Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wretched and Unworthy

The sanctuary was not unique in any way.  The same high ceilings, the thin tall windows were as any other church.  There was a platform, with the pulpit in the middle.  The musical instruments were placed along the sides.  A line of mike’s stood where the worship team led the music. She sat in the same place every Sunday. She looked at the same blue carpet, and the same purple chairs, in the same church.  The cross hung in the spotlights in the front center wall.  Some Sundays, the typical purple cloth draped from side of the cross to the other.

Every Sunday.

She tried to be faithful to read The Word but seemed to continually fall short of her own expectations.  She couldn’t meet her own expectations; she had no hope of ever meeting the expectations of God.

Weekly, she attended church and she worshipped as the worship team sang.  On occasion she tried her hand at teaching, she volunteered at the senior center. She directed VBS and deserved a chest of medals for that endeavor! She took notes as the pastor spoke.  She was working hard at the business of being a good Christian woman.  Yet as hard as she pushed to check off each box, she felt empty inside. She had prayed for her forgiveness several years ago.  And she believed she had been forgiven. 

Sort of. 

Hidden beneath the “proper” exterior of this woman who sought after God, the whole mess was still churning.  Deep inside, she hid those things that still shamed her.  The wretched decisions of her past still scarred her soul.  The pain was deep and alive within her. There were times that she thought she had left it behind.  She thought she was successfully moving forward, but a song, a sermon, a testimony from one of those “charmed” women who never had regrets or made a bad choice would bring the pain to life.  She kept on, kept on pretending she had it all together.  She pretended that she wasn’t shattered inside.

Maybe if she was good enough, God would find her acceptable.  But she could not seem to ever reach that pinnacle of “good enough.”  She felt she couldn’t even reach “adequate”.  It was so tiring to keep trying.  She slumped against the back of her chair and began her pleading with God to make her good enough, to make her acceptable.  She jumped when a man walked up to her row, pointed to the seat next to her and asked “Is that seat taken?”

She glanced around the sanctuary, nearly empty, frowned but told him it was not.  She squeezed her knees together as he walked around her to sit in the very next seat.  She was not exactly thrilled that he chose to sit so close; she shifted comfortably in her seat. She turned to pointedly look down the row of vacant seats.  He wasn’t catching the hint.  She brought her attention back to the lite cross at the front of the church and began the litany of sins to be forgiven of.  Her sins were too big for simple forgiveness.  The shame she lived with, stuffed inside. 

She barely started her prayer telling God she was unworthy of his forgiveness, and she would try harder to be worthy…to make up for those wretched choices.  The man shifted restlessly in the chair.  Again he was interrupting her prayer….

“I have a message for you.”  He quietly spoke.

She huffed at the bang that fell over her forehead and into her eyes.  Just a little irritated that he interrupted her quiet time before the service, she answered.  “Okay.  What is the message?”

He looked up at the lite Cross in the front of the church and nodded to it.  “Intriguing how something so simply made could be so wretched and beautiful at the same time.” He spoke quietly in his observation.  “The message is, God wants you to know He loves you.”

She pulled away from him slightly, thinking okay just another freak.  “Yeah,” she answered.  “That’s what the Bible tells us.”

“It’s not just what the Bible says, it’s what God says.  He wants you personally to know He loves you.”

Just a little irritated, she shifted in her chair, planning to reach for her Bible bag and find another spot.  The stranger took her hand, and shocked by his audacity, she looked at him.  His eyes were amazing.  Again, he spoke “Sophie, God loves you.”

Okay that was a little freaky but she had attended this church for months.  Surely someone knew her name here, someone told him.  But he squeezed her hand and again told her, “Sophie, God LOVES you.” 

Her lips trembled as she whispered, “Only because he has to.  But He doesn't even like me like He loves Miss Atha, or Laurie, and Pam. She gestured around her, but the stranger stopped her, “No Sophie.  God loves YOU.”

She moved that annoying piece of hair away from her eyes again and looked at him warily.  “That’s nice, thank you for the message.  It’s been delivered, so you may go on to where ever you came from.”  She really hoped he would move on. She picked up her purse and looked around the sanctuary.  Where had everyone gone?

The stranger sighed and shook his head, “No Sophie, I gave you the message, but you have not yet received it.”

She objected slightly snarky, “I heard it.”

“But you don’t believe it.”  His voice reached toward her.

She looked at him again; this time she gazed into the most amazing eyes. Deep browns, amber swirls, his eyes drew her back into the chair. Tears began to well in her eyes.  Angrily, she wiped them again.  “You don’t understand what I have done.  I have to try to be worthy of the sacrifice Christ made for me, and I keep failing him.  I know He forgave me but some - it’s too awful to be forgiven.  I’m too ugly inside for Him to love me.”

“Oh Sophie, you are so close yet still you are blind.”  He turned his head back to the cross and spoke, “The blood shed on the cross wasn’t just for the little sins, or the acceptable sins.  There is NO sin acceptable to God.  When you pray for forgiveness, the Father does not pick and choose which sin He will forgive and forget.  Grace covers it all.  No one is worthy of the price but that is the beauty of the act.  Every person comes unacceptable but is made worthy by the sacrifice.  Every person Sophie, even the person you don’t let anyone see.”

Her eyes widened, no longer aware of anyone else, she whispered to him “But you don’t know who I really am.  What I am capable of or how wretched parts of my life are.”

She looked up again into the eyes of the man as he answered, “Yes, Sophie I know who you really are.  I know what you keep hidden.  You keep taking them out and YOU decide that grace was not enough.  So you refuse to believe God’s grace is big enough for you.  But it is and God loves you.”

