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.

Why I changed my mind about the confederate flag

I was going to stay out of this whole hooplah. It hits close to home, and I didn’t want to offend people that I love and care for on either side of the debate. At the same time, I decided I should, at the very least, show respect to both sides by listening. I read articles online. I watched, while it was being live-streamed, the rally held recently in South Carolina, demanding that the flag be removed from the state capital. I realized that I had never really listened so carefully before, and that I had only heard misrepresentations of the “anti-flag” arguments.

After that, I thought I understood. Now I realize that, because of the huge holes in my education — especially about the Civil War — I really didn’t understand the half of it. It was time for me to hear from the leaders and founders of the Confederacy, rather than from its modern-day spokespeople. It was time that I allowed history to speak for itself.

From the “Corner-stone” Speech delivered by Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861:

 The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

I felt it only proper to quote in its context the part that was enough to convince me:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not proud of that.

When leaders fall

Sometimes we gloat: Aha, I knew it! He was always a phony-baloney and now it’s about time that his sins were exposed!

Other times we reel in shock and grief: No…not him too…

And sometimes our reactions are somewhere in between.

Last night the internet informed me of yet another prominent pastor. This morning I needed to read these words from Trudy Metzler:

I only hope that men and women of God who fall into adultery and sin, rise up again, like King David, to serve God with greater vision and passion… and broken. Because broken men and women are of far greater service to the Kingdom of God than great, strong, unbroken leaders. Our sins do not disqualify us from serving God, if we repent and fall harder on grace than we ever fell into sin. The grace of God is enough, whether alcoholism, gossip, adultery, gluttony, homosexuality, arrogance, or any other sin….

Because Jesus didn’t die for nothing.

Forgiveness

Like many survivors, I have been clobbered over the head with demands that I forgive those who have wounded and almost destroyed me. Some of those “clobbering” me have meant well; they believed that forgiveness was the key to my healing, or even that there was a magic equation whereby  forgiveness=instant healing.

Others were more selfish. If I forgave, they thought, all this unpleasantness would go away, we could forget anything ever happened, life would return to normal, and they wouldn’t have to be uncomfortable.

I know survivors whose friends and loved ones told them, “We forgave your rapists and we’re over it now! Why can’t you forgive and move on?”

In some Christian circles, unforgiveness and the resulting “bitterness” is seen as a worse sin than the original offense. I wish I could say I was making this up, but I’m not.

This — and other false, damaging teaching about forgiveness — grieves me so much that I have wanted for a long time to write a series of blog posts on the topic. The problem is that I’m still working out my own thoughts and beliefs. Even worse, I still balk and struggle.

From my own experience, I’ve learned that forgiveness often comes in stages, and that it requires a full understanding of the offense against us. To use a silly example, I might find it easy to forgive you if I thought all you did was steal some loose change out of my drawer. After all, it was less than a dollar. But if I discover you also took my life savings, that would be much harder to forgive. When we rush a rape victim to forgive, before she has had time to process what happened to her and assess the damages to her body and soul, before she has experienced life as a rape survivor beyond the immediate aftermath, it is far too soon for her to know the full extent of what it is that she is forgiving. To her, it sounds as if you are demanding, “Pretend it never happened. Get over it and love your rapist!”

Then again, I cannot ignore the Biblical commands to forgive…to love our enemies. I have come to the conclusion that these things are impossible…at least for me. That which we find impossible or difficult should never be what we demand and insisted upon for others. I have purposed to strike the words, “You need to forgive!” from my vocabulary.

At the same time, I believe that those of us who claim to follow Jesus will eventually be brought to that time and place where God asks us to do the seeming impossible. There are some who will experience a somewhat instant forgiveness breakthrough, like when Corrie ten Boom was able to forgive, when she met him years later, the concentration camp guard who treated her beloved sister so cruelly. (She tells that story here.) Others, like me, are more hard-hearted. I’ll be honest — I have struggled immensely to forgive the worst of my offenders. It came in stages and layers: I’ll forgive this part or this offense, but not this other thing. I argued with God, But this part — surely even You agree that it is beyond forgiveness! Look at the damage it caused! Look at what it cost me! Look at how evil it was! Somehow…eventually…God forgave through me, for me, in my place, and He freed me to forgive my rapists and others who had abused and mistreated me.

But recently — as in these past few days — God has shown me how unforgiving my heart still is. I claim to be a follower of Jesus, yet I still refuse to follow His example in forgiveness, especially for the day in and day out bumps and bruises we inflict on each other, knowingly or not, whenever there are imperfect people doing life together. But You don’t understand! I have the audacity to argue with my Creator, the One who created the universe. I have to see this person all the time and how do I know they won’t do it again? Besides, isn’t repentance a pre-requisite for forgiveness, and how can people repent if they don’t know the full extent of how badly I was hurt? I don’t think they even know how wrong it was!

God helps me in my human frailty. He is so good and so merciful. He puts up with me. He helps me. 

It wasn’t until after I experienced the joy of God enabling me to forgive more utterly and completely than I thought possible, to replace my hurt, suspicion, and withdrawal with more love than I thought my puny little heart was capable of — it was then that He reminded me of Jesus’s words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

I’m so unlike Jesus. It breaks my heart.

I don’t want to be like the unforgiving servant Jesus described in one of His stories. The immensity of my rebellion against God makes people’s sins against me pale in comparison — which is exactly the point Jesus was making. But sometimes forgiveness is more than just hard — it’s completely beyond me. It’s in His forgiveness of me, in His love for me, that I find the ability to do the impossible.

It’s in being able to forgive…the big and little things, the nagging things I don’t want to let go of…it’s in finally letting it all go — like smoke up a chimney — that I make one little faltering step closer to being more like the Jesus I claim to love.