"Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate." -Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted
I remember back in 2006-2007 how I wrestled with the cross. When we came to study the crucifixion of Jesus, I felt extremely uncomfortable and very unsettled. My mind tried, like a bead of dew, to roll off this edge or that edge of the leaf, so it might avoid slowly sliding down the length of it. I veered from the "affliction of the afflicted one". I tried to hide from the fullness of it. I had trouble accepting that my petty sins deserved that! On August 30, 2006 I wrote: "I Peter 2:24 says that Jesus 'Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness...' My own sins? Such miserable, petty, weak, offensive abominations? I cannot fully grasp this..."
In my eyes at the time, my "sinfulness" was merely petty. It was not deserving of crucifixion and certainly didn't warrant that the Son of God should suffer so horrifically. I hadn't committed any horrendous crimes. I went to church with my family. I was a "good" kid. Whatever sins I did commit must be pretty minor - nothing to be bothered by, nothing that would bother others, and surely nothing much that would bother God.
God was at work. He was opening my eyes to myself.
On September 16, 2006 I wrote this to a gentleman whom I was getting to know: "I finally have completed my short write-up [about my life]. (Well, I think it is 9 pages, so maybe that's a bit long...) I hope it is not too scary - as I was going, I thought: 'Wow, I am not such a great person at all!'" In the write up, I came to an astonishing awareness about myself. Here was the main portion of it:
Waiting for wisdom / To open the cage / We forged in the fires of / The innocent age
'Innocent Age' by Dan Fogelberg
Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself?
I was a writer of stories. Sitting on the school bus as it drove from Middle School everyday, what else had I to do than gaze out the windows at the passing hills and compose characters and scenes from worlds I had never seen? While it pleased me very greatly to find something to do in my idleness, this habit of mine caused a dangerous change in my perception. I saw everything as distant images through framed-windows. My sense of reality was lost. All I knew for certain was what I kept close; and the rest was out beyond that frame. I came to see the world as something outside me. It was there, apart from me, outside the blurry view of the glass. [I, though, felt like a good child.] I obeyed my parents, did my homework, respected my elders, and even ate my vegetables (sometimes). I saw myself as living an ideal life where I was safe, happy, and fulfilling my duty. I didn't, however, consider this realm of mine to be a part of the world at large or even compatible with it. Even as I grew older, I continued to see the world with this disjointed view. From where I sat, everyone out there was not doing it right. I merely had to observe them to see: they yelled at each other in anger, hurt each other to protect their pride, and ignored their duties as students by willfully neglecting their work. This is what I saw through the window as the bus drove on and on. And it was distasteful to me. I thought I had everything figured out. I would live my idealistic life, as I had chosen, and people out on the outside would continue as they were according to their decisions. It was quite simple.
I continued in this manner for a while. As time went on, though, it became apparent that something was not right. People began to ask what job plans I had or where I wanted to live when I grew up. I, in response, had no answer to give them. No adults had ever talked to me about working or finding a home, since my parents had no close friends after the church split. My father could tell me about his job experiences, but I knew that I couldn't become a pastor (as I am a girl). That left me with no one to whom I could turn to learn what opportunities were available. I didn't know what was out there in the wide, wide world or how to get it. I had no concept of a future. I wanted nothing to do with it. Yet, there was no turning back.
I was finally faced with this glass prison I had entrapped myself within. Not only was it an illusion, it was a great and major sin. Recently, in reading the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray in Luke 18, I could clearly see that what I had been doing was separating myself from sinners and claiming to be holier from them (holy = 'set apart'). But it was only an image that grew from within my sinful self. These mental constructs were sloppy sketches I tried to draw as I stole the crayon out of the Maker's hand. It was time to humbly admit that I am in no way set apart except through Jesus and that I must offer my life to Him. He would take me out into that scary world beyond the window I hid behind. I had to be courageous, for the task ahead of me required that I both rebuke my self and find a new path for myself as my life branched out. I struggled with this shift for quite a while. As I look back, I am truly ashamed to have been so blind for so long.
