Flashback Friday: Forgiveness

(Originally Posted June 16th, 2011)

 

I can hold a grudge like a champion. If harbouring malice were an Olympic event, I’d win the gold medal, easily. If I feel you’ve wronged me, I can live my entire life without ever acknowledging your existence. I can cut you off in a second, and not even lose any sleep over it.

It isn’t something that makes me proud. There’s no place of honour for being malicious and bitter. You don’t win any prizes for finding faults in people. There’s no medal awarded for having animosity towards someone. All I’ve ever gained from resentment is anxiety, wasted time, and heartache. So I choose forgiveness.

It wasn’t easy for me, being a champion grudge-holder, and all, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

A few years ago I made a request to God, “Help me to forgive as you do.” What I didn’t know at the time was that when you ask God for anything, rather than giving you exactly what you want, He places you in situations which test your capacity to do what you’ve requested.

Shortly after I made that prayer, I happened to overhear an acquaintance talking about me behind my back. My first instinct was to walk right up to her and tell her exactly what I thought. Fortunately, I chose better–at the time I was too angry to speak rationally. So for the sake of peace, I let it go.

A few days later, I heard her talking about me again. This time, not only did she mention me by name, but she went through a laundry list of everything she felt was wrong with me. She said I was two-faced (I’m not), and I wore too much make-up, my perfume stinks, I’m not that smart, I think I’m better than everyone else and I’m “unpleasant to be around.”

In her eyes, I was a rotten human being, and the world would be a much better place without me in it.

Or something like that.

My anger turned to rage. When she was around me, she was so full of compliments it was a little cloying, but behind my back she was totally opposite. What a phony. The entire situation disgusted me. She disgusted me. After much thought (and prayer) I decided I would confront her.

I can be brusque on a good day, but when I’m angry I’m vicious. I didn’t know how she would take me, so I tried my best to be jovial and said, “So I heard you have a few things to say to me?” She was full of questions; what did I mean? What things? Who were you talking to? Then she said, “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I don’t have anything to tell you.”

Since that approach didn’t work, I tried something different, “If you have any problems with me or what I’m doing, you can tell me to my face.”

What she said next shocked me;

“I would never say anything about you behind your back.”

Then she proceeded to tell me what a wonderful person I was and how glad she is to have someone like me in her life. All I could think was, Liar. Liar. Pants on Fire.

A few days after she insisted she had no issues with me, I heard her tell someone that I was lazy and disorganized.

(She obviously had issues, but none of them had to do with me.)

Still, I spent a lot of time being angry with her. In my mind, I was justified because she talked about me and then lied about it to my face. Of course, she deserved my blatant disregard! She needed to be punished and treating her like she was the dirt beneath my shoes was my way of punishing her.

However, every time I picked up my bible to read, I always seemed to find scriptures about love and forgiveness. The one that spoke to me the most was Matthew 5:44-45;

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

In God’s eyes, we’re equals, and by showing forgiveness–especially when the person did nothing to earn it–I would be clearly defining my role as a follower of Christ.

I had been going about this the wrong way. I thought that by cutting off contact with her, I was preventing her from continuing to lie to me. In reality, I was nurturing my grudge against her. Even when she said something kind to me, I rejected it because I just couldn’t trust her anymore.

Then I thought about God and how much mercy he has shown me. There are many times when I’ve lied to him, made promises I didn’t keep, betrayed trust, and defamed His name by how I treated others. In spite of this, Gid forgave me and showed me mercy instead of wrath. Every single time.

In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes,

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

When God forgives, it’s unconditional. It means that the slate has been wiped clean. There’s a new record. God doesn’t hold your past against you.

In order to let this go once and for all, I had to forgive her genuinely–whether she was still talking about me or not.

I had to accept the fact that I am not the gossip police, and I will never be able to stop people from talking about me. It was her decision to make picking me apart her full time hobby, and it is one with which she will have to live. Even if what she said was 100% true, it didn’t change anything. I’m still me. I’m still living my life, and I’m still enjoying it.

I had to choose between my relationship with God, and holding on to the resentment. When I examined the situation closely, I realized that holding onto my resentment of her was like giving her squatters rights in my mind. 

I had to evict her.

