I'm going to start out saying something so radical, so completely revolutionary, that it'll probably take us the rest of our lives to get our minds around it. What if …
What if you're OK, just the way you are? With all your flaws, all your weaknesses, all your sins, all your struggles …? What if … you're actually OK just the way you are?
Well, if you're anything like me, you have a VERY hard time thinking of yourself in that way. I can be very self-critical, and see my flaws before I see my gifts, go round and round on all the ways I've failed –– and the time I'm done with myself, I forget all about God's grace and make myself the unhappy center of the universe.
You'd never do anything like that, would you? Because in Ephesians 2, Paul talks about the way things REALLY are, in God's world, not the world we create for ourselves. Ephesians says, But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ –– grace you have been saved –– and raised us up with him … This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God … For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
At one time, we were so far into sin, it's as if we were dead. We probably didn't really know that then, but the truth is, the very best part of us was dead.
It makes me think of a parent, hovering the bedside of a very sick child; the child's so sick, he's unconscious most of the time. The parent loves the child as much as ever, and yearns for his healing, but, of course, the child has no knowledge of this and just continues being sick.
But, in the passage from Ephesians, God steps in. Even when we are dead in our sins, he still loves us so much that he intervenes and begins the process of our healing. He saves us through Jesus Christ, and, even though we're far from perfect, we're cleansed through Jesus, and we're like brand new.
When we sit up and look around, we see a different world –– a world of God's making, not our own, and filled with his grace and love.
We'd have to be crazy to lie down again and go back to our sins, wouldn't we? And yet, from time to time, that's just what we do. It may be the doing of something we know is wrong, or the NOT doing of something we know is right, or just an ugly attitude. We know better. But we do it anyway.
And the question is, what happens then? Should we punish ourselves and drown in guilt? Or has God given us another way?
One thing is asked of us, and it's rarely easy. We have to talk to God about it. God invites us to come to him as a child would to a loving parent. He invites us to confess our sins, tell him everything, and do it honestly.
Remember, he knows anyway! Do we think we're going to surprise or shock him? This confession business is mostly for OUR benefit! God has ALREADY cleansed us, through Jesus Christ. That's the reality of our lives, and confessing our sins, that's the reality we come back to when we've strayed.
When you sin, no matter if it's the first time or the hundredth time, you can go directly to God in prayer. It doesn't require special language or special posture. You can do this in the car, as you work or play, even during a commercial!
Tell God what's going on, what you did, and how you're feeling about it. Tell him if you're mad at yourself or someone else; tell him if you feel ashamed. Thank him for his forgiveness, because if you're really sorry, this time, you already have it. And acknowledge the fact that you need him every step of the way, because without his Spirit and his help, you'll never do any better. Throw yourself on his mercy! It's the safest place in the universe to be.
Now, here's the hard part. Stop beating yourself. Guilt doesn't come from God. If God thinks you're worthy of forgiveness, gee … maybe you are. Maybe you could even consider forgiving YOURSELF! With God on your side, helping you and accepting you, maybe it's OK not to be perfect. Maybe, because of God's grace and the Spirit's work in your life, you're actually OK just the way you are now.
I told you this is radical! Most importantly, keep talking to God. That ongoing, honest relationship is how we learn to love Jesus, to trust him, and to be able to receive his grace, and maybe even learn to forgive ourselves.
God's Word and his world are the reality, not the mess we too often create for ourselves. Remember that God has set you free in Jesus Christ, just because he loves you and you're his child, and his mercy never fails.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.