[Hopefully, this is the first of many more guest posts from my wife Christi.]
I was so angry, hot tears burned behind my eyes. My chest was tight and my breathing shallow. How can someone use such a condescending tone, even when he’s trying to be kind? That sickly sweetness is just a ruse to try to control me. Doesn’t he know who I am? How DARE he?
I decided to listen to a spiritual formation tape, hoping that doing something—engaging my mind—would cover over my anger. Or at least help me control it for now. Maybe a few deep breaths would bring me back to my normal, cheerful, self-confident, competent self.
Many people I have respected a great deal have told me that I would know love and freedom in Christ as I go deeper in the understanding of my sin and weakness. But, I figured they really didn’t get it that God wants to strengthen us, not weaken us. That we need to focus on him, not wallow in our own junk. That God’s grace gives us courage. No sense looking back when we have been freed. Eyes on the prize.
First, when I was 28, there was Dennis Edwards, an amazing pastor in Washington DC, whose example in his family life, loving-kindness and preaching I credit in large part for my initial breakthrough understanding of grace in 1999. He was fed up with preaching about the “Daniels and Esthers” and wanted to see people on their knees each day, relying on God. I wanted to become the world’s next Esther.
Then there was Bill Clark, a counselor who taught me that all my striving would lead to greater stress. Only resting in God’s love would bring me to the place I was longing for. He taught me that it’s good to be messy—not to try so hard to keep everything together. I was able to open up with a few people, but I didn’t feel ready to face the mountain before me. I was longing to hear, “Well done, good and faithful one.” But it was going to be hard to get there.
My brother Michael and his wife Karen, with the Reformed-based World Harvest Mission, told me about what they had learned through the Sonship program. That we can’t do anything without God. That we are the branches, not the vine. My sister Kathryn enthused about being able to face sin and use confession to grow in her marriage and family life.
I brushed all of these aside in my quest for greater power and control. This was not the time to focus on rejection, defectiveness, not being good enough. Grace was an exciting force to propel me to greater heights of fortitude. To bring me from one exhilarating strength to the next.
But today, as I struggled to regain composure, the MP3 began playing at minute 55 of John Coe’s first lecture on “The Temptation of Morality” (www.biblicaltraining.org). In mid-sentence, he was saying,
“…feeling so frustrated. Feelings of failure and self-rejection. So that you don’t want to feel these things. Have any of you not wanted to feel those things? [Me: Exactly. That would be yes.] Then you struggle with being a moralist. We were born in original sin this way—wanting to hide. Not wanting to be exposed. Of course you don’t want to meditate on these things. …I’m really going to believe that no one down there in my bad is really going to be able to love me. That is going to be the deepest belief of the sinner. That no one is going to journey with me into the truth of who I am and really love me. So I’m not going in there and no one else is going in there. The moralist cannot bear the awareness of being a failure. They cannot bear the awareness of the motivation of what really drives them in life. How much ego. How much pride. How much of us is in this. …Awareness of your bad is the door into love. It’s the door into grace. When you open that door, that’s where love is. Right in the place of our bad. That’s what the cross is all about.”
Coe goes on to say that, “the movement from moral formation to spiritual formation is from ‘I’ll try to do better,’ to ‘I can’t do it without you!’ If you can’t cover it by being good, then let’s open deeply to Him.”
Can I do it? Can I bear it? Let’s pray that God’s grace will do it for me.
[Coe’s whole series on Spiritual Formation (10 lectures) is available for download here [Note: link broken – July 2010]. You have to register, but it’s free.]