As we wrote about at www.teamarequipa.net, our church has been hit with pain recently in a variety of forms. We have seen the brokenness of the world claim lives, friendships, marriages, and peace. I have watched fellow Christ-followers self-convict for not living in confidence, in trust and in faith - as if showing emotion and experiencing pain were somehow betraying the gift of grace.
We came at it head-on at our women’s meeting this month. In our final meeting at our first cafe location, we dug in our heels with our group of women and sought truth. Truth that would speak life into dark places. Truth that would dispel the fear and doubt of fearing and doubting. Truth that would remain when emotions and pain and struggles threaten to steal our security.
Why do bad things happen? Does God make them happen? Does God merely use them? How can we deal with it? Why does He feel so far? How do I keep from succumbing to my feelings? What do I do without my mom/sister/husband in my life?
But at the base of it all, where can I turn?
To Jesus. The One who wept at the sorrow of his friends and the loss of their brother even though He knew the outcome would be life again. The One who struggled with the temptation to use His power to control His difficult situation even though He knew the final goal was worth a more difficult road. The One who feared the plan He helped make even though He loved us enough to go through with it. The One who developed a friendship with Judas even though He knew that he would betray that relationship.
He understands. Loss and pain. Desire to make it all easy. Fear of hard things. Risk in openness. He felt it all.
Feeling, struggling, hurting, weakness, doubt, need, sadness, weariness - not sins.
Why do we turn the Bible into a description of the perfect Christian life and rob it of grace and personality? Why do we use it to paint an unrealistic picture and assume we could accomplish what no one in the history of the world has been able to do in following the rules “right”? Why do we create this persona that a “good” Christian should be this but not that? When did people fall beyond the reach of God’s love for being lost, ignorant or just plain imperfect in their best attempt? When did we stop seeing ourselves as those in need of Him? Why do we change His image into someone glaring down at us just waiting to pounce on our mistakes? Or in the other direction, why do we change His holiness and purity and power into warm-hearted care for our happiness that smooths the path, pats us on the head and sends us along with a lollipop - no challenge, no push for growth, no high standards to strive toward, no real expectation in the “die to self” command?
I get frustrated with the skewed ideas I encounter and the pain they cause to real, flawed people trying to follow such a confusing perception of God. I absolutely love digging for truth with others, not giving up until we find a firm foundation to rest on, finding real food to nourish our souls that simultaneously challenges us to refocus, try again, but with the confidence that He’s okay with our slip-ups in the attempt. To see that look in someone’s eye when they really grasp the freedom we have in Christ - Freedom to be messed up and lacking quite a lot. Freedom to feel our hurts and fears deeply. Freedom to come to Him with not a bit of spit polish work done. Freedom to be angry and disappointed with the way He is directing life these days. Freedom to not know what to say. Freedom to weep and not apologize for not being strong. Freedom to want so much more, but have no clue where to start. Freedom to be utterly exhausted and have nothing to give. Freedom to need Him so deeply we feel we might never be filled. Freedom to feel far, so far, away. Freedom from a list of rules to keep in order to show we really mean this faith walk thing. Freedom to have no idea what the list of rules really should be. Freedom to say the wrong thing. Freedom to do the wrong thing. Freedom to wish things were different.
It’s all covered.
Faith is not easy. Obedience is not easy. But it is no more a burden than a life preserver, or a rope that is pulling us to safety. We still feel the struggle, the fear, the realization of how close we have come (maybe multiple times) to being pulled under. But none of that negates the power of the One who holds on tight and pulls us in the right direction. Ease and calm are not the ideal signs of faith.