God has already done more for me than I will ever deserve, and His approval is infinitely more important than hers. Besides, how could I feel anything other than pity for a person who: a) didn’t even have the good sense to whisper while talking about people in public, and b) was too much of a coward to own up to it when confronted.

I can honestly say I forgive her for what she did. I pray she has a wonderful life, and that people who are positive, loving, and supportive will surround her, and give her the encouragement she needs. Most of all, I pray that if she’s still holding a grudge against me, that she’ll let it go. For her sake.

Harbouring resentment clouds your judgment, it blocks blessings, delays promotions, impedes personal growth, distorts your sense of reality, and makes you bitter and insecure. It also creates an atmosphere that attracts unfavourable outcomes in ALL areas of your life. In other words, instead of destroying the target of your wrath, clinging to feelings of resentment will destroy you.

You will never be able to realize your full potential until you make a conscious choice to eliminate bitterness from your life.

There are few things more humiliating than finding out the person you’ve directed so much negative energy combating isn’t even paying attention to you. While you’re wasting time plotting and scheming, trying to find ways to discredit them and ruin their reputation, they’re leading happy and fulfilling lives. They aren’t thinking about you at all. You’ve spent all this time hating them, and you’re not even an afterthought. It stands to reason that trying to reduce someone else by your words and your actions only serves to emphasise your deficiencies. That is the opposite of what you want.

By choosing forgiveness, I choose a life filled with love, peace and contentment. I can sleep with a clear conscience because The chains of bitterness do not bind me. I’m confident because I’m becoming the person God created me to be. Because I’m confident, I don’t need to talk about anyone else to feel good about myself. The fact that I have a loving family, and a loving God is an excellent reason to be joyful.

As for my loose-lipped acquaintance? She probably still thinks I’m two-faced, and conceited, and stinky. And she might even be telling people about me at this very moment, but that’s okay. She’s allowed to think and say whatever she wants. I hope she’s prepared for the consequences.

1 Peter 3:10-12

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

I’m not waiting for peace to find me; I am actively pursuing it. (With a club) I may have to bite my tongue at times, or perhaps take a vow of silence for the day, but I will not allow my words to be my undoing.

I’ll end with a quote from C.S. Lewis because I can’t say it any better:

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

I forgive because I know what it’s like to be forgiven. 

Peace,

Erin

I Missed My 2 Year Bloggiversary

Has it been two years?

Wow…time flies. When I started this blog, I didn’t have a set theme. It was just another place for me to “contemplate my navel” with impunity. (As I said from the start, why I chose to do this online instead of a personal journal is anyone’s guess.) 

It was an outlet for me to express myself, and I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. The only difference is, I am 100x more self-conscious about what I write because I know that someone, somewhere is going to see it. 

I’m thankful because I had this blog to chart my progress and give me the space to practice the skills I didn’t even know I’d need. (You need a 15000 word essay? No problem. I’ve got blog posts that long.) 

  For my first foray into blogging, I focused more on beauty and cosmetics. (Not linking to it because it’s horrendous.) Since I was a hobby blogger, it was just a fun thing to pass the time. For others, it was a job. I was only in it for a few years, but I saw a lot of ugliness, both within the blogging community and from the readers.

 I was never on the receiving end of the negativity, but I saw many of the people I started with abandon their blogs because of feuds with other bloggers, harassment from readers (Seriously. They asked people for free makeup, and everything), and the stress of having to keep up with, and write about, the hundreds of collections released every year.

It wasn’t my scene. 

In the six years since my first blog, and the two years since I started this one, much has changed in my life. I’ve completed my first semester of university, with a 3.78 G.P.A. (That’s 94.5%; y’all. NINETY-FOUR POINT FIVE). I’m no longer the beauty-junkie who just *has* to have makeup from every new collection, (working with a student’s budget will teach one how to prioritize immediately.)

I am a bit easier on myself now. I felt like a moron the entire time I was in school. However, once presented with empirical evidence to the contrary, I had to admit that, while I don’t know everything I need to, I do know enough to get excellent grades and occasionally relay what I’ve learned to others.

My motto for the semester was not, “make it perfect”, but “Get it done.” When I had setbacks, or felt out of my depth and alone, there was always a heaven-sent soul to encourage me, through either word or deed. I had to take a giant leap of faith to go back to school, and even though it was terrifying and often uncomfortable, I felt–and still feel–a sense of peace about my decision.

took a break from blogging after school ended because I couldn’t put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) without picking apart my writing for not being academic enough. Since I’ve set a goal to publish something every single day in July, (and I’ve documented it here) I’ll be posting more regularly. If only just to sharpen my skills before September rolls around.

