The day I turned in my answers for grace.

Answer People don’t like questions.

I should know, I’ve spent most of  my  life avoiding questions by keeping a cache of answers close at hand.  My senses were trained to hone in on doubters,  to stand back, take aim and fire hoping to annihilate inquiries with my arsenal of catechism.

Funny thing though, I’ve also avoided other Answer People because I knew their answers didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t until I became brave enough to ask God questions and then sit with uncomfortable new ideas that my head began to connect with my heart.

It’s easier to repeat scripture and christian tenants from rote memory  than to toss-up questions that at best have multiple answers and at worst have no answers.

Posting this today, will be an invitation for answers of all kinds and the crazy thing is, I welcome them, from folks who aren’t afraid of questions in the first place.

That’s why I love Jesus. That guy answered most questions with a question and he wasn’t afraid to shake things up, to require people to think.   But he also understood that all our thinking and questioning, all of the struggles that we would face in a flawed world would leave us exhausted and confused as we wrestle with profoundly difficult issues.

That’s why he says, come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

He never ever said, come to me once you’ve got the blanks filled in completely and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say get your systematic theology intact so your questions are answered, apply those particulars to the shadiest parts of your life and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve read the bible through in a year, filled the pew for 48 Sundays, wiped snotty noses in the nursery for the remaining four and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve been successful in crucifying your own flesh and giving selflessly to others until you’re utterly drained and then I’ll give you rest.

He said come to me now, when you’re exhausted from the ticker tape of turmoil that rolls through your head 24/7 because it’s only when you quiet your own thoughts, when you hand them to me with trust that I can handle them, that I can begin to give you rest.

The resurrection of Christ implies that something supernatural even magical happens at the cross. Answers about how our faith works and reasons that others should believe can sometimes diminish the beauty of what is offered there.  Don’t get me wrong and think for one little minute that we can do anything to impede the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of anyone, but I do believe that we can reduce our ability to see and experience the extravagant grace that’s offered to us every single day.

Come to me when your children are screwing up their lives and even though you feel like your heart might rip in two, I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your parents are declining and there are tons of hard decisions to make,  because I can help you carry that,  I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your House of Belief is so messed up you’re ready to don a mask and torch it at midnight for the chance to escape.  I know why I’ve led you there, I’ll hold your hand every Sunday, bring it to me and I’ll give you rest.

Come to me now, when your jacked up life and broken heart  feel so heavy that you’re pressed to your sheets, curtains drawn, eyes clenched against the pain and don’t be afraid of what I think of you because my intention wasn’t ever for you to measure up, can you hear me under there, because I’ll give you rest.  

Come to me, when the plates are all spinning as they should.  When your life looks so perfect it practically glimmers but you know one little mistake and this gig’s up.

Come to me while the ink from your questions is still wet and watch how I create art and beauty from the smudges because it’s in me that you have rest.

When we dare to take our degenerate reasoning and combative interrogations with complete candor to the foot of the cross, something remarkable happens.  It’s the single place where a perfect God intersects with our broken, tweeked out hearts and begin to make utter beauty out of a piping hot mess.  It’s in the beauty of our shambles that he gives us rest.

If we come to him trying to interpret our own issues, we negate the beauty and the mystery of God.

 

answers

Rest is for those of us standing with our fists clenched at heaven and those clenching the pew  as we try to make one more right choice.

Rest is for those of us who can’t find a soft place to lay our aching heads and those  who stay so busy we’ve mistaken that throb for the cadence of life.

Rest is for those who’ve experienced loss so deep we feel  as though we might sink right in, be swallowed whole by the sorrow and those of us who marginalize that sorrow with breezy reference to Jesus’ words in John.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

(If you grew up in Sunday School, do you remember this song? God said it and I believe it and it’s good enough for me.  Well, just because God said it doesn’t mean that we should when our friends are struggling)

I remember the first time I heard the call to come now, while life was all still a big jumbled mess.

