The director and the actor, part 2

This will not make sense unless you read Part 1.

Time went on. The actor thought he was being quite patient with this inept actress. He made a constant effort to be helpful: pointing out every mistake of hers that he noticed, letting her know how extraordinarily difficult she was to work with, reminding her that she was not the person he wanted for the part, and telling her how unhappy he was about working with her. He even let her know how unpleasant her personality was. He thought all this would encourage her to improve but, to his growing disgust, she stubbornly refused to change.

Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and, once again, he poured out his mounting frustration to the director. He expected sympathy — after all, they were friends — and that the director would force the actress to change her ways immediately, so he didn’t hold back at all in his litany of complaints. He must have talked nonstop for almost an hour, because the actress had so many faults, but he finally paused for breath, right after exclaiming for about the tenth time that she was a dismal failure of an actress.

When the director responded, the actor wondered of he had even been listening. “Neither of you are good at acting. That’s why you are both here. Hours of Our Lives is not just a soap opera; I designed it to be an on-the-job acting school.” The director anticipated his protest. “I know you think you are a good actor, and that the problems are all hers, but please listen to me.” After an extremely reluctant and begrudging nod from the actor, the director continued. “There are definitely some major things I’m working through with her. She can be a difficult student. She doesn’t always listen to me. She is easily distracted. Then there is her clumsiness, the problems she has paying attention — that makes for lots of mistakes. And, as you know, she sometimes wanders off the set. Her shyness, lack of confidence, and tendency towards self-absorption interferes with her acting, as does her impatience and her temper. But do you know what her biggest problem is?”

If the actor had been paying better attention, instead of feeling a smug satisfaction over hearing the director finally admitting how terrible the actress was, he would have noticed the tears of pain in the director’s eyes as he said, “Her biggest problem is that she doesn’t really believe that I’m her friend.” After a pause, he went on, almost as if thinking out loud, in a voice that was tender and sorrowful, “Once in a while, she plays her role exactly as I’m directing her. She opens up and pours her heart and soul into her performance. It’s amazing. You don’t realize it, but it takes other people’s breath away. I’m so proud of her, so delighted in her, those times when she manages to capture the very essence of her role, as if she were reading my mind. And I’m standing at the sidelines, overjoyed, whispering, ‘Brava! Brava!’ only…only she never seems to hear me…”

The actor hadn’t been following everything the director said but the following caught his attention: “You don’t make many mistakes. You’re not clumsy. You are disciplined, a hard worker, a loyal friend, and you’ve never wandered off the set. You try to follow my script carefully, except for those times when you either don’t understand it or disagree strongly. Then you can be quite stubborn and uncooperative in your refusal. And, most of the time, your acting is wooden, detached, lacking in depth and emotion, so the audience has a hard time connecting with your character. Because of the way you play him, he doesn’t seem genuine. But do you know what your biggest problem is?” he asked, only to be immediately interrupted.

Without letting the director get a word in edgewise, the actor seized a few of the things he had said about the actress, using them as an excuse to launch into a diatribe about how disappointed — angry and resentful even — he was that the director had forced him to work with such an untalented, unlikable actress, while refusing to make her change. When his angry complaints and accusations were at long last exhausted, he paused, hoping that he had finally managed to make his point.

Instead, the director went on as if the actor had said nothing. “Don’t you want to know what your biggest problem is?”

“Wait! You don’t understand. I’m not the one with the problems — she is! Why won’t you do anything about that?”

Again, the director spoke as if the actor had not said a thing. “The two of you have so much to teach each other — ”

“But I am trying to teach her! She refuses to listen to me!”

“Oh, no, you’re wrong. She listens to you. In fact, that’s part of the problem: she listens to you far too well, and she takes the things you say far too much to heart. Remember how I was telling you about the times she performs her role so magnificently? Afterward, I applaud her, tell her how well she did, how proud I am of her, how much I love her…but she doesn’t hear me. Do you know why? Your voice drowns mine out.” The actor tried to interrupt and defend himself, but something about the way the director looked at him made him stop.

He had never seen the director look that way. There was anguish in his eyes, and a sternness that was almost frightening. At the same time, there was a love so deep that it seemed impossible, and a tender compassion so overwhelming that it began to melt the actor’s anger and resentment.