To everyone who has been reading this blog, either since the beginning or later on: Thank You. I don’t know what led you to my small corner of the internet, but I’m grateful for your presence.

Peace,

Erin

Love Liberates

You see, love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says I love you, I love you if you’re in China, I love you if you’re across town, I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you, I’d like to have your arms around me, I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now. So, I love you. Go.
Maya Angelou, Love Liberates

Rest in Peace, Dr. Angelou.

Put Your High Horse Back In The Stable

Intolerant. Hypocritical. Phony. Judgmental. Cliquey. Mean. Exclusive. Unloving.

 

Those are just some of the words I’ve heard non-Christians use to describe us. The word “love” is mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible, but when people think of us the word ‘love’ isn’t even on the list. In theory, the church is comprised of people who are spirit-led and kingdom minded. Many of us are. The rest of the world doesn’t see that in action as much as it sees our nastiness. Instead of us extending the right hand of fellowship to outsiders, we give them the backhand of condemnation. There’s not a welcome mat on the church doorstep, but there is an invisible ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. (When we’ve been disturbed, we’re not shy about saying so.)

We say we want ‘whosoever will’ to enter our fellowship as a brother or sister in Christ. However, when they show up, we venerate the ones we like, and ignore the ones we don’t. Should we fire our image consultant for misrepresenting us? Or should we scrap whatever agenda we have and follow Christ by loving one another as he loves us? This issue is one that is close to my heart because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a condemning Christian backhand, and it hurts like hell. (In both the figurative and the literal sense.) When I hear people use the eight words at the top of the page to describe us, I can’t even disagree with them because I’ve experienced it firsthand. I expect to be an outcast from the world because Jesus warned that I would be hated for his sake. I did not expect hostility from the body of which I am a member. But, I’ve had to get used to it nevertheless.

The pastor of the church I serve once said that Christians are one of the few groups who purposely shoot their own troops in the midst of a battle. (He’s a military man by trade, but if you think the combat analogy is out of place, you’re in the wrong faith.) Some of the old saints used to say, “The devil is busy” whenever strife and offenses found their way into the church. (And that was all the time.) I’m of the opinion that the devil doesn’t need to be working as long as he has a gang of Christians who are open to his suggestions. We unknowingly do his work for him whenever we devalue one of our brothers and sisters in Christ–or anyone else for that matter. The poor reflection the secular world has of Christianity points directly toward us because we’re its ambassadors. We’ve lulled ourselves into a false sense of security by thinking that we’re doing a good job of following the greatest commandment to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind.

We may succeed at loving God, but our success rate with loving our neighbours is mediocre at best. We’re hurting because we do not know how badly we’ve missed the mark. The love, mercy, and acceptance that the world needs are the kind that only the Spirit of God can give. I think we’ve got it, church, but we are so reluctant to share it that it’s obvious to everyone. On the other hand, we can heap judgment on with a shovel. If you need criticism, we can do that too–especially that of the destructive, soul-crushing variety. If you want to be gossiped about, we’ll either disguise it as a prayer request and call it a day, or not disguise it at all. If you want love, you’d best take comfort in the fact that God loves you because we may not be able to give you what you need. Or we hate your sin, but we love you. Or we love you, but only if you’re just like us.

In the book, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy writes, “Someone dear to me can be loved with human love, but an enemy can only be loved with divine love.” If I make any claim to being led by the Spirit of God, his leading must be evident in how I treat other people. If I want to love as Jesus loves, I must be sincere. In my nearly 14 years as a retail worker, I learned that it is impossible to encourage, empower, lead, or mentor anyone if I believe I’m superior to them. In order to be effective and authentic in my walk with God, I had to shelf my invisible pedestal; put my high horse back in the stable, and get back down to earth where the real people are because that’s where God needed me to be. God is no respecter of persons, but, unfortunately, we are.