But at the time, how painful it was to put myself out into that world I had only seen from afar! To my surprise, I discovered that I really as not so different from those 'others.' Perhaps I did do my homework and respect my elders, but I also complained, failed in periodic reading of Scripture, grumbled in frustration when I got stuck in situations rather than trying to see them from God's point of view... In other words, I was a prisoner of self and of sin. And all who are in sin – those who do good deeds and those who do evil - are all dead. This really stung that I, who thought I had been serving God, was only serving myself. I still am shaken by it. But I guess identifying the problem is the beginning of healing and correction. I have been on a slow but steady progress now to take things seriously. I do not try to pretend to be righteous anymore. When I look at others, I recognize that they are sharing in this struggle in a sinful world. Then, I have to ask myself if there is any way I can help. Most often it is through prayer that I feel I can do this, because I am still too shy to approach people directly.
I am taking it one [concrete] step at a time. I do not want to set any grand goals before myself and fall into the trap of human idealization again. For certain, I can see the results. I do not complain about people like I used to, nor am I as worrisome. In going from task to task, I try to carefully monitor my thoughts and words. This is still a challenge, for the mind is 'a bubble maker's dream / moved on by winds of everything' (Jars of Clay). Daily, I work to get the focus off myself and on God. So, when I am working on some job during the day and a line from Scripture comes to mind, I smile and am happy, taking it as evidence that my point of view is indeed coming around. My goal is not to please God with my visions of purity and holiness, as it once was, but to become fit to serve Him. I am ever-thankful for his great patience with me, who should have been on solid food a lot earlier...
I feel terrible for sharing this, for it is truly shameful. But I felt I must be honest in the retelling, for this attitude of mine had a huge impact on my early life. Being in the environment I was, I could have done so much more were I not so self-centered and scared of the world. There is nothing I can do to change the past, but it can act as inspiration to do right in the future."
Now, to heap sin upon sin, I think that I wrote this only a very short time after surrendering to the Lord. The process had begun from the day I was born, had been catalyzed the year before by a number of incidents in Japan and PA, and had finally begun to accelerate during the spring season of that year after God drew me into 1 Kings. But I don't think I saw myself as a sinner or a Christian until I wrote this! Lord, forgive me. I don't think I've ever confessed this to anyone, but when I was proclaiming myself to be a full-hearted Christian in search of a Christian husband, I think God was in the process of converting me.
I don't remember it very clearly. I didn't record any notes to my knowledge. All I remember is this.
After meeting a nice Christian gentleman online, we determined to exchange our life stories with each other. I thought that was a fine idea. He sent his first. And following his example, I sought to describe my life story, openly point out weaknesses and struggles that I've faced, and show where I hoped to continue to grow in the future. I knew that I had built up glass walls. I knew it two or three years beforehand. It had become a part of the symbolism of my life. And in the midst of trying to write about it, I thought I ought to find some Scripture to illustrate my point and highlight that "petty" sinfulness.
In looking for verses, I searched about with keywords online and stumbled upon Luke 18. And all I knew is that I was that Pharisee! All I remember doing is collapsing in bitter tears. I just cried. I cried and later I wrote this. While all along I had claimed to be a Christian, I think that then, perhaps for the first time, I was finally, truly a Christian. I realized that my sinfulness was that offensive to God. It was deserving of the cross and deserving of hell. And I knew what I needed. No, rather, who I needed. I don't know what I prayed in the midst of those tears. But what did I write later on? "It was time to humbly admit that I am in no way set apart except through Jesus and that I must offer my life to Him." Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Not only did he die, but he died for a reason. He died to rescue others. And not only did he die to rescue others, but he died to rescue me, too.
Praise God for His glorious Son Jesus Christ! In Christ, sinners receive forgiveness and are "brought near" to God "to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life." Amen.
The cross really was that horrific. And it really is amazing grace that God gives us in Christ!
"Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, 'twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
'Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing's draught for me." -O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head
And they sang a new song, saying:
"You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth." -Revelation 5:9-10
Praise God for the Savior!