She lowered her head, took her eyes off his and looked away.  She bit her lip a moment, then shaking her head she told him, “I understand what you are saying.  Okay.  God loves me, but you don’t know the kind of things that I did, or the kind of things that torment me.  I don’t deserve forgiveness or His love.”

“Sophie.  How do I make you understand?  You were created for God to love.  God created you, and then he chose all the parts of your ancestry needed to produce the woman that you are.  God loves you Sophie.  You prayed for your forgiveness.  God granted that for you.  You are holding on to sins and anguish over things that your Heavenly Father has no memory of.  You are the new creature!”

He picked up her Bible and recited to her, “2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is hereSophie, that’s how God sees you.  The beautiful woman He created.  He loves you!”

Sophie’s heart began to throb.  Her heart wanted to believe.  She so wanted to be new again.

Her stranger took her hand, and looked into her eyes.  She could not turn away as he held her hands and told her, “That is why God is so wounded by your unforgiveness.”

She could not stop the cold shock the rushed through her veins.  God was wounded?  She protested…”I have forgiven everyone who hurt me, every single one!  The ones who didn’t deserve to be forgiven, the ones who never apologized, even the people who did despicable things to me.”

He nodded, and held up her Bible again.  “This Word says in Colossians 3:13  Accepting one another and forgiving one another.  If anyone has a complaint against another.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  Sophie, there is yet one person you have not forgiven.”

His eyes held the wonder of the world, and Sophie saw everything that was pure and good in them.  She  trusted this man.  Her chin trembled as he spoke to her, and everything in her started to shake at his words, “Sophie, forgive yourself.”

At this point, the sobs erupted from the most deeply damaged parts of her heart.  The stranger placed his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close to his side.  She should have been offended, but she was not.  She should have been frightened, but she was not.  She was feeling loved and comforted.  Her storm of tears subsided and she asked him, “How do I forgive myself?”

He reached over to pull her notepad out of her Bible bag.  “Let’s try this. First we determine that you are no longer accountable for things you have been forgiven for.  You are going to let them go.  Write down every ugly thing that you think is unforgiveable.  Write down the ugliness and the actions.  You write down all those thoughts that make you FEEL that God can’t love you.  Write down what shames you, and Sophie, You know God is not the author of shame.  HE is not the one who keeps you cowering in His presence.”

She looked at him a moment before asking, “If I was guilty, shouldn’t I be ashamed?”  He shook his head again and explained, “Guilt is good.  Guilt convicts and admits you did something wrong.  Shame is different.  Shame says there’s something wrong with you, something that makes you undesirable, unlovable and unforgiveable.”  He leaned toward her, his breath in her ears.  And he said, “Beloved daughter.  Release the shackles that bind you.”

She gasped.  That was exactly how she felt…shackled to these past memories.  She started writing hesitantly and then as the pain bubbled out, her words poured out onto the pad in scorching intensity.  The stranger sat back and watched her.  Looking up, she handed him her finished list…all the reasons she believed she should not be forgiven.

He tore the page off the tablet and held the sheet up with both hands.  Then he tore the paper in half.
“It’s been forgiven, covered by the blood, washed clean as if it never happened.”  He tore it again.  “God’s love is deeper than any shame your enemy can conjure up.”  He ripped it again.  

“But God demonstrates his own love for Sophie in this: While you were still sinning, Christ died for Sophie.” And again he ripped the paper.  Sophie watched the pieces of paper grow smaller and felt cracks of light entering her heart. It was pushing out the darkness as he continued to tear apart her shame. He spoke as he continued to tear apart her shame and fears.  “Who then is the one who condemns you? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is interceding for you!”

Sophie’s smile beamed to him, as the pieces became like confetti.  She leaned back in her seat, and rested her head against the padded back.  She took a steadying breath and she said it to herself, “I forgive me.”  His voice was so gentle as she remembered his words, one’s she had read in dozens of Bible studies, but this time she believed them.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is hereSophie, that’s how God sees you, the beautiful woman he created.  He loves you!”

Sophie smiled as the cleansing peace filled her from inside.  A tap on her shoulder stopped her, it was elderly Miss Jensen.  “Sophie dear, are you okay.  You have sat alone here for quite a while.  Is that seat taken?”  Sophie turned to introduce Miss Jensen to her new friend.  He was gone.  Only pieces of confetti littered the chairs and floor.  She moved down a seat for Miss Jenson, and turned to her.

Sophie smiled at her, and asked “Miss Jensen, do you know that God LOVES you?”

My dear reader, this is something that I worked on, trying to express my own journey to grace.  I too believed that some sins were just too big and bad for God to overlook.  I let Satan tell me that God couldn't forgive ALL my sins.  The hardest thing for me was just accepting that God's grace covered all, that He doesn't pick and choose.  It's a work done once.  Forgiving myself took a lot longer to process.  Some say, you cannot forgive yourself, that God never asked us to, nor does the Bible suggest to us that we do.  But my experience was that I was able to forgive many people for the damages done against me.  But I still held myself responsible, and sought justice against myself.  I needed to punish myself by withholding some sin out of God's grasp, not giving it over to Him, not accepting His Grace.  

There was a day in the most painful day of my life that I felt in my beat up weakened and painful state, that God came and sat on the end of my recliner and held a similar conversation with me.  It was the day I accepted that nothing I could do was needed to earn His love and relationship.  And nothing I have done would take it away.  He loved ME.

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