A few months ago, on another social media site, a story went around about a pastor who dressed up as a homeless person to see how his new church congregants would respond. He asked for change, but no one gave it to him. Most people refused to make eye contact, and when he sat down in the back of the pews, all he got were scornful, dirty looks. When he was introduced as the new head pastor, people clapped with joy and enthusiasm…until he stood up. Wild clapping turned to stunned silence. His sermon text was Matthew 25:35-40, and many of his congregants cried or bowed their heads in shame because of their actions.

Matthew 25:35-40 is a popular sermon text because it teaches us that by serving the practical and spiritual needs of others, we’re serving God. The irony is that we’re not as good at putting this into practice as we are at teaching it. I can’t claim to be a Christian then refuse to abide by one of the most basic laws. I cannot love everybody of my own power. I can barely love myself of my own strength. My prejudice limits my capacity to love, and my personal preferences determine who gets more or less of the love I give, but if I love with the love of God, my ability to love is limitless because He is limitless.

I am nowhere near where I need to be in this regard, but it is becoming glaringly obvious that God has given me His heart towards outcasts. I find that I cut them a lot more slack than those of us who are in the body because we should know how behave, but we (and I am including myself) frequently choose wrong. Whereas they choose wrong because they’ve never been taught to choose right. One thing that my non-Christian friends made clear to me is how well they can see through all the disingenuous displays of love. They know it’s a put on even as we deceive ourselves into believing our hollow pleasantries and fake smiles are reaching them. I don’t believe it’s possible for us to be perfect, but it is possible for us to love one another as Christ loved us. We just need to stop getting in his way with our own petty egos and agendas.

A well-organized essay this is not. I’m not sure if I’ve made my point clearly or if my emotions have gotten in the way of me articulating how important this is properly. We [in the body] have singled out political power, prestige, and our ability to influence the culture as our greatest sources of strength. The real source is the love of God. It is the one thing we have that the rest of the world does not. Instead of using the love of God to build, we’re tearing each other down and dragging the rest of the world into the battle. Rather than honouring the gifts we see in others, we dismiss the people whom we find the most threatening to our own success, and devalue the ones who aren’t essential to us.

I am hopeful because, through it all, God will still be in control. He can reverse any of the damage we’ve caused by our unwillingness to put our needs and wants aside to serve the whole. He’s the only one who can heal the hearts of those we’ve broken in our quest for preeminence and recognition. Occasionally we need to be reminded that serving God means that we must also serve others. We do not get a choice in whom we serve, and ranking people based on status is still a sin in God’s eyes.

I’ve rambled on for long enough, so I’m going to end it with the word of God:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

“I give you a new commandment–to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

PEACE,

Erin

I Don’t Know Squat

It has taken me the better part of two decades to figure out that I do not know everything. There are topics in which I can speak of with encyclopedia-like detail. (The modern history of Russia in the post-Soviet era; books; nail polish, and hockey–to name a few) I can talk about myself until people get sick of hearing about me (which they do often). I have always had a thirst for knowledge, and I am continually seeking new ways to learn about the mysteries of life, and what it means to be human.

In my early years, (between the ages of 15 to at least 25) my desire to learn manifested itself as pretentious arrogance and a blatant disregard for anyone who did not share the same values and interests as me. If  people agreed with me, they were decent, intelligent, and interesting. Anyone who did not agree was a moron—no exceptions. It was near-impossible to get me to admit I was wrong. If I did, I did it in such a way that still made the other person look like the bad guy. I remember an argument I had in which I realized halfway through that I was dead wrong, but I kept on fighting because I was “winning”. I didn’t win anything, but the fact that I used my logic and reasoning (and bullying) to get a person (who was right) to back off was enough to validate me.

However, with unreasonable pride comes a fall, and I fell hard. For years, I found myself in situations where all of my experience and information could not save me. I lost the thing that has always given me the most confidence; my intelligence. I don’t remember the exact situation, but when I found out that learning is continuous rather than complete, it opened up a whole new world for me, but not before making me feel ridiculous for believing I was infallible. Admitting that I was ignorant made me more free to learn, rather than relying on what I already knew. It also made me more willing to listen to points of view that differed from mine without rejecting them as false. (Or stupid)

Getting knocked off of a high horse can make a person insecure, but I can see now that I was insecure already. It just looked different because I covered my insecurity by making other people feel stupid. Being humbled in that way enabled me to see the myriad ways in which other people can contribute. Not just with their intellect, but with their experiences, talent, and support.

