Friday, May 22, 2015

May Flowers

I've never had a great memory, but I swore the old rhyme from childhood went like this: "April showers brings May flowers." Either my memory is failing me again, or someone forgot to tell the gods this simple little rule. Because around here, the saying would more accurately be closer to, "April showers bring May monsoons and madness and moments of utter desperation and money problems and messes and many moments of anxiety or sadness."

I know, it's a mouthful. What can I say? It's been a draining month. It's been a month that makes you wonder if the previous months were actually real, that makes joy and peace seem eternities away. A month that reminds you of every old, "I told you so!" and buries you in piles of self-defeat and despondency. A month that seems intent on sapping all strength, on reversing all progress, on undermining all growth. 

Have you ever had a month like that? A month when you get to the register and learn you don't have enough money to pay for the groceries in your cart. A month when teeth fail and require emergency maintenance or hearts race and require emergency care. A month when dreams die and business ventures fail. A month when yelling and crying start to feel like more of a norm than laughter or rest. 

The truth is, I have months like this a couple times a year. Maybe it's the melancholy in me. Maybe it's something I'm doing wrong. Maybe it's just life.

It was with this heaviness that I began listening to a talk the other day while working on bowtie orders. I habitually flip on a Ted talk or podcast while whittling away at orders, and had recently found myself completely zoning out for large portions of the talks, too mentally and emotionally fatigued to take anything new in. I had largely been in this zoned out state, when all of a sudden my ears perked up and my heart melted inside me. Here's what I heard:

Look, I don't know about you, but this is not the Gospel I grew up with. At least not the one I was ever able to hear. I heard a lot about my sins, and a lot about certain prayers to pray and certain things to do and certain words to read.  I heard a lot about heaven and hell, a lot about my inherent sinfulness and about how God would pardon that if... And sometimes this message was very explicit, but sometimes it snuck it's way past words like "a free gift" and "amazing grace" and, instead of freedom and grace, we found ourselves bound by a lot of rules and requirements.

I stopped my work and stood in tears. Later I would text a friend and say, "If I could find a church that teaches this Gospel, I'd be there every Sunday."  It was the first time in many years that any part of Christianity deeply resonated with me. The first time, perhaps ever, that the Gospel felt truly good.

I remember years ago - while living as a missionary and fulfilling so many of the "Good Christian" boxes - emailing a few trusted Christian mentors with this nagging question, "What is so good about the Good News?"  A few years before that - while living at a Christian leadership school and leading daily Bible studies - I sat on a hill, sad and confused, and cried out to God, "Why is this so hard? Why don't I feel any joy or peace?" Even then, zealous and devout and recently converted, I couldn't quite grasp what was so good about the Good News.
And how could I? I was living and breathing a Gospel that said God would only accept me if I said the right words, with the right attitude and then proceeded to show my sincerity through a life of right actions. I was living a Gospel that bound me to service and repentance and never enoughs. I was always hunkered down or bowed down, often feeling down and depressed and unworthy of this "gift of grace," which looked more like finding the right doctrine statement and sticking to it. 

I am not writing any of this as a theologian or even as someone who would openly claim the label "Christian." That label is far too tainted and far too tender for me these days. 

I am writing this, though, as someone who loves God. As someone who spent much of my life thinking I was earning and proving and pleasing a diety that cast people into pits of fire for not using the right words. As someone who gave all of my youth, endless hours and years of life, to a system that said, "We know all the answers. And only our answers are right." As someone who did everything by the book, checked all the boxes, and realized that my heart was still dead. 

It was still dead because I was believing in the wrong Gospel. In the wrong God.

And so at the end of a very hard month, I am holding onto these words, "The Gospel is not an announcement of all the terrible things about you, the Gospel is an announcement of who you are, an announcement of your true self. It is Good News because it is a massive reminder that you are a child of God."  This is freedom. This is grace. This is life everlasting. And I am longing to know this God, this Good News more and more. 

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