Geesh. The Lord has been teaching me a lot about grace lately. I see more and more how much of a perfectionist I am and thus, how much I need to be reminded over and over of grace.
A few months ago, I was feeling frustrated and discouraged and full of shame and guilt in my day to day life. I was so focused on all the things I needed to be doing better or differently that I pretty much became paralyzed and didn’t do much of anything. The word “defeated” was a good summary of how I was feeling. I was asking questions like: “Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right things? Will I ever get this right? Will I ever get victory over this sin?”
Through His mercy and a sermon at church, God opened my eyes and heart. One of my pastors was talking about how many people in the church had mentioned feeling spiritually dry. He talked about the questions people were asking, similar to my own, leading them to discouragement. And he asked, “Is this our God?” Would our God shovel out doubt, condemnation, regret, and guilt for us to dig through?
He then read Psalm 103 to us:
“(2) Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– (3) who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, (4) who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, (5) who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (8) The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (9) He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; (10) he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (11) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; (12) as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (13) As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; (14) for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
And I had a vivid picture of myself as the “prodigal daughter” coming home with the feeling of being an utter failure. I had always read the story (Luke 15:11-32) and tried to learn the lesson the faithful son had to learn when his wayward brother returned home. The “faithful” son had stayed at home, done his duty, enjoyed all the benefits of being in his father’s house, but threw a pity-party for himself when his brother came home and received a celebration he felt he had never received, despite his faithful service. While there is definitely lessons on grace that I need to learn from the perspective of the “faithful” son, I had missed out on the lessons from the “prodigal” son by assuming it didn’t apply to me because I have been a Christian since before I can remember.
But these days I feel much more like a prodigal daughter because I am aware of my own flesh and failings every day. And now, with this new perspective, I see my Father from “a long way off… filled with compassion” for me. And He’s running to me, ready to throw His arms around me and kiss my face.
Except I see that instead of falling into His arms, I’ve been trying to stop Him in his tracks, waving my hands in front of me, promising Him that I will do such-and-such for Him and earn back his approval. I want to be welcomed back into His house, but not for free. I will prove to Him that I can change, be different, and be more worthy of Him than I was back in the pig pen.
And I see for the first time that I have been doing this all along. Not only does this now seem utterly absurd, I see the sadness and hurt and love in God’s eyes as I hold him at a distance, ready to try to earn his approval rather than fall into His embrace. And I cave. I see the love in His eyes and know the frailty of my own self. I take the hands I had held out in front of me, blocking God from coming too close just yet, and I cover my face and feel foolish and frail. And He embraces me. I forget all my plans for striving and just revel in the beauty and freedom that comes with my Father’s embrace.
I see now, with eyes wide open, that Jesus is the only way perfection is possible in my life. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death that the gap between me and God is going to be bridged. I realize now that when I start grasping for perfection, I need to stop and reach for Jesus. When I want to despair or become discouraged, I need to remember that I am a child of God and I am loved by God. My pastor reminded us that we need to see the sin in our lives through the lens of the cross. We don’t need to minimize our sin or make excuses for it. Facing our sin reminds us that we are sinners but that Jesus died for us so that we could be joined together with God again. No sin in our life is too great for Jesus to overcome. We need to accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers because if we don’t our hearts become hard. And a hardened heart is probably then going to try to “do better next time” so that we can feel more worthy of God’s forgiveness for our past sins. But the “doing better next time” isn’t likely to happen, so those feelings of defeat are going to come creeping right back in.
I guess I expected to feel shame by identifying myself as the “prodigal daughter” but instead I feel an amazing sense of freedom and relief. A “running through a field in a flowy skirt in the sunshine” kind of freedom. To be embraced by God! Before doing anything better or right! I have a sneaking suspicion that it is there in the embrace of God that my heart and life is most changed. ;)
“…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Here’s the sermon that brought this whole thing about:
“Facing Your Past and Receiving God’s Love and Forgiveness” by Daryn Kinney