I can ask other people to help me with the areas I am not as well-versed in, like anything science-related. I can freely admit that I am not good at everything, and I do not feel any pressure to try. It is difficult for me to ask for help, but I can do it without feeling ashamed. How much I do not know does not define me, and admitting when I’m wrong takes more courage than pretending to have all the answers.

I will probably be a solitude-seeker until the day I die, but I also value the cultivation of relationships. The know-it-all part of my personality alienated me from people because it exalted being right above being kind and respectful toward others. Making mistakes is an integral part of my development. By getting things wrong, I can see what is right. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I have also grown from them.

That is not to say that I don’t still have moments. Occasionally, I find myself doing an internal eye roll at the things that some people say and do. I have to guard my mouth daily, so I don’t say anything snide, rude, or dismissive, and I still think that some people behave like morons. On the other hand, I am aware of it now, whereas before I would stubbornly refuse to acknowledge my failings.

Carelessness can destroy any rapport that I may have with people because I don’t think about how my words and actions will impact them. However, now that I have confirmation that I don’t know squat, I can learn from anyone without erroneously believing that I am somehow better than they are. One of the most intelligent people I have ever known was my maternal grandfather. He was a champion of logic. An intellectual with decades of life experience and wisdom, and only a 7th grade education. His brilliance was not just in what he knew, but how he applied it to his life. I once witnessed him win a debate with a person who had a master’s degree. The MA had several years of education to back him up, but that was no match for my grandfather’s 80+ years of living and applying knowledge.

I never know what other people will teach me, so I am no longer self-important enough to think that I cannot learn from them. Personally, I am proud to admit when I do not know something because being the one with all the answers is annoying.

(Seriously. People asked me questions all the time, and got upset when I could not answer them. No, thank you.)

That is all for now,

Erin

Be Wary of an Easy Ride

There are hundreds of colloquialisms about how the road that appears to be the easiest ends up being more costly in the end than a hard-fought journey. We hear, “Too good to be true” usually is; that the road less travelled is the one we should take. Even the Bible tells people that the gate to heaven is narrow, but the gate to hell is wide. It’s cliche, but adversity does make people stronger than they would be because weakness and uncertainty are a forerunner for adaptability and strength.

A few years ago, I listened to a radio program about the plight of the homeless in western Canada. One of the volunteers at a shelter said that people he meets deal with misfortune on a consistent basis and that makes them tougher, more adaptable, more resilient and more appreciative than those of us who live comparably easier lives.

Sometimes formidable a opponent is just what a person needs to shake them up, and get them back on track. Through experience, I learned to treasure the good times when they come, as well as prepare myself for the tough stuff. Everyone hates discomfort, and we don’t like the uncertainty that goes along with strong opposition. However, just as a video game gets more difficult with each level a person beats, day to day life gets more difficult with every challenge. How a person handles a tough challenge could mean the difference between moving up a level, or staying at a plateau. Life will knock us down—often. It is not falling down that tells the tale. It is whether we learn from the hard knocks and get back up to fight again.

I don’t think I’d be the same person had I not had so much opposition. I would not have known how to handle conflict if I never had anyone oppose me. I would not know the right thing to do if I had not gotten  so many things wrong. Opposition, it turns out, is the friction that sifted the nonessentials in my life away, and left the important things behind.

We may despise the appearance of weakness or vulnerability, but it is in that weakness that we find strength. A so-called “easy ride”, may make us feel good, but it does not prepare us for real life. Life can be an easy ride, but sometimes it isn’t. Just like an elite athlete in training for his or her next event, we need to be prepared both in season and out of the season because we never know when we’ll get the call to step up. We may not need as much power while things are going well, but we still need to build our muscles for when things go wrong.

Do not get too freaked out when challenging situations arise. Remember that every day is different, and things can turn around. Don’t allow past mistakes to infect the present. Take every opportunity to learn and grow. Adversity can crush a person, but it can also push them to succeed.

Don’t let the fear of failure kill your confidence. If life has knocked you down, remember that, as long as you’re living, hope is not lost. You were born to prosper.

