Lent is in its last week and I’ve been focusing on how the darkness (negativity, evil, hardship) around me impacts my world view and my thoughts. About a month ago I was embarking on a challenge to quiet the exhausting emotional noise in my life. That’s been very hard, when I would have thought it would be easy. You see, I don’t have kids, I live alone, I have 100% control over what is played on TV or radio, or the internet, I didn’t think it would be simple but I surely didn’t think it would be as hard as it is. I was more successful with becoming quiet when things were going “smooth.” I guess that’s normal too. But when things get into an uproar either because of work, or emotional stress or illness, instead of a discovering gentle calm, I felt like I was having to fight to find quiet. So now I see that finding a place of quiet and focus as a discipline. That’s what I think I’m learning. Right now, I’d say I’m averaging about a C or C+ in turning down the emotional noise. Nights are the hardest for me. I think that’s true of many people. When there are no distractions it seems like lots of life-long negative thoughts and insecurities come out to play. I’m moving toward things that make me feel strong and healthy, so sometimes when unpleasant thoughts come to my mind I’m able to shut them down. Those thoughts and insecurities are kind of like a playground bully, the more you stand up to them the more quickly he or she will leave you alone. But like bullies, haunting thoughts are persistent.
One thing that gives me strength is my understanding (although limited) of God’s love. I’m being serious now. I’m not trying to sound like a “holier than thou” amateur prophet. Surprisingly, although I was active in the church pretty much from birth, it took decades for me to mature and get to where I was able to really believe in God’s love for me. I know that sounds crazy- maybe. I knew God was love and had committed to memory many Bible verses and stories about God’s love but arriving to where I really believed in God’s love for me was a long journey. Maybe it’s everyone’s journey? I don’t know. The leap from knowledge to belief wasn’t easy for me.
I’ve come to learn that many people I’ve encountered either don’t believe that a personal God truly does love them just as they are, or they believe that God is this divine aloof being who likes all of us just about the same. (You know like, “I like the french fries at Cracker Barrel but the ones at Longhorn are just about as good.”) I have many theories about this but I’m just going to focus on a couple core beliefs about this right now. I believe that many people can’t really accept the idea that God loves them because they either don’t think they’re worth it (because someone along the way convinced them of that) or because they don’t really believe such a love is real or possible.
The words real, authentic, and sincere are popular concepts now. I think there is a huge revolt against the idea of fake, false or insincere motives, as there should be. There has been so much corruption in the world and so much opportunistic manipulation that we’re sick to death of it. That cynicism carries over to our thoughts about God. That’s not the only factor. Just like in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we so infrequently see true examples of God’s love that we think the bankrupt theology and careless ethics we so often see in self-identified “Christians” is representative of the Lord. (If Plato hasn’t been on your mind lately, here’s a link of a quick video that will remind you about this story. It’s worth watching.) https://youtu.be/1RWOpQXTltA
You know how kids seem to get in a rut where they deem chicken nuggets to be the only acceptable meal choice? No matter how much marvelous food they are exposed to the only menu item that matters is the humble chicken nugget. I think we go through that spiritually. We get to know enough about the spiritual knowledge that is appropriate and acceptable in our specific part of the universe and we either lack imagination or are discouraged from looking further to see if there’s more. Most anyone who knows me well is aware that I am very frustrated with the obscene lack of love, compassion and humility found in many Christian churches. They are quick to sing and speak about a loving and graceful God, but they behave in a way that will make anyone watching closely wonder if it’s all just an elaborate fairy tale. Weekly church services have devolved into a litany of faux theology, theatrics and shenanigans. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, I’m not trying to launch a “Get sold out to Jesus” campaign or “you need to be sanctified holy” sermon. I don’t want to confuse my message with any fancy doctrinal words. What I’m saying is that I am a follower of Christ, but if people who encounter me don’t start getting a glimpse of God’s love, I’m not following Christ very well.
I know I’m far from perfect. Even as I’m writing this there are pictures of people going through my mind who I’ve failed miserably when it came to showing love. I’m sharing this to you in humility. I know if people are going to believe in and know God’s perfect love, people who claim to be followers of Christ need to be true examples of it. I’ve got to know it and show it. First, I have to know it, know what it really is. I can’t tell someone that I know that God loves and accepts me so they should accept God’s love for them too, if it’s not true. Like I said when I started this conversation, people are very quick to call out BS when they see it (and I think we’re better for it). So maybe purpose of this whole Lent journey I’m on is to become more purposeful and disciplined in accepting and reflections God’s unconditional love. That means at night when my memories play to the tune of “epic failures, short comings and just flat out looking stupid” like an orchestra in my mind, I’ve got to challenge it with ideas and the truth that I have chosen to believe about God’s love for me. And when it’s time for the orchestra’s second number, “People who hurt others and don’t deserve to have any good thing happen to them because they suck,” I’ve got to challenge that by praying for grace for them and compassion for me. Maybe it’s time to take another leap from knowledge to belief and begin to understand that my reflecting God’s love can’t just be a hobby that I try on special occasions. Maybe I can grow into a person who sees reflecting God’s love for others not as an obligation, but as my joy. Wow- I’ve got my work cut out for me.
As I’ve been reflecting tonight, I’m encouraged by the story of Saul found in Acts 6:8-9:31. He lived out some pretty bad theology. He did terrible things in the name of the Lord. God got his attention and because of love shown to him by people he once considered enemies, he was transformed. Take a closer look at the story.
Wherever you are- know that the Lord is crazy in love with you and you are precious in his sight. God’s love and acceptance of you is real. Give God the chance to convince you of that.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:0)