“I love you,” the director said. “You are more than my friend; you are like a son to me. You know that. And I have not stopped loving you like my own flesh and blood this entire time, even though you have disappointed me so much, and hurt me with your anger and resentment. I love her too. She is more than my friend; she is like a daughter to me. It breaks my heart that she finds that so difficult to believe.” The tears began flowing down the director’s face as he spoke. “Oh, if you would only learn from me! You never bothered to really look at her, or you would have noticed she struggles with a limp. You see, she had a near-fatal and extremely traumatic injury years ago, and I nursed her back to health. It’s not something she likes to talk about, which is why she never said anything all those times you complained that she walked too slowly or wasn’t graceful enough. But your words wounded her tender heart. I had hoped that you knew me well enough and were enough like me that you would try to treat her as I do. But you didn’t. Your words didn’t just drown mine out; they contradicted mine, and they made it harder for her to hear me and believe me.”

The actor looked away in shame. He couldn’t bear the tears on his friend’s face.

“I’ve asked you twice if you knew what your biggest problem was, but you didn’t want to know. Perhaps you’re finally ready to hear it. Your biggest problem is that, despite all of our years of friendship, you still don’t trust me. When I wrote this role for you, when I cast two of my dearest friends to play husband and wife, I was giving you the most precious gift I could, besides my friendship. But you didn’t trust me. Instead, you despised my gift so much that you have been angry with me. Oh, how I wish you trusted me enough to want a truly close, intimate friendship with me! Because then you would understand me, and we could become like kindred spirits…and, oh…you would realize what a precious gift I gave you, what a priceless opportunity!”

It was a struggle for the actor to hold back his own tears.

The director continued, “You are dutiful, responsible, and a hard worker. Those are wonderful traits, but the script also calls for your character to be loving, gentle, encouraging, and compassionate. Unfortunately, I can never get you to put your heart into that aspect of your role. It seems too risky to you, and you always insist on playing it safe. It breaks my heart that, after all our years of friendship, after all I’ve done for you, after almost a lifetime of being loved like my own son, you still trust me so little.” Almost completely overcome by his tears, the director had to stop speaking.

***********

Continue with Part 3.


Repentance 


How do we know if someone is truly repentant? How do we know if we are? In light of some of my recent posts, I’ve been asking myself those questions, and doing some careful thinking and self-examination.

These are a few of my thoughts.

While researching the topic of repentance, I found this helpful quote from Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman:

“A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: Would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships.” (p. 72)

I like the phrase describing repentant people as “zealous about casting off their sin”. Many of us already know this, whether through study, personal experience, or instinct. For example, something just doesn’t sit right with us about a supposedly repentant adulterer who still wants to keep his mistress on as his secretary and travel with her on business. We wonder how repentant someone is if they refuse to adjust their lives in any meaningful sort of way,  refuse to avoid further opportunity for sin, but expect us to take them at their word. (“I couldn’t resist my secretary before, but now I can. Trust me.”)

Some time back, I read the testimony of a marriage that healed after the wife’s affair. Her repentance came in stages; it was fully a year before she was willing to break off all contact with her affair partner. Needless to say, that year was agony for her husband, and painful evidence that she had not yet fully repented of her selfishness and lack of love. Her husband said he finally knew she was committed to faithfulness when she not only refused any further contact with the affair partner, but decided — unasked — to give up her professional career. She said she had destroyed her husband’s ability to trust her and didn’t want him to worry whenever she spent extended time with clients. That was her equivalent of cutting off her hand or gouging out her eye.

When we repent over sin, it’s rarely just the glaringly obvious sin that requires our repentance. If I lose my temper and yell harshly at my husband, the yelling may be just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to complex sins like adultery, there are a myriad of sinful actions, thoughts, and attitudes that lead up to the final deeds — and that’s why we should not be so quick to restore someone who is only repentant over acts of intercourse, rather than over the whole stinking rotten web of selfishness, deceit, and unholiness that brought him or her to that point. A wise Biblical counselor will work with the Holy Spirit, rather than abort the process. Covering up sin is never grace.

I’ve noticed, in myself, that I’m not truly repentant until I see the ugliness of my sin and am willing to take full responsibility for it. As long as I am attempting to minimize (“Well, at least I didn’t…”) or excuse (“Yeah, but…”) or explain (“You see, the reason…”) or garner sympathy (“I was in a bad place, and now I feel terrible!”) or demand anything (“You need to trust/forgive me!”) I am not truly repentant. As long as I am lacking in empathy for those I have offended and hurt (“What’s the big deal? Why can’t they get over it already?”) I am only repentant up to a point.

