I accepted Jesus as my Saviour when I was seventeen, by some supernatural means. I did not fully understand why Jesus had to die such a horrible death on a cross, but in some deep part of me I knew I wanted Him in my life. I received a lot of wrong teaching for many years and often felt like a terrible sinner almost irredeemable. I also felt that I was not a good example as a Christian. When my husband left me for another woman I was almost broken beyond repair. I threw my Christian walk to the curb and gave in to worldly pleasures. In my brokenness I could hear in the distance things like “The Lord will be your husband” and “just trust Him” but I needed physical affection. My week flesh was crying out!
All around me I watched happy families in church with well-behaved pretty little children. I longed for a husband who would gaze adoringly into my eyes and sooth away my pain. Instead I was a single divorced mother of two incredible boys trying to make sense of what God had done to me. I blamed Him for my divorce, after all didn’t He says that “He hated divorce”? So why couldn’t He have stopped mine?
I went into my life a broken woman hoping God would magically make it all better. In the years of struggling with single parenthood, where was God? I clung onto Him for dear life at times, but at others I wondered if I was actually saved. The Church gave me instructions on how to be a better Christian, like a self-help program that I wasn’t very good at. I bungled my way through trying to appear good and living a double life that no one knew about. Being good was just too hard for me and keeping secrets was like a festering wound. I seemed to prefer drinking beer in the pub on Fridays and hanging out with friends just as messed up as me than sitting in a boring church service being instructed on how to live.
Up until the time that I met my wonderful second husband I was a wayward girl searching dark alleyways for love. I did not find acceptance or even love in church. I seemed to always be the one with a myriad of problems while the others discussed how sweet their lives were. Marriages were stable, children were well-behaved and their bank balances were brimming. I used to think there was something deeply wrong with me. I wanted Christ in my life but I couldn’t be like Him. All around me people were telling me how to overcome difficulties and become a better person, but it just never worked with me. I attended programs and seminars on spiritual growth but I never grew the way they wanted me to. I heard things like “to grow you have to read your bible and pray more”. Prayer had been my second language in the time that I got divorced, but I remained a broken person. I watched as people lived lives of trouble-free abundance and never showed a chink in their moral armor. I think I was beginning to see that there was no place for me among the morally upright, perhaps I was cursed?
I started being a more regular attendee of church again, but inside me I could feel there was something terribly wrong. One pastor in his teachings told us to appear fine even when we were totally messed up (which we were). “That’s a downright lie” I thought, I grew up with secrets and lies, now this so-called man of God was telling me to keep secrets again!!!
Going into a step family we were ill-equipped for what lay ahead of us, and we failed miserably. The first five years of our marriage was like a war zone. The worst part was trying to cover up our dysfunction to the church and not being able to find help. When people told us just to pray and trust God it was a hard pill to swallow, we were lonely strugglers on the open plains of defeat. Our best hope lay in a secular organization called “The Parent Center”, but not recommended by the church because it was not a Christian Organisation. There we found solace in the fact that we were not alone and our struggles were quite common.
I could no longer pretend and leaving that church was the best move I’ve ever made. I just did not meet their very high standards of being “squeaky clean”. Try as I may I could not get better, I was and still am a truly messed up sinner unable to redeem myself. I used to look around and see other sinners like me and feel sorry for them because I know how hard it is to come right. I could not approach the “holy ones” in the church for fear they would be shocked by the depth of my brokenness, and would they understand my pain? I found myself gravitating to the lost and lowly, sometimes outside the church.
Condemning sinners is not something I do, even though people have told me there are verses in the bible to back it up. I am not better than a prostitute on the corner or a lying cheat.
Walking into a church where the pastor admitted his problems from the pulpit was unbelievable to me, did people actually do that? Being able to be a real person again was liberating to say the least. I didn’t have to do anything or be anyone, how cool is that? I just had to get to know the risen Christ.
I have come a very long way since then, and I will not be shackled again. I will not be bewitched by the law, it is for freedom that Christ has set me free! I will never again try to cover up my sin or try to make myself presentable to the church, even if they reject me. I have ongoing greed, pride, anger, resentment and fear, to name just a few, but I am a sinner who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that I stop sinning because by applying the law to my life I haven’t become more moral or virtuous. His grace is sufficient for me and it’s His free undomesticated grace that makes me want to be a better person. We cannot do it through any effort of our own, we have to surrender to Him, acknowledging our dark side as well as our light side, and become authentic. I have realized that it is what Christ did for me that has changed me, not what I can do for myself. Some Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold them into perfection. If I try to be a good Christian, then I’m trying to save myself and the truth is not in me. I am what I am, a messed up sinner in need of God’s grace. We are the chosen objects of His furious love!
Then I look at who Jesus hung out with when He was on this earth, and who He was the most angry with, and it all makes sense. Yet churches do not allow blatant sinners into their holy sanctuaries, only people who look clean on the outside. People who have been through a course to get all the bad out of them. Wake up church it doesn’t work!! The bad is stuck with super glue on the inside. Only the blood of Jesus can wash away our sin, no “self-help” program can do that.
I have found God’s grace in the most uncommon places and mostly outside the church. I found grace in Narcotics Anonymous open meetings and I was completely blown away by it. I saw young men and women weep at the knowledge that God loves them so much and forgives them for all their horrendous deeds. I saw acceptance of others in the group celebrating one day of sobriety. I found the wisdom of surrender on the pages of Narcotics anonymous big book. The wisdom that we cannot do it ourselves, we need our Higher Power to change us. Yet the church rejects this teaching!
“It’s a startling story to those who never understood that the men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence” Brennan Manning
I also found grace in a homosexual group of strugglers who found the healing presence of Jesus in their lives. As they admitted their utter brokenness I saw love and compassion and acceptance for the lonely rejected ones. Yet some churches refuse these wounded heroes entry.
I will end with a quote from Brennan Manning’s “Ragamuffin Gospel”. “Every generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true. We think salvation belongs to the proper and the pious, to those who stand at a safe distance from the back alleys of existence, clucking their Judgments at those who have been soiled by life. Jesus who forgave the sins of the paralytic (thereby claiming divine power), proclaims that He has invited sinners, not the self-righteous to His table. The Kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there”.