When I think about the things troubling my heart, I realize that they are, to some degree, self-inflicted. Not long after I was alone and bored yesterday, I slipped again. I closed my door, flipped on my computer, disabled the filter, and watched something I wasn’t supposed to. This has been the struggle I’ve had since the seventh grade. It was old years ago. And what I’m having a hard time to get over isn’t the sin aspect of it, but rather the embarrassment of it.
The shame isn’t there primarily because I sinned against God, but because what I did was just so disgusting that I don’t really want to tell anyone, ever. Truth be told, though, it’s necessary to tell someone about the things we’re ashamed of. Not only does Paul tell us to, but it’s also good for the heart and soul. Emotionally and spiritually there is a release when one confesses one’s sins. “Venting” is what it’s often called. And it’s also what it feels like.
When you hold onto your sin, when you let it fester inside of you, it poisons the heart. From personal experience, when I’m lording my own sins over me, I tend to be more emotional about the littlest of things. You can see this especially when I’m driving. When someone cuts me off, drives insanely slow, or simply doesn’t use their turn signal, I get irate. I’m not proud about it because most of the time I’m not the impatient driver. My grandpa has taught me a lot about patiently driving; you’ll get there when you get there and if you’re late, you’re late. But when I’m constantly kicking myself for dropping the ball with God, patience is the last thing I have.
It’s probably the hardest thing we can do as Christians; forgive ourselves. There have been nights where I’ve called myself names, believed that I would never change, and even thought about giving up entirely by simply not trying to fight the temptations any more. But even within our most extreme guilt-trips, we can sin yet again.
I’ve often thought about what God hears when we kick ourselves for dropping the ball. And although sometimes I imagine Him agreeing with whatever I say about myself, I’d have to think that in reality, He disagrees with every point we make. I imagine myself talking to God in like a coffee shop or at a diner. The place is usually empty, save for the random old guy reading the paper and the nice waitress who’s working a double. God sits across from me in silence for some time before, with my voice trembling, I tell Him what’s going on.
“God, I watched naked women on the internet today.”
“I died for that.”
“Jesus, I lied to my pastor.”
“Hm, yup, I died for that, too.”
“God, I’m pathetic…”
This would be the point in the conversation where He takes a deep breath, grabs my hand, and looks straight in my eyes and says, “If you’re so pathetic, why would I dethrone myself, cloak myself in a human body, surrender my all-powerful nature, receive insults from the people I created, get the forty lashes minus one, get spit upon, beaten, bruised, nailed to a ‘God-forsaken’ tree, and die by the worst death possible, asphyxiation?”
Tears would form as I desperately try to avoid the answer.
But then He says it anyway; “Because I love you.”
John Mark McMillan is famous for the song “How He Loves.” It’s a beautiful song and I first heard it two years ago when Calvary’s Christmas choir sung it. I thought it was a very cool and powerful song then, but hearing the story behind it, I no longer can sing it or hear it without getting misty-eyed. There’s a YouTube video about McMillan’s story behind the song and there’s something he says that just breaks me every time I hear it; “The love I’m singing about in that song… is not a pretty, clean; it’s not a Hollywood, hot pink love. It’s… a kind of love that’s willing to love things that are messy… difficult… and kind of gross.” I don’t think there’s a better way to describe God’s love; something that’s willing to love even the things that seem impossible to love.
“He is jealous for me… Loves like a hurricane/ I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy,” are the first lines from the song. If you’ve ever seen photos or videos from the aftermath of Katrina, it’s not a pretty or clean sight. And yet, there are survivors. And yet, there are still people there praising God. That’s the kind of love that He pours out onto us on a daily basis. And that’s the kind of love that He poured out on the cross, with every drop of His blood.
What does this mean, then? That we can go on as if nothing ever happened? That we can continue to sin and live whatever kind of lives we want to? Although I could cite the numerous times Paul exclaims, “No!” I think the message is already perfectly clear; when we see just how deep God’s love is for us, when we feel the Spirit’s convicting power and then God’s merciful love, it’s hard for us to want to remain the same. It’s hard for us not to want to change when we truly see God for who He is. Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave both took the punishment that we deserve and gave us the ability to choose not to sin anymore.
If living is like riding a horse and sin is what knocks us off, then guilt is what buries us in the mud. What Christ does is dive into the mud, digs through the dirt, the mess, grabs us and then pulls us up. It’s then when we have the choice to either fall back into the mud or get back on the horse. The former is probably the easiest option while the latter is the most difficult. But we must decide which we like better; drowning in the mud or straining to ride a horse. Of the two, one takes away life while the other – though we have to do something, though we have to work – it gives life. We struggle and strain to receive the life that Christ freely and graciously gives us.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of drowning in the mud.
Here’s the link to John Mark McMillan’s story behind “How He Loves”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NXWE6AC8ao