 

Peace,

Erie

I Like Lists (and talking about myself)

Every time I get new followers, I feel the need to reintroduce myself as if writing my personal, private thoughts in blog posts isn’t enough. That’s what this post is, only it will be in list form rather than paragraphs. The reason? If I use paragraphs, this post will be 10000 words long. (I take the advice, “Write what you know” literally.) In that spirit, here are 16 things about me.

  1. I’m good at picking up on a person’s strengths. There are few people about whom I can say, “He/she has no redeeming qualities.” Every person has something that makes them great, although some people make it a lot harder for me to see what it is. (I always figure it out in the end, however.)
  2. I am what some would call a “progressive Christian”.  (Whatever that means.) For example, I would not have an abortion, but I don’t want to deny any other woman that right.  I think that if I’m going to take a “pro-life” stance, it has to extend past the embryonic stage into adulthood, which means that women and children must be well taken care of if they decide to keep the pregnancy, and no one is cast aside because they do not fit what I think they should be.
  3. I am surprisingly okay with rejection. I get it. Some people do not like me. They probably never will. Whatever. This has made me a better, more accepting person than I was before. (If there is a misfit loner anywhere in my vicinity, I will find them and love them because those are my people.)The thing about facing rejection so much is that, when it happens to me, it’s more uninteresting than it is upsetting. (A case of, “Oh, this again? Lame.” as opposed to, “Why is this happening to me?”)
  4. I lied about not using paragraphs. Sue me.
  5. I like action movies better than I like romantic comedies. Jean-Claude Van Damme>Sandra Bullock. (Although, she does dramas, so she’s cool now.)
  6. I’m a theology major. I have no idea what I’m doing, but God does. Yay!
  7. My phone autocorrects ‘does’ to ‘Dostoyevsky’. I love Dostoyevsky because I am a nerd. (So is my phone, apparently.)
  8. I live-tweet my favourite shows. I do it mostly during Scandal and Big Brother. You’ve been warned.
  9. I had no idea that I didn’t know anything until I turned 30.  I don’t have to be brilliant? The pressure is off!
  10. I’m unusually confident for someone my size, and stature. I’m also stronger than I look. I blame/credit Jesus.
  11. One of my greatest sins is my snide sense of humour. I’m not funny often, but when I am it’s because I’ve said something mean at someone elses expense. (I know it’s wrong, but I’m trying to get better.)
  12. My family is a large one.  How large? I have blood relatives that I have never met.
  13. I am a pretty decent multitasker. Just ask anyone who has ever watched me read, listen to my iPod, and eavesdrop at the same time.
  14. I have excellent hearing. My nephew once whispered my name in another room, and I shouted back, “What do you want?”
  15. I like to observe people. I’ve written about this before, but I firmly believe that I find out more about a person by what they do, than I can by what they say. When a person does not know they are under surveillance, they are authentic. Once I know what they do when they’re unguarded, I can tell what they do when they’re pretending.
  16. I love to read. Between 2012 and 2013, I read 200 books. (I was too preoccupied in 2013 to keep track, but it was really fun. 
  17. I am not certain of anything in my life, and that is liberating.
  18. I write because I have to. I write to communicate with people because I can do it freely without interruptions.

Bonus. “I use Grammarly to check for plagiarism because, while imitation is flattery, flagrant copying is obnoxious.” 

I’m a Bad Christian

The preceding title is either a flagrant attempt at compliment-fishing, or 100% fact. (Example: “You think you’re a bad Christian. You’re not. You’re amazing!” No, God is amazing. Any amazement I have is by association. I’m okay with that.)

In one of my classes, I have 4 months to study, break down, and present one biblical chapter–1 John 1. In the first couple of weeks, two things came immediately to mind. One is that I am not nearly as great, pious, and all-knowing as I think I am. The second is that it is not necessarily a bad thing.

I do not advocate reveling in one’s weaknesses, or passively accepting the qualities and behaviours that should change. I think that, in order to change anything a person must admit that it’s a problem. It’s hard to acknowledge weaknesses–particularly when they come with pay-offs like attention, sympathy, and comfort, but in a weird way, vulnerabilities can be a person’s greatest source of strength.

For example, I have an image I project to the outside world. For some, it’s one of kindness, encouragement, and sardonic wit. For others, it’s reserved indifference. Both images are me, but one is an image I show people I do not know well, (or people I do know well, but do not like). It is that selective kindness that makes me a bad Christian.

