My cousin called me last night to break the sad news that she had just lost her dad. We were sharing stories and memories and tears, as I had punched the time clock at their house many, many days growing up. Having lost my own dad almost 10 years ago, I was also able to feel her hurt as one who has been there. I told her that her reality had just changed. Forever. “Normal” would never again be the same for her. And it’s true.
Key moments happen in everyone’s life that forever alter their worlds — marriage, child-birth, job loss, job acceptance, geographical moves. Those all create physical change. Emotional change. For me, my spiritual life was pretty stationary through all that. Picture a line graph … extreme peaks and dips on both the physical and mental lines, but the spiritual line was pretty much plotting along with slight undulations throughout the years of my life.
When my dad died on the heels of my father-in-law, my faith took a dip. A plunge of sorts. Not because I was angry at God, nor blamed Him really. I think I just let go of Him to deal with me. My spiritual life was still there, but with little energy or effort put into it.
Enter October 2014.
That pivotal day when our son told us he was gay was another day that changed my reality. Forever. And I grieved, as I had when Death attacked my family. I grieved not the loss of my son, but the loss of the life I had planned for him. For me. I grieved the fact that I would never have a daughter-in-law. That my son wouldn’t have the traditional fall-in-love-get-married-have-babies story that I had always expected. I grieved what could have been.
Inexplicably, my spiritual line spiked. As I struggled through the huge scriptural issues that go hand in hand with conservative Christianity and homosexuality, I NEEDED God. In ways and with a depth of yearning I never had experienced before. I prayed constantly for help, for comfort, frankly for the gay cup to pass from me. I turned my radio station from country to Christian, and the words spoke to my heart, to my soul. So much that I often had to pull my car to the side of the road and sob out the confusion and fear with my Father’s arms around me. I was weak. I was hurting. I was helpless and hopeless.
When I was at my weakest, He was at His strongest. Once I was able to — was forced to — let go of all semblance of control, He took my hands and led me where He wanted me to go. I was stumbling along, trying not to see the scary things in my peripheral vision, but rather to keep my eyes on Him. My gracious all-knowing God is full of surprises. He took me not to the end, but to the beginning.
Is there a God? Is the bible really from Him? Was it dictated by God or inspired by God? Are the words and stories literal or allegorical? Who chose the books? Who did the translations? How were they done? What do I do with the differences translation to translation? If I can’t count on every word being 100% from God, how do I know which ones are and which ones aren’t?
Having grown up standing on the Word of God my B-I-B-L-E, I found these to be very knee-knocking questions. Surely this was Satan, not God, leading me to question everything I’ve ever been taught, everything I’ve ever believed. Why would God want me to challenge my faith?
In my neighborhood, I pass by a row of big, luscious crape myrtles near the neighborhood pool on my way out. I watch them all summer, thick and full with heavy clusters of fuchsia flowers, and am always amazed that even as the temperature tops the century mark, the flowers never seem to wither. Then Fall hits, the leaves drop, and tall, now-naked branches reach for the sky. And every year, I’m shocked on the day that some gardener has hacked them down to nearly a third of their original size. So sad, all that majestic height and thickness broken down to short stripped bare trunks. But without fail, Spring hits and all of that hidden built-up strength bursts into life, transforming the barren to the laden. To the glorious.
God pruned me. He pushed me to deconstruct my faith not to destroy it, but to get rid of all of the weak and brittle offshoots so I could focus my energy on the roots. On strengthening the trunk so it could support the branches that would bear fruit for the kingdom when the fullness of time had come.
I got to know God in ways I never had before. I saw His face in faces I had never looked at before. His eyes in eyes I had never looked IN before. His arms in my own as I wrapped them around people I had never hugged before.
God is love. GOD IS LOVE. The bible says it over and over, in simple words and in complicated parables and in everything in between. I always had believed it, but I had never lived it. Not really. I was too buried in my unrecognized self-righteousness. What else can I call it that I thought following all the rules, and making sure everyone else did, too, was going to take me to the pearly gates? I knew Jesus’ blood is what saved me, but somehow I felt I had to do 90% of the work to get to the gates, and then the blood would push them open.
That explained why the parable about the vineyard owner paying the man who only worked a partial day the same as the man who worked all day had always really REALLY irked me. Because I had worked my whole life for God … I had earned my heavenly place. And in thinking so, I had loaded down my spiritual body with chains of slavery. Slavery not to sin, but to the law. To obedience. Slippery slope, I know, as God does expect obedience. But what did Jesus say are the most important things of all things to obey? Loving God with everything I am, and loving others as myself. Everything else hinges on those two things.
That was the sound of the thick bands of heavy chains letting go of my soul and falling to the floor. My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!
My soul soared with the lack of weight and I physically took in a deep breath … freedom. Fresh air and freedom. The freedom of Christ. For the first time in the decades of my Christian life, I felt released from worry about following every letter of every law … as a woman, could I speak in class? could I read scripture in class? lead a prayer? can I drink a glass of wine? beer? whiskey? in public? in the privacy of my home? could I dance? slow dance? fast dance? at a bar? with my husband? did I have to tithe every Sunday? did it count toward my 10% if I gave to another charity? were Wednesday night services required? did I have to say amen for a prayer to be “submitted” to God? do I have to teach bible class and bring casseroles to sick people and … etc etc etc … it was exhausting. And impossible. And the constant barrage of trying to follow every nuance of every word in every translation beat my spirit down. Not into submission, just down.
Ahhhhhh …. freedom. My spiritual line was off the top of the chart.
My new spiritual reality was to focus on loving God with all of my heart, soul and strength and on loving others … THAT I could do! And ironically, keeping my eyes on loving God and other people has made all of the rest fall into place naturally. I can offer help to a homeless person without having to qualify why he is homeless and if he is trying not to be and if he “deserves” my help. I just love him and help him. Let God figure out the rest. I can love people as they are, where they are, without feeling the need to identify their sins and what I need to do to change them. I could never do that anyway — GOD changes lives and hearts, not me. I’m just here to share His love with all.
It’s that simple.
It’s that freeing.