faithfulness, grace and letting it go

"If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself." - 2 Timothy 2: 13

"...Christ in you, the hope of glory." - Colossians 1:27

These words simply leapt off the pages at me this morning as I read.

A year ago yesterday I made a mistake. I was pretty sure I was supposed to be somewhere doing something with someone, and as the time drew nearer and nearer to go do it, I began to question my sanity and my ability to hear God's voice at all... so not only did I do nothing, but I ran in completely the opposite direction. I have had great cause to regret the decision I made that day - the events I can see now in retrospect that were set off by that choice caused what could be viewed as a lot of unnecessary heartbreak. And yet I have learned so much along that road, for all that it maybe wasn't the best road to be on in the first place. There's no Plan B - I know that. God knew long before I did the number of idiotic things I would say and do over the past year.... but I suppose it's just human nature to wonder what would have happened if only we could get a do-over every now and again....


I've said it before: the acronym I learned for grace was "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." Mercy, forgiveness, peace, acceptance, love - everything we need so desperately, freely given to us at great cost. A gift that is not temporary, not conditional on our deserving it or earning it, and that will not be taken back. I have had so much cause in the last 365 days to need that grace for so many reasons....

Guilt is a horrible antithesis to grace. As a perfectionist who wrestles a good deal with feelings of inadequacy and hates failure with a passion, I find myself in the guilt cycle a lot... knowing there's grace, but struggling to accept it, somehow thinking that if I just beat myself up a little more, it'll somehow atone for the fact that I was an idiot. God is continuing to remind me, even this morning, that I really need to knock it off. It isn't true; beating myself up over the things I've failed at will not help. Wallowing in my guilt will do nothing but focus me in on myself. But looking at Him - fixing my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2) - will do everything to help.

Years ago when I first became a Christian, a couple of counselors at the camp I attended pulled an all-nighter and prayed for the 5 of us that had come to Christ that year and in whom they had invested. They got us each a Bible, and asked God to give them verses that would speak into and mark our lives in the future, and He did. They called it the "Emergency Scripture List" and I cannot tell you how many times in the half a lifetime that I've been following Christ I have turned to that list and found exactly what I needed. (Funny how God works that way - His Word meeting our Toward the bottom of the page, they had written out 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." And next to that, they wrote "-- a promise that NO ONE can wear out!!!"

No one can wear it out... it is as true today as it was yesterday. All I have to do is own up to what I've done, where I've erred, how I've failed to be faithful to Him and turned to myself or whatever it is - and He will be faithful (for He cannot disown Himself, and He lives in me by grace). And not only will He forgive me - but He'll also purify me. Sometimes that hurts like hell. Fire is hot, and silver needs to be melted to be purified. Sometimes the flowers need to be crushed a bit to emit a sweeter fragrance. The metaphors could go on and on, but you get the idea... Purification is a process that takes time and can be relatively unpleasant sometimes. But oh! The end product - being like Christ - is so worth it.

There is a beautiful confessional prayer I found years ago in one of Madeleine L'Engle's books, The Love Letters. The story, as I remember it, is that of a nun named Mariana who falls madly in love with a man who, by virtue of her devotion to Christ, is off-limits. They have an affair, and the story tells of her struggle with her feelings and her knowledge of right and wrong, and deals with all kinds of issues surrounding sin and grace - and there are two bits of the story that are kicking around in my head. (Spoiler alert!!! For those who want to stop reading...) :)

One is something I think the nun wrote to the man at the end of the story. "I have discovered that you yourself were less important to me than my own passion." (p. 314) Wow. Doesn't that just sum it up right there? Any struggle we have with sin may boil right down to that "it's all about me" attitude. No. It isn't. It's all about God and His glory, and when we focus on anything else, we wander.

But the prayer.... at the end of the story, Mariana goes to confession, and she says, "I confess to Almighty God . . . that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my most grievous fault..." (p. 328)

Through my most grievous fault.


"But thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" - 2 Corinthians 9:15


Mike said...

Wow. I was just writing about this very thing. Must be important!!

Like you, I am the ultimate perfectionist. Along with that, I am most definitely my own worst critic. I am sure that God thinks that I'm o.k. the way I am, I just have a serious problem with myself sometimes.

I figure that one of these days, I'll get it.....hopefully.

Jemila Kwon said...

Hap, I don't know the full details of your situation, but I am only too familiar with beating myself up over the "what if." And it is such a funny thing, but it is only in embracing the "what is" that we get to open the wonderful gifts wrapped in paper of grace -- the gifts we would not have discovered on the "right path," the gifts that came with additional suffering and additional glory in equal measure. I am not sure if you know, but I had a previous marriage that I elected to go through with after God very specifically, clearly told me no to, and I am mom of a daughter who God sent me through that, who looks alot like her biological dad, in case I wanted to forget how she got passage from God's sparkling eyes to God's good earth.

Was there an easy way? Yeah. Is God EVEN more glorified by the grace conferred through the transformation of my error into love and worship and merciful gratitude? I would like to believe, and am beginning to believe YES!

Happy said...

Mike - you will. In a lot of ways, i think you already have...

Jemila - i think i did know that part of your story - tho maybe i'd just pieced it together. thank you for sharing it, tho, and in light of all this grace stuff...

it's no secret to anyone around here that failure and screwing up are major issues i wrestle with and write about almost incessantly. my pastor recommended a book to me by John Maxwell called "Failing Forward" - which I will probably start reading as soon as I'm done with the "brain candy" that should be arriving on my doorstep tomorrow from Barnes and Noble. :) (two excellent STORIES with no theological bent to them at all!)
I'm hoping it helps.

(both the brain candy and the failure book) :D

"Is God EVEN more glorified by the grace conferred through the transformation of my error into love and worship and merciful gratitude?"

Yes... I can always say that unequivocably (is that the right word?) to anyone else, yet somehow i think i can exclude myself from the amazingness of God's grace (as if I had that right, or even COULD). As Madeleine L'Engle once wrote: "Quelle dope ich bin!!" (Ruth, that's from "And Both Were Young") :)

Fortunately, God's grace covers even that. :)

Thank you, my dear friends. Love you.