When the MomLife team suggested we explore “respectable” sins we tolerate in ourselves, I wrote a 1400-word post in less than an hour. I had something major to say.
But as I set it aside to come back later and edit, I felt unsettled. Was it wrong? No; and maybe I’ll turn it in at some point. While I think all of us deal with that other subject every day, it wasn’t what I wanted to say here.
I wanted to share… something more.
I’ve always struggled with perfectionism. As a child, I would stay awake at night going over the mistakes I’d made. One moment that haunted me happened before a swim meet. Spectators filled the chairs. Swimmers gathered in clumps around the pool, but no one was wet because the coaches swore the initial freezing shock of jumping into the pool gave the swimmer a fighting edge.
So, dry as the desert outside the pool gates, I huddled with some of my older sister’s friends. Being the youngest, I wanted to impress them. They were miming the horrors of jumping into the pool early. Not to be left out, I did my best imitation of jumping into the pool… and actually went in. My coach yelled at me from across the pool. “Jennie! How could you?” I climbed out, dripping wet, head hung. In my mind’s eye, every adult glared at me for daring to be so stupid and naughty. And I just knew the judges were all ready to throw me out for being a Bad Kid.
For years, that memory would send me jolting out of sleep and twist my stomach into knots. It is also one of the reasons I never wanted to be called Jennie again. Looking back, I’m amazed I didn’t have gray hair by the time I was 12.
Why, though? Why did I let such things bother me? And what was I lacking?
Before I dig deeper, would you consider answering a few questions?
- Do you worry about your mistakes?
- Do you heap condemnation upon yourself?
- Do you think about the bad things you do and worry that somehow God is mad at you?
Almost all of you will answer yes to at least one of those questions, even though most of you probably haven’t stayed awake at night worried about what some college-aged swim coach said. But the fact is, everyone I’ve asked recently has agreed that they sometimes, or often, fear God is mad at them. Some people say it’s been a lifelong struggle.
So, what is the thing we forget about so often that is of utmost importance in our lives and in the lives of those around us? It’s one of the most basic, yet most important themes of Christianity. We might even discount it in the name of being a “good Christian.”
So often we forget about…
Such a little word. So simple, yet so complex. It’s amazing. Unfathomable. Unstoppable. Terrifying.
Yes, terrifying. When we contemplate the far reaching power of the grace of Jesus, it means giving up a lot of what we feel is within our rights.
Grace is giving up the right to be mad at ourselves for all our mistakes. And grace means we must relinquish the idea that we can somehow be “good enough” to earn God’s favor.
Grace means we have to trust. We must take God at His word when the Bible says in Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That means when we mess up, say something terrible, or forget what we promised, we must take Jesus at His word that He is not mad at us.
Does it mean there aren’t consequences for our actions? No. Does it mean we don’t have to take responsibility for our choices? No. But it does mean that we do not have to live under this huge boulder of fear that God is mad at us and is holding all our mistakes against us.
There is little I’ve ever said that is as important as this: The grace of Jesus means God is not mad at us. In the words of John the Baptist, Jesus is, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Drink in those words. God is not mad at you. Yet how easy it is to believe the opposite? It requires faith to believe Jesus takes away our sins and doesn’t hold them against us. It also takes courage.
We flail around, worrying: What if I keep sinning? What if I sin so much that God’s grace runs out? Shouldn’t I be better because I know better? Shouldn’t I be able to be a “good Christian person?” Yes, those thoughts are normal, but grace means that I must accept that I’m not perfect.
Romans 3:23 says it straight up: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There are no exceptions there, except for Jesus. All of us make mistakes. None of us can be perfect on our own. That’s why grace is so difficult to comprehend.
Grace is also giving up the right to be mad at that other guy. The same grace that applies to me applies to those other people. We’ve all met people who scrape at our patience, who take advantage of others, and who will step on anyone else to take care of themselves. It’s hard to understand how grace might cover that person, too. What if he takes advantage of grace and sins more because he can get away with it? What if she won’t stop doing that? That’s not fair!
No, it’s not. Grace isn’t fair. In some cases, grace is the opposite of fair. Right? But how amazing it is when that opposite of fair is applied to us!
Grace is also out of our control. We can’t earn God’s favor by being a “good Christian person.” Jesus earned our forgiveness. It’s all on Him. It’s all about Him. So, that also means I can’t think myself superior over that other guy because I don’t do that. Or that. We are, “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” It has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with Jesus.
So often when I relate to God, I revert to that little girl on the swim team. I fall into one pool or another and spend years holding onto guilt and anxiety. I make the mistake of thinking about God as that coach, angry-faced and condemning. I fear He is mad at me, but grace says the opposite is true. Jesus would have run over to the side of the pool. He would have pulled me out, dried me off, and held me tight, telling me everything was all right. He would not label me a Bad Kid. Nor would He judge me harshly. Instead, he would tell me, “You are mine and nothing will ever change the fact that I love you. You do not have to fear or fret.”