Again, a wise Biblical counselor will know these things, and — when necessary — will call the sinner out, restoring him gently in love or with a firm rebuke, whichever is most appropriate. That will, of course, require the counselor to possess compassion and tenderness along with wisdom and discernment. Unfortunately, at the risk of sounding sexist, I have to point out that male leaders often have a difficult time identifying with women in general, as well as with anyone they consider “weak”. I think that is the reason for the phenomena that distresses and confounds so many of us — that pastors far more readily sympathize with predators, pedophiles, and sex offenders than with those who have been wounded and violated.

Behind a lot of sin, but sexual sin in particular, is a sense of entitlement. The sinner thinks: I am entitled to sexual gratification…I am entitled to more than I am getting from my spouse…I am entitled to happiness…I am entitled to do whatever I want with that child…I am entitled to control others…she owes me…he has no right to refuse me…I am entitled to use others…I am entitled to take what I want…That sense of entitlement outweighs everything else until selfishness runs rampant. We don’t want to admit that when we sin. We don’t want to tell the horrible truth: “I did it because I wanted to and, at that moment, I cared more about myself than anyone else. I am without excuse.”

Even as I write those words, I am searching for loopholes in my mind: Come on, that doesn’t apply to every sin...when I was being a prodigal in my 20’s, I was reacting to trauma and pain…which is an explanation, but not an excuse. I chose how to react, sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes in unhealthy ways. No one dragged me kicking and screaming out of the church and forced me to be a prodigal. No one kept me from Jesus but myself.

We all sin out of our brokenness. What that means is that we need healing as well as forgiveness.

And now for a hypothetical situation…

Let’s say that there is a young man who sexually abused multiple children in two different churches (at least that we know of). He has repented, been convicted, and served time. He has also sought professional help, because he realizes that pedophilia, contrary to what some would claim, is not merely a sexual quirk or preference that can be replaced with another. (“Hey, I like blondes but I supposed I could learn to like brunettes.” “I prefer dudes but maybe I can try real hard to like girls.” “Well, I’m into two-year-olds but that’s probably only because I’ve never met an adult woman I liked!”) However, let’s assume that our hypothetical sex offender has gone through deep inner healing, and that the very thought of sexually abusing a child is now abhorrent to him.

A nice elder from his church decides to set him up with a young woman. “That’s very nice of you,” says the repentant young ex-pedophile, “but there is no way that I could ever marry. You see, because of the very serious nature of the crimes I committed, I am not allowed to be around children except under the supervision of a court-appointed, trained chaperone. I could never be alone with my own children. There is a very real possibility I wouldn’t be allowed to live in my own home with my own family. At best, my wife would have to become my trained chaperone, and would have to supervise me around the children, keeping us in her sight at all times. She could never leave them alone with me. She could never even go to the bathroom or take a shower by herself when I’m in the home. We could never have a normal family life. How could I possibly be so selfish as to inflict that on any wife or child?”

That would be true repentance.

A wise, compassionate pastor, noticing its absence, would say, “I cannot in good conscience stand by and allow you to sentence anyone to grow up in such dysfunction, or to place any woman in the awkward, stressful position of having to chaperone her own husband. What sort of husband or father could you possibly be, even if you could guarantee that you no longer pose a danger to children? No one is entitled to a wife and family, especially if they cannot properly fulfill the roles of husband and father. You lost the privilege of marriage when you committed your heinous crimes against innocent children. I’m disappointed that you would, once again, be willing to place others at risk because of your own selfishness and sense of entitlement.”

That would be common sense…and compassion.

The trouble with empathy

There is a big problem with trying to become a compassionate person filled with empathy for others.

It hurts.

In fact, it will cost us. Big time. We will end up with broken hearts. Our entire outlook on life will change. We will find ourselves identifying with the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the marginalized, the abused, the weak, the very young, the helpless, the broken, the poor, the downtrodden, the messy — the type of people our culture ignores or disdains.

The Bible tells us to “weep with those who weep”. That isn’t a “pink verse”; it doesn’t say, “…unless you are an American man, in which case you can just pretend to be John Wayne and ride off into the sunset, thus avoiding the whole uncomfortable, emotional scene.” If you are some sort of manly man who never cries — or a woman who doesn’t want her mascara to run — you don’t get a free ride. Weep. And, if you can’t weep, because you aren’t compassionate enough or humble enough, pray for God to break you. Trust me, He will.