It was late and I’d already been to church that Saturday night.  I couldn’t tell you one thing about the service, only that I was coming undone on the inside.  Locked inside a habit that brought me relief from excruciating pain, I was beginning to come apart.  The model of my faith offered a plan and I decided to work it with intense resolve.  I’d call her on the way home and see if she could meet me. Thirty minutes from the church to the house, I’d leave my husband with our two small children drive another 30 to meet her halfway.

Usually the endless fields of corn are calming to me, but that night it was as if a thousand pins were pricking at the inside layers of my skin.  I was agitated as I played out the plan in my head.  I’d confess, she’d admonish, spotlight some scripture I’d suffer through and  we’d set up a system, checks and balances, accountability.    I’d never signed up for the accountability plan, because people and trust issues naturally, but I was such a miserable mess that I was willing to do about anything.  I had no idea that my paradigm of faith was about to get busted up.   

We sat at a booth against the wall under struggling florescent boxes,  I don’t know if it’s the protection of the wall or the padded seats, but booths offer a sense of security and I choose them over a table every time.  She leaned in and began with the three words I’d heard her speak a hundred times, what’s going on?

I blurted, bawled and blubbered all over her while the night crew slopped the floor and restocked  hydrogenated-trans-fat.  I braced myself for a barrage of reproof , and sat stunned as she did something that would change my life. The warmth of her hands covered mine and I saw it first in her eyes, they were gracious, gentle even.  

With complete tenderness, she said Honey, you could do that little thing for the rest of your life and it wouldn’t change how much God loves you, not one tiny bit.  Her words got stuck in translation and I tried to figure them out, they were nothing that I expected.  I’d just offered up myself for proper censure and she smiled, was she kidding me?    I was certain she didn’t understand.  

My indoctrination deciphered her response and I quickly remembered that she was from a different brand of belief. That explains it, she doesn’t know how this is supposed to go; I confess, she admonishes, I feel reprieved, she says she’ll pray and we leave with the expectation that I’ll try harder and she’ll call to check my progress.

I’d hoped to drive away with relief after my confession but was confounded instead by her compassion.  Her gracious words wandered through thick theology as I sped past green and yellow fields.  I can see now that I expected my humiliation and shame to produce forgiveness.  She hadn’t so much as said go and sin no more.  I began to realize that she had something that I didn’t, trust in the love of Christ.  

As I drove,  my long-held answers began to suffocate in a new atmosphere of faith.   She knew that the love and grace God offers is so powerful that it is the love alone that compels us to believe and change. Not confession, not atonement, not restitution, not even continual crucifixion of our own flesh, but the love and grace offered freely by Christ  for our pervasive sin that rests in the deepest darkest places in our souls, it’s the love that begins to breathe hope and infuse life  into our most desolate terrains.

 I’ve learned so much since that day, mostly about my extent of my inability to fully understand Jesus Christ. The answers I had up to that point required that I suffer for choices that I made despite the fact that I could systematically recite scripture to the contrary.

You might be surprised to find out that I didn’t leave there and drop my sinful habits.  There was no miraculous intervention that marked a specific moment I chose another path.  I began, instead, to embrace the understanding that God loved me no matter what.  I’d grown up with a theology of self-atonement woven so intricately into my soul  that it produced an if-then faith.

What she offered me that night was radical and even risky.  Trust God?  Give him the ugly?  Release my ideas of the holy hammer waiting to take me out? But I did, and I learned something new about answers and questions.

God is

God is big enough to hold  our hands when we think we have the answers and small enough to hold hearts when we find out we don’t.  And it’s the true understanding of the depth of his love and forgiveness that brings about authentic changes in our lives.

 

 

Do you remember a specific time that you began to have questions about your faith? Has anyone ever offered you a response to your actions that took you completely off guard?  Would you share a quick story by clicking on the  comment balloon at the top right of this post?

 

3 thoughts on “The day I turned in my answers for grace.

  1. Pingback: Because I said so | Marcy Holder

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