I am not a stranger to telling people that it okay to be angry with God, that God is more than big enough to take our anger and frustrations, hurts and pains and more than able, and even willing to receive them as a part of who we are. I stand by that, if we need to express anger and pain and sorrow and frustrations in our prayers then we need to, it is a part of being real, and I truly believe that we need to be real in order to make it through life….
So what does it mean to be real? I don’t think it means being perfect, perfection is subjective anyway, and it can also be a mask, I am also no stranger to telling people that they don’t need to be perfect to come to worship/ receive communion/ pray…..
…and yet I am asked so many times about the right answers, is it okay to think/ read do this??? The subjects are numerous, and our desire to be right surely tells us something about our relationship with ourselves, with the world around us ( culture/ society/ peers) and with God ( however we believe in the Divine). I have to confess that I have spent a lot of time and energy in trying to be right, or at least to look right, and in hiding the bits of me that I believed weren’t right. All of this effort in trying to be something I was not and living up to something I thought was required of me resulted in a fractured soul and spirit and a near collapse of myself…
That collapse led me to a deeper place, a place where I am becoming real, because what I have found even in the deepest times of darkness is that God loves me just as I am, and for who I am, this new knowledge has held and sustained me over the last few years to such an extent that I would now say that while life has challenged me, and while I have been let down and let others and myself down, that God, whose mystery is so deep has simply held, carried and led me through it.
Even in darkness, and when I have not been able to cope with the pain and difficulty of life I have been held, and this I believe is grace in action, a love that receives us just as we are, and we are loved. I have not always known or felt myself held, and I have felt abandoned and crushed, and yet there was more, always something deeper, something never letting me go.
I have found myself on a journey to discovering this known, loved and held self, a journey of encounter with the divine, the one I call God, and with the person of Jesus who as one of my favourite authors, Richard Rohr, often says; ” did not come to change God’s mind about us, but our mind about God.”
As a teenager, I desperately wanted to be accepted, to be a part of something bigger than me, to belong in a deep way that I was unable to articulate. I thought that if I could make myself good enough then all would be well, so I concocted in my head what that might look like and came up with what I can only call a very strange collection of moralistic/ cultural/ and appearance driven goals. Of course I could not live up to them, but I tried, and that trying led me all the way into my mid 40’s, struggling and falling, all the time feeling like a fraud and a failure.
At times I would gain glimpses of grace, and I would even preach and share grace, but I held none towards myself, and though I spoke of a loving God, I felt that, because I had not attained perfection that, that love was not for me! How strange, and yet I suspect that my experience is not uncommon. Church it seems is a hotbed for this kind of thinking, we look for the answers to who is in and who is out, often missing the point, for we somehow do not see that Jesus went out of his way to include the unincluded and did not try to model them in the likeness of the religious elite, in fact he warned them against becoming religious and holier than thou! We miss the fact that Jesus showed love again and again, treating and touching those deemed as unacceptable and unclean with real tenderness, while calling others to drop their masks and pretences and to live in a new way, a way of love.
So what am I saying here, because I sense that this post is a bit of a splurge, I guess I am saying that it is okay to be who you are and where you are, it is okay to ask questions and have doubts, and that you don’t have to have life all together and neatly packaged. I want to say that we are all on a journey, and that journey may take you through unexpected and even dark places. I want to say that God does not require you to get it all right, and is more gracious and accepting and loving than we can possibly imagine. I want to say that we are all included on this journey, and perhaps having compassion with ourselves, because we cannot live up to our own expectations is a good starting point.
So the bottom line is, you have nothing to prove, nothing to earn and nothing to live up to, you are loved and accepted just as you are, the way of the cross is the way of descent into the true value of your true self, letting go of all of those false notions and expectations that we layer upon and surround ourselves with, but dying to self is never easy, it does require honesty and a willingness to own our own mess, but it is a journey worth taking because while it leads us through the shadow of the valley of death, it will lead to new life!
8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
11-13 All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!
14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Ephesians 3)