2. Cor. 6: So I ran off and got married. It wasn’t quite that fast, but almost. We had a two month engagement, a small wedding and a six day honeymoon. Now we’re back, and we’ve made it official.
We changed our status on Facebook.
Many of our friends are stunned. Some of them didn’t even know we were dating anyone. Why? Because when you fall madly in love, you fall off the face of the earth.
But wait, you may be thinking. She has a BLOG. Isn’t she posting her love life to the universe?
The thing is my blog is about the dark, the shadows, the tears, the restlessness and the discouragement that we all share in common. Why? Because that’s where a lot of us live a lot of the time, and that’s where God meets us. In fact, God says that to sing happy songs to a sad person is like stealing a man’s coat in winter.
It’s theft. It’s not just any old theft, either. It’s not like taking the ripped polyester coat someone hated and never wore. It’s to take from someone the warm coat they most need in order to survive exposure. It’s a kind of murder, if you think about it.
So let me just say right here, for the record, that I have everything I ever wanted.
His name is Jesus.
He loves me. He adores me, in fact, though I have trouble believing that part. He thinks my brain is super cool. He thinks I am super cool. He even thinks I’m funny.
And on top of that, God has also now given me a wonderful second husband – really the best I could ever have imagined – two great kids – three awesome step kids – lovely places to live – beautiful weather with four real seasons – and a career doing what I love most. Writing.
But but but.
The only reason that I can be thankful about all that I have, and literally the only reason, is because of God’s grace. Every single day my anxiety rises like steam from a kettle the moment I wake up, because I am longing to be things I never can be.
God comes in the gap between who I really am and who I want to be. In fact, I would go so far as to say that He comes in the gap between who I really am and who HE wants me to be. The good news is that we both want the same things, God and I. Well, most of the time. I usually want to be that kind, loving, compassionate, cheerful, hopeful, encouraging, selfless person He wants me to be.
But I can’t.
God and I both know that. It brings me to my knees, often, and it brought Him to the cross, once. We cry out together for the same thing. Me in my little human agony of injured pride, of discovering I literally can’t be the great and powerful Caroline; God in the infinite agony of experiencing hell for me so that I could live with Him and be His “wife” even though I am the small and just me Caroline.
God paid the price so I could have joy just as I am. I am enough. Not because my little paltry efforts to be kind and cheerful and positive are enough – they’re not. But because He takes my little human efforts, and transforms them in the kiln of his grace into something supernatural and magical and wonderful that can truly bless others – despite me.
So here is the good news for all. It’s not that God brought me and my lovely husband together, