Contrition, Forgiveness, and Retirement from Messiah-ing

If there is a word I have heard thrown back and forth the great room of evangelical church culture as of late, it is the word “reconciliation.” I have heard it said with great emotion and emphasis. I have heard stories told of the great healing taking place between friends and marriages and former church members. I have heard of the grace and the effort required to make reconciliation a reality. I have seen the self-proclaimed people of God (to be heard with significantly less cynicism than one might expect) get genuinely excited about doling out said grace and effort. It is so easy to get caught up in the wave of that spirit, and rightfully so.

Everything sad is, in fact, coming untrue.

We so desperately want to feel the truth of that statement, we’re almost willing to attribute great emotional value and movement to any semblance of reconciliation. And when you think of the great tragedy of the human story since the Fall, it makes sense that we would do that. Anything to feel like this isn’t all there is. Anything to feel like this isn’t the way things will be left. Anything to keep from believing that the death of things is the very last word.

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If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality. [John Stott, Confess Your Sins]

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Jesus tells me to forgive even the unrepentant offender (or the seemingly repentant offender who, in fact, “repents” at his own convenience for his own benefit and his own benefit alone) as though my bank of grace is overflowing. For I, too, have been forgiven the unforgiveable. Plenty of commentaries and scholarly-know-it-alls like to give me all sorts of high end suggestions on how to not harbor vengeful attitudes or angry weaponry in my heart against someone who has hurt me. I should take the high road, should I not? Forgiving them as Christ forgives me.

I got it. I do.
But I’m not Christ. And if we’re just being honest here…

I think the tension sits heavily in not wanting to look like a naive idiot.

Honestly. I don’t want anyone who has hurt me deeply (and repeatedly, for that matter) to walk away thinking that they can pull the wool over my eyes again. I feel the urgent need to disclaim my grace with “But I’m not stupid. I know you’re a liar. I know you don’t mean a word you just said to me.” How to reconcile in my mind that my forgiveness — my grace — is not to be wasted on, let’s just be real, a black hole of manipulative drama and unkindness? How to continue forward in honesty, calling the truth what it is and unapologetically drawing the appropriate lines around not only my heart and my friendship, but my gifts of exhortation and kindness?

I don’t think I’ve done it yet. I don’t think the dust has settled long enough for me to reconcile anything within myself, much less relationally outside. But I think the truth remains steady. Forgivness, yes, is commanded of me. And it requires my complete surrender to the only One with a boundless supply — the only One who can foot a bill as large as the ones I’ve been racking up as of late. But relational reconciliation — human to human — particularly with a person who, I am convinced, cannot be trusted with his own heart, much less mine, is not commanded of me.

There comes a point when the maudlin expression of reconciliation becomes the most used enablement technique for the narcissists allowed to speak over us their own philosophical interpretations of the way the true world works. And hear me, beloved: those are lies. The Truth lives in me. And though He whispers to me to forgive and dole grace it is in accordance with my name — with His name, He at no point asks me to continually give of my [valuable, irreplaceable, precious] heart and mind to the aforementioned black hole. Certainly not in accordance with my becoming an emotional doormat. Yes, I extend grace. I am kind in the face of even the most absurd display of disingenuous contrition. But in my heart it is clear: I owe nothing. My debt is to God alone, and any kindness I give is in response to the belovedness He has bestowed me. The offender’s sin — as well as his belovedness — now lies between him and his God.

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Truly, friends, my Messiah complex knows no bounds. At least it didn’t know bounds. It has reached its walls. It has come to the places that only the perfected heart of the Christ can forgive. The dark, hopeless men that only the Christ can believe and draw into being as good as their names. The small, sad women that only the Christ can pull from their endless internal obscurity into the staggering freedom of being whole.

I suppose this is my hopeful retirement from the business of messiah-ing. Hold me to it, yeah?

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I was not gracious to you out of a continued love and intimate friendship.
I was not gracious to you because you earned it or because I owed it. I did not. And you did not.
I was not gracious to you because I was afraid to be anything else.

I was gracious because it is my name.
And, God help me, it’s the only one I want to have had in my life.

On Something “Better”

The following is what someone else might call a short and wordy existential rant on something that need not take up so much head space. To that I say, welcome to my world. The questions I raise to myself, however, in this rant are ones I find worth thinking about. I thought you might as well. That is all. Take it as you will.

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I am constantly wondering what it means when someone tells me that because one thing ends, “God must have something better” for me moving forward. It is an interesting theology that gives supposed comfort by the idea that God holds something “better” for one than the thing one leaves behind (for whatever reason, with whatever violence or solemnity). So American, even. Almost consumerist. Why does the concept of “better” entice me to trust further the Maker? Is He not my Maker? Is He not good, regardless of my perspective? Will the next be “better” for me because it makes me feel better? Would I still move forward out of obedience if someone says that what He actually holds next for me is “worse” than what I leave behind? Who determines the scale for what is better or what is worse? Am I not the axis of that spinning thought? What a dangerous place for me to be…

Is He not still good if I move forward and am in a far more miserable place than before? Could a perceived misery be, in fact, the better?

The point is, and always has been, that He is good. He is to be trusted. And I am to make decisions about my life while being true to the way He wired me and obedient to what He has told and shown me of His character and of His Kingdom. Not because He has promised to only lead me to a presupposed “better.”

My job is, for better or worse, to dig it up. Whatever the next “it” may be. He is the only one who tells me to take my shovel. And should He move me from one spot to another, it is not up to me or anyone else to assume that He leads me closer to the water — or the thing for which I am digging in the first place (because let’s not act like we always know why we’re digging). I do not deserve to dig up anything of consequence any more than anyone else who has been given a shovel.

My one job is just to dig where I am told.
And report what I have found.

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Note: This is in my head every time someone gives me that obligatory statement. I promise not to give the dissertation EVERY time someone comforts me this way. But just know. It’s there. 🙂

hello, my old heart.

“I am in Colorado. My heart, as expected, feels as though it has been shattered and the pieces spread out — some even discarded as useless or dead. Necessary, I find, for the radical formation of a new heart… I’ll keep watch. There is something for me here. I can almost smell it.”

I wrote those words only a few days after signing the lease and moving into my apartment in Colorado Springs in February of 2011. I knew as Amy and I crossed into the state and I took one look at those mountains, I would not stay here long. I remember feeling so small against the shadow line of those foothills at dusk — trying to analyze their every crevice and un-trick my eyes from the perception of those mountains as carnival rides covered in dark blankets for off season.

This was anything but off season.

The rumors began in my bones only weeks into living in an entirely new place.
Something was coming.
Something was changing.
Something was falling away.
Something awaited.

Promises were made in the unspoken recesses of my heart. Faith was being asked of me in ways I could not categorize or even fully grip — though grip I did try. I am here to testify, by the way, that gripping and clawing at one’s “reasonable” faith is a bit like trying to solve a problem like Maria…

One infamous Sunday morning sermon rang violently in the caverns of my inner cathedral as I thought I had finally understood my own world. I had finally taken hold of the air. And now, though my lenses were foggy and the way was dark as the Mines of Moriah, I know that I was right.

Hope was offered under a big, clean, shiny bow.
Value was being proven.
Heart was being enfleshed.
Something “so much bigger” than me was happening, as the pastor had delivered so enthusiastically that morning.

The cosmos had opened and the single most terrifying moment that could ever befall an individual like me in the history of all of creation did, in fact, befall.

God turned His face towards me.
He could see me, He’d said. I should keep my eyes fixed on Him, and He would deliver to me an impossible thing.

And wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what He did?

I spent the following months pointing to every moment in search for my supposedly destiny-fulfilling “impossible thing” as a child shaking the contents of a wrapped gift under a tree in search for the one thing they’d asked for.

Is this it?
What about this one?
This sounds an awful lot like it…

No answer. No clarity. Only questions. And a promise.

Slowly, my community began to crumble, reflecting all too well the wounded heart of the one they followed. I, too, found myself wounded at his hands, shaking my fist at the One who told me to make myself a home here. Who was left to trust?

Then it happened —

Amidst the blood and bruises, the rusty weapons, the body-decaying stress and the surrendered defense against needless cruelties, I finally shook the right box under that tree.

My impossible thing:

It was me.
I was the promise to myself. All of me. Bigger on the inside. Finally given room to look around and recognize myself as my self.

There you are, I can remember feeling for the first time since the chaos began so long ago. Look at you, I have said. Look at what you have done here. Look at what you have endured. Look at what you really are. Look at what you could have been.

And child, He says to me even still, repeating the words I have come to value the most: Don’t be afraid.