We also don’t get to decide who is worthy of our compassion, and what circumstances are deserving of our tears. The Bible doesn’t say, “Weep with those whom you have questioned thoroughly to make sure they didn’t somehow contribute to their own misfortune; otherwise brush them off and walk away…or you can self-righteously condemn and blame them for all the ways in which you think they messed up and brought tragedy on themselves.” It doesn’t say, “Only weep for what is a big major deal to you, and tell the people you think are whiny crybabies to suck it up.”

Jesus identifies with our weaknesses — even when we are being vile and rotten sinners. Even when we are being wimpy. If we claim to be His followers, what makes us think we can be so stingy and withholding of our empathy, love, and compassion?

If we really want to be like Jesus, it will cost us everything. We will eventually end up meek, lowly of heart, and well acquainted with grief. We will anguish over our inability to bring healing to every broken heart and to set every captive free. We will weep over the Jerusalems in our lives. We will share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Our lives will be poured out like drink offerings.

The good news about empathy is that it brings healing to others in a way that we may never know or comprehend. About five years ago, I went to my first retreat for women survivors of sexual trauma. There were three men there who profoundly impacted me because of the way in which they conducted themselves. Most of us had never experienced having men serve us — I mean, really and truly serve. They didn’t make a big deal and announce they were serving us. They were too humble for that, and neither wanted nor expected anything in return, because their motive was unselfish love and compassion. They didn’t “serve” by leading us, exercising authority over us, teaching us, telling us what to do, monopolizing our time and attention, or taking on roles of prominence and prestige. They just cared for us. It was so sweet and so genuine — and an aspect of godly masculinity that few of us had encountered before — that it was one of the most healing aspects of the retreat.

God gave one of those men some special words of encouragement for me during a meeting, and I was thanking him for it afterward. He knew next to nothing about me, and knew absolutely nothing about my life story, other than what could be assumed by the fact that I was at a retreat for sexual trauma survivors. As we stood outside in the Oklahoma sun, God gave this man a sudden flash of additional insight, a glimpse into a part of my identity that I kept hidden. At first I tried to argue with him…no, I’m not that…but he was right. Then he said, “What happened to you was so…” and he described my rape with a word that I had never dared speak aloud, except in those early months and years after the rape, when I would stand in the shower every morning, head leaning against the hard tiles, weeping, weeping, weeping, and those very words — oh, God help me, it was so … — those words would come out in muffled, anguished cries from the deepest, most wounded part of my soul. Years later, this man I had just met was saying, “That’s why it hurt you so much.” And he was right.

Then, with my permission, he hugged me oh so carefully, and he leaned his head down towards mine and whispered in my ear in a choked voice, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry they did this to you. I am so sorry.” And this big strong man, this man who didn’t really know me but who chose to identify with my pain and anguish and devastation — he wept for me. I felt his tears fall on my shoulder, like the most precious, healing gift. He knew. He understood. And he wept.

I want to be like that.

The best part of asking God to give us hearts of compassion and empathy is that we get to know Jesus more as we participate in His healing work, and as our hearts break for the very things that break His heart. That’s our reward…to know Him. And He is so worth it, every tear, every heartbreak. The people we love are worth it. But He is our greatest reward.

There is, however, one terrible dark valley that we have to walk through first, and it’s the real reason we run from empathy. We know, deep down inside, that eventually we will be forced to identify with, to allow ourselves to feel, the very pain we have caused others. We won’t be able to weasel out, if we choose the way of Jesus, if we heed His voice. We won’t be able to say, “Oh, she was being overly sensitive”, “He needs to man up and stop overreacting to every little thing,” “I was just venting”, “She provoked me”, “I was under a lot of stress”, “It wasn’t that bad”, “Yeah, but what about what he did to me?” “Wait, I can explain!” “I thought I was doing the right thing!” “I had no idea!” Our excuses will turn to ash in our mouths. Our lies will be exposed. Our attempt to minimize and deny will condemn us. We will end up face down on the floor, weeping, what have I done? what have I done? oh, God help me, what have I done? 

Weeping with those who weep is all the more devastating, and all the more necessary, when we are the cause of their weeping.