However, the fact that I know that this is a problem means that I can work toward changing that behaviour. What else makes me a bad Christian? Well, there are times when I don’t feel like reading the Bible. I know it’s an integral part of my life as a believer. I know it’s a way for me to get closer to God, and I know it’s irresponsible for me to neglect it. In spite of this, I do it anyway.

I always regret it at the time, but some days, reading and studying just feels like another thing I have to do, and it’s a chore. I’m not ashamed to admit this either. People can learn from another person’s struggles, but the person first has to confess to having them. (I know I’m not the only one who’s done this.)

As a youth, growing up in the church, I always saw through the pastors and church folks who spoke to congregations as though they were on a pedestal, and everyone that sinned differently from them was a godless heathen. I did not relate to them, and unbeknownst to them, they did not relate to me either. Few things they said connected with me because they elevated themselves so far above me.

Even if the church was, in fact, full of godless heathens, to have someone focus on one’s status without any offer of a way out is destructive. Messages from God always offer correction with hope. If there’s no hope, what’s the point of the message?

I am not a good Christian, and that is what makes me a good follower of Christ. Good Christians always do and say the right thing. Their image is always on point. Good Christians can quote the scripture with ease. They pray with eloquence. They are not vulnerable because everything about them is a carefully constructed façade. I’m of the opinion if a person cannot be him or herself around God, how can they be authentic to everyone else?

In order to make any progress in my life, I first had to acknowledge that I did not know it all. As a know-it-all who wore my knowledge like a cloak, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. If I did not admit I was wrong, I would probably still be at my job, wondering why I was so miserable all the time. (Hint: It’s because I was too afraid to leave.)

Instead, I admitted, first to God, then to everyone else that I did not have all the answers. When I did that, the answers to questions I asked decades ago, came to me with clarity. I had liberty to make mistakes because I was no longer the smartest person in the room. Most importantly, vulnerability reunited me with the best version of myself; the one that isn’t trying to save face; appear greater than she is, or jockey for a position at the top. My best self is sincere and caring, with a lot of love and respect for every person with whom she shares this life. Including the ones she does not like.

My best self is the one that resembles Jesus the most. I didn’t know whom that was until I was able to admit that I was a bad Christian. It’s easy for me to excel when the comparative standard is low, but if the standard is the highest one can achieve, I don’t even rate. The book and chapter I’m studying highlights this point. It is a letter of caution against self-righteousness, and self-preservation, and a call to authenticity and a deeper relationship with Christ and others. I will be chasing that high standard for as long as I’m alive, and the fact that I will fall short often does not make me want to chase it any less.

Authenticity draws people because, for better or worse, they know exactly whom they are dealing with. To quote POTUS #26, Theodore Roosevelt, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Authenticity gives power to love. When a person knows he, or she has the unconditional love of someone else, it changes them for the better.

Good Christians care about how they look to other Good Christians. So-called ‘Bad Christians’ only care how they appear to God, which is why they can interact with the people rejected by everyone else without fear of losing their good image.

This is not to disparage people who live an outwardly pure life. (The term “Good Christian” can be turned back into something positive.) It is honourable to pray eloquently; study the bible often, spend time with other Christians, abstain from destructive behaviours, and follow all the rules to the best of one’s ability. However, with the world–and God watching, the outward behaviour of a person has to reflect what is in his or her heart. If there is any inconsistency, not only will a person be judged by the world, they will also face judgment by God. In other words, if a person is a fraud with warm actions and a cold heart, it will come to light.

Sometimes a person’s greatest triumphs occur when he or she is at his weakest point. When a person can no longer rely on their self-preservation, intellect, personality, and resources to get them through, they have to be more adaptable and willing to work with others. We all need companionship, and if some of the members are holding themselves above everyone else because of their behaviour, it will jeopardize the unity of the whole.

I am a Christian, not because I am strong, but because I acknowledge my weakness. I don’t hold myself above anyone else because I know that I am what I am because of the grace of God. I didn’t do a thing to earn my redemption, so I am not expecting anyone else to either. I can’t judge anyone because I do not know what is in his or her heart.

I’m only writing this to remind myself of the truth if/when I get a swelled head.

