He's enough to love me when I have not loved Him as much as I should or could.

How do we cope with failure?
Grace tells us that we are accepted just as we are. We may not be the kind of people we want to be, we may be a long way from our goals, we may have more failures than achievements, we may not be wealthy or powerful or spiritual, we may not even be happy, but we are nonetheless accepted by God, held in his hands. Such is his promise to us in Jesus Christ, a promise we can trust.

For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it
requires enormous trust, and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of
Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, "Come to
me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened," He assumed we would grow weary,
discouraged, and disheartened along the way.

(--The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning 114-115)

The end of myself is the beginning of Christ. The cessation of doing is the commencement of trust. Once again I realize that I am not enough, I will never be enough, I will never know enough, I will never have faith enough...but He is enough.

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