There is a prayer I am too afraid to pray: “God, please show me how I have hurt others, so that I may ask forgiveness.” I am still too cowardly to face the entire truth. I don’t think I could bear the full experience of that pain…and the knowledge that I inflicted it. God help me.

At the same time, I need a tender heart, a loving heart, a compassionate heart, a broken heart. And those in my life need me to have it…for their sakes.

When non-Christians are far more concerned about sin than we are

There is definitely something wrong.

A Christian pastor admits to an adulterous affair, files for divorce, is stripped of his ordination credentials, and should be undergoing church discipline — but, hey, no problem! — another church hires him almost immediately as their director of ministry development.

A Christian celebrity’s past comes back to haunt him when the fact that he molested five children is revealed publicly — but, hey, no problem! — it was just a youthful indiscretion; he repented; and it was really no big deal. Then the same celebrity’s involvement with the Ashley Madison adultery website is exposed, along with several instances of adultery — but, hey, no problem! — we all sin and, besides, sexual perverts can “let Christ turn your ‘deepest, darkest sins’ into something beautiful”.

A serial pedophile serves 20 months out of a life sentence, is almost immediately upon his release re-arrested for voyeurism — but, hey, no problem! — his church leaders set him up on a date with a naive (or disturbed) young woman and their pastor performs the wedding ceremony, knowing full well that the serial pedophile intends to have children. (Now that this is in the news again because the court has information that “shows [Sitler] has had contact with his child that resulted in actual sexual stimulation“, one would think the pastor would be repenting in sackcloth and ashes over his advocacy and support for a serial child molester…but, no.)

What are we assume from all this? That Christians think adultery and pedophilia are not big deals? That we don’t care about marriage vows and innocent children?  That we are in cahoots with predators? That we are idiots, easily duped by predators, but too prideful to admit it? That we are worse than hypocrites?

This is, unfortunately, not a new problem for the church. Paul had to address it in 1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans…” Just like us, some of the early Christians were behaving in ways even worse than the surrounding unbelievers, and engaging in sexual acts considered unacceptable by their society’s standards…yet the church was not doing anything about it.

Sexual immorality is not just like every other sin: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) It definitely shouldn’t be happening within the church: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Ephesians 5:3)

Those of us who have spent any time reading our Bibles know this. We know it full well. Even those who have never opened a Bible recognize that the three examples I gave at the beginning of this blog are seriously wrong. But if we believe the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, the very essence of the gospel, we of all people should recognize the hideous seriousness of sin. Sin is deadly. Rather than minimizing serious sins and trying to pretend that God views serial child molesting the same that He views swiping a half-used cheap ballpoint pen from work, we need to take sin as seriously as God does.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Most of the time, we get this exactly backwards. If Ed Iversen, a church elder, had taken the above passage seriously, he would not have been inviting Steven Sitler over for dinner, and he certainly wouldn’t have done so in order to introduce him to a young woman.

Yes, we shouldn’t write the sinners in our midst off completely and irrevocably. There is what we call “church discipline” and — following evidence of genuine repentance — a process of restoration and reconciliation. But this does not mean hiring adulterous pastors immediately after their affairs, covering up child molestation, making excuses for gross immorality, writing supportive letters on behalf of perverts, or acting as matchmakers for serial pedophiles. God can and does transform lives. But we must stop being naive suckers, and we must cease from being so out of touch with reality that we are easily conned into enabling — even encouraging — predators to continue in their pattern of destruction and abuse. Men like Douglas Wilson (a pastor with no training in treating sex offenders) are incorrigibly arrogant and foolish if they insist that, over the course of “about half a dozen” sessions, they can determine if a serial predator “has been completely honest“. It is bad enough for an ill-equipped pastor to be duped because his poor judgment and over-inflated sense of importance allowed him to get in over his head; it is far worse for him to refuse to acknowledge the devastation caused by his pride and ignorance. At the very least, such a pastor should admit to his error, and apologize for it, rather than attempting to defend himself.

As someone who is admittedly prone to wander, I have my share of “deepest, darkest sins”. I believe in a God of redemption and reconciliation — in fact, I am staking my life and all of eternity on that belief. However, God does not turn our “deepest, darkest sins” into “something beautiful”. He takes sins away. The beautiful thing He does with sin is to remove it as far from us as the east is from the west. There is no silver lining to sin, and no bright side. There is nothing to redeem. What He redeems is us — our lives after our sins have been repented of and forgiven.

