On turning 40… why fighting grace is the ultimate form of self-deception.
August 8, 2013
As I enter my fortieth trip around the sun I’m actually thankful that my 30’s are over and I thought I’d share some recent reflections that have been heavily influenced by a most profound experience I had just a few weeks ago. Even as I write this it is still hard to put it into words. In short it was a 5-day exhausting journey towards Love. Like most journeys I made some incredible friends along the way. A lot of these thoughts flow directly out of that experience.
Do I really believe that God loves me? Sure. But the whole me? Errrr….
In the not-so-great movie “First Knight” Sean Connery plays the legendary King Arthur and Richard Gere plays an unremarkable Lancelot. While the movie is quite lame in its butchering of fantastic mid-evil fantasy there is a single quote that has stuck with me since I first saw it. King Arthur is extending to Lancelot the brotherhood of the Knights of the Round Table and he says to him in the richly accented voice that is Sean Connery, “I can’t love people in slices.” I’ve used this quote numerous times. However, it is true that I have lived my life as though God only loved those parts of me that were presentable and attractive. Worse yet, I have done the same to others precisely because I had believed the lie that I wasn’t lovable.
As I’ve ventured to let other people I trust into my inner world a common experience and belief surfaced… namely that we are not truly loved by God. At least not fully and unconditionally loved as we sometimes say we belive. We’ve all been waiting for proof that we are in fact unlovable. The real problem with that is we all tend to see what we want to see and thus believe what we want to believe. Everything we experience gets interpreted through this perverted lens of un-lovability and our presuppositions are all proven true. Over time this lie becomes a psychological security blanket of sorts. It is safe to not be loved. In “Touching the Holy” Robert Wicks writes, “without knowing it, we fear emotional and spiritual passion more than we seem to fear our rigidity and lack of courage. We fear unconditional love more that rejection. We fear the newness of the gospel, the good news, more than we fear being mired in attitudes and beliefs that have us frozen in the present way we view everything.”
In the words of the Persian mystic-poet Rumi, “Your task is not to seek for love but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Or, if Persian mystics don’t do it for you, consider the words of Puritan theologian extraordinaire Jonathan Edwards “Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.” Pick your spiritual tradition. Most of them will point to this inner battle we all have towards our own heart’s reception of a love that is already available to us.
This is why I say “fighting against grace is the ultimate form of self-deception.” I am not the image others project onto me and I’m not even the image I project of myself. In theological terminology I am made in the image of God. I am. My hope is to live a life from the inside out by embracing the truth that I am made in the imago Dei. Once I came to the realization that people’s judgments of me were not real things, (see 1 Cor. 2:15) nor even my judgments of myself, I was truly unfettered by the weight of condemnation. When we project our own internal judgments of ourselves onto others we immediately shut down our ability to receive love from them… we fight against the very thing we so desperately need.
Every event, every person and every thing has been orchestrated and redeemed by God. I no longer have to despise any parts of my own story. Sure there are lamentable experiences and decisions, and for those I have and still do lament. I just don’t condemn myself for the lament anymore because the degree to which I’ve held my own story in contempt is the same degree I’ve held the Author and co-author of my story in contempt. As the apostle Paul wrote “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.”
When the heart is done with fighting and gives in to the relentless love offered freely by God in Christ our pasts are integrated into our present and our hope is set for the future. As a good friend of mine would sing, “It’s all a part of me, that’s who I am.” It is all grace.
As a birthday present would you do me a favor? Strongly consider the truth that you are lovable and you loved.
Grace and Peace to you… every slice!