Peace,

Erin

Talking About God Sunday:Answering the Call

Last week, I had my first university classes in 14 years. I was nervous but excited about the challenges ahead. (I know there will be challenges. For sure.) I also know–within the depths of my soul–that I am doing the right thing. I know this because even when I was unsure of what was to come, I had an irrational sense of peace.

One of my first assignments was to write a 750 word essay about the call and the character of preachers and worship leaders. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that me writing 750 words is not difficult. (Limiting my writing to 750 words is an issue, however.) I knew that this essay is just one of many, but in the past four days it has felt like the most important essay in the history of the world. 

My latent perfectionist tendencies came back, and I went through 2 rough copies and 3 good copies before I decided it was good enough. True to form, it still wasn’t good enough for me, but it is done, and that’s the important thing. Writing the essay got me to thinking about why I, a) Decided to go back to college, and b) Decided to go to a seminary college from which I would become an ordained minister upon graduation.

I figured out quickly that I did not do it because the prominence and high profile of a worship leader attracts me. I did not as my mother puts it, “Sign up for a holler and a collar.” I do not have any agenda aside from encouraging people who feel insecure and alone, and explaining God and the bible in a way that a child will understand.  (Also, telling people that God is not some scary dude with a beard that does not want people to have any fun.)

For me, the calling of a preacher is something that I ran away from for 7 years. I did not want to do it. I did not think that I would be able to do the role of a pastor or the word of God any justice. In one of my textbooks (The Witness of Preaching by Thomas G. Long), the author wrote that some preachers take to the pulpit eagerly, and others take to it reluctantly. I would not say that I am reluctant; I am cautious, but not reluctant. I’m cautious in a way that a truck driver is when he is driving up a steep icy hill. One false move has the potential to be deadly. I feel the weight of that responsibility whenever I have to speak/write/read God’s word. 

As a member of the congregation, I like to hear the word of God preached in a way that is inclusive, accessible, and most importantly, true to the text. Some of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard incorporate biblical verses in ways that I can apply to my life. They also give me a glimpse of the preacher’s identity, whether through personal stories, testimonies about how they overcame struggles, and rhetorical questions that force me to think of the scripture in a new way. (I also like what my dad refers to as, “Hard words”. Sermons that offer messages of hope and redemption as well as warnings for people to set higher standards.)

At this early stage,  I do not know what area of ministry God plans for me, but I know it will either be immediately apparent at my first ministry opportunity, or the result of 3 more years of blood, sweat, and tears. Either way, I am here for it. I believe that life experience has enabled us to relate to people in a unique way. The past season of my life was about toughening me up so I’d be able to fulfill my assignment without caring what others think. This season will be about refining my edges, so they aren’t as uncultivated.

So what do I think about the character and call of a worship leader/preacher?

1.There’s more work involved than anyone can imagine. (My parents are worship leaders. It is not easy.)

2. it is all about God.

3. No one can “make” God do anything, through worship or otherwise.

4. A person’s value has to come from the fact that God loves him or her.

5. Worship must be accessible, but not compromised.

6. It is not entertainment.

7. Humility, grace, love, truth, and having the ability to serve others (with gladness!) are key leadership qualities.

8. If church leadership is a true calling it will cost something. (You name it–friends, a job, family members…and the list goes on)

9. The people are not there to hear from me.

10. Ministry is more effective if you know and genuinely care about the people to whom you are in service. (Make no mistake, if you are a leader, you are in service!)

I knew there was a call on my life when I started slipping bible verses (well, the ones I remember anyway) into daily conversation. When I overheard a careless remark made by a former coworker against another, I gave them a 5 minute lecture about the fact that the same measure she used to judge others would be used against her. I knew I was called to minister when I woke up at 4 in the morning, praying for a relative that I don’t speak to much, only to find out that someone attempted to kill them at the exact moment I was praying. (They’re fine, thank God.)  I knew I was called after 4 people confirmed my call, in either direct or indirect ways.

If I had chosen this, it would not have taken me 7 years to do it. The fact that God chose me was amusing. I can communicate well in writing, but I am always too short or too long-winded when I speak. I don’t like crowds. Public speaking gives me anxiety, and I am not good at remembering which bible verse is in what book. I don’t like to be the center of attention, and don’t think I’m outgoing enough.

In an interesting twist, my lack of outward qualifications is what qualifies me.

I can’t help but be thankful for that.

Peace,

Erie