Getting rid of the consequences of sin is not as easy a process as getting rid of the guilt of sin. God forgives, but He doesn’t necessarily undo the damage our sins cause, to others and to ourselves. The process of sanctification is what brings healing and wholeness to us, as we leave our patterns of sin behind, and as we overcome the attitudes and thought patterns that led to those sins. It’s an ongoing process.

I’d be a naive idiot if I assumed that, since God forgave my sins of x,y,z that these will never pose a temptation to me again, or that I am instantly “cured” of whatever it was that caused those sins to be a problem for me in the first place. No matter how far some of those sins might fade into my distant past, wisdom would dictate that I should never let down my guard. Trusting God is an entirely different matter than trusting myself not to fail in the very areas that I have failed in the past.

Freedom from certain sins might necessitate curtailing freedom in certain areas. A repentant embezzler would never want to place himself in the position of being church treasurer and bookkeeper, nor would he want to place anyone in the awkward and uncomfortable position of having to supervise him. One would think that a repentant pedophile would be even more circumspect and willing to restrict himself. After all, we are talking about innocent human lives that are at stake. If he is not yet that repentant — or if he is still too arrogant and selfish for his or anyone’s good — one would hope that the leaders of his church would have the wisdom, Biblical understanding, compassion, humility, grace, and plain old common sense to set him straight.

If we don’t clean our own house, eventually someone else will be forced to do so. We need to start with ourselves, and we need to start taking God…and sin…seriously. May we learn to hate what God hates, and love what and whom He loves, and may we become more like His Son, instead of less.

Christian testimonies and life stories

My husband has one of the coolest testimonies in the world. He can’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t love Jesus. He never wavered, never backslid, never rebelled, never let up or drifted to the point that he ever felt the need to “re-dedicate” his life to Christ. He has remained steadfast from early childhood until now.

My mother’s testimony is much the same. Well, the details are different — she had a dramatic conversion at the age of 5 and lived through the war in Nazi Germany — but the steadfast, unwavering part is the same.

I simply cannot relate to people like that. Of course, it goes both ways. They look at me, baffled and dismayed by my history of flaky sinfulness, and say things like, “I just prayed that God would make me hate sin”, or “No, I never wanted to rebel,” or “I love Jesus too much to be even tempted by such things.” For example, when I was in my teens, my mother often told me that just the thought of kissing any other man but my father was so unappealing that it made her feel sick to her stomach. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her only daughter was, in contrast to her, a lust-filled perv: icky guys were nauseating but I found the thought of kissing cute guys quite appealing. (Thank God I was weird, awkward, shy, and uninteresting to most teenage boys.)

People like my mother and my husband seem to have an easy strength, a serene confidence, that is beyond my experience and comprehension. They are like Daniel in the Bible — if he did anything wrong, it was so trivial that it isn’t even part of his story. Compared to them, my story is sin-laden and ugly. I’m a walking disaster — a chaotic bundle of ups and downs, highs and lows, starts and stops. Sometimes I think they might need even more prayer than I do. After all, how on earth can they keep from getting disillusioned and disappointed as they watch me run, fall, stumble, wander, and lurch my way through life? Oh, wait…they are made of sterner stuff. I’m the one who gets disillusioned and discouraged. They do what they always do — stand firm and steadfast in the Lord.

They have been spared so much, so very much. I wish people like my mother and my husband could somehow bottle whatever it is that they have, could somehow impart their secrets to the rest of us, so that less lives would be littered with the debris and wreckage of mistakes and regrets. I want my children to follow in their footsteps and not mine.

Sometimes I wonder if my problem is not so much that I possess some terrible character flaw — a greater propensity to sin, rebellion, and weakness — but that I really do not love Jesus enough. After all, what greater motivation is there for faithful obedience than love?

Then I remember something Jesus Himself said: “Who is forgiven much, loves much.” My therapist has mentioned that I tend to extremes, and I have to admit that there is a passion in my life that seems missing in those who do not struggle. There is something that has been borne of desperation, of pain and deep grief — an intensity and zeal — that I don’t see in the lives of those who are calm and steady. They have been spared the lows, but also the highs.

In the end, I have to admit that I wouldn’t change my prodigal story for theirs. Yes, I have regrets. But I have seen and experienced beautiful, powerful, amazing redemption miracles  — and that’s something those who are constant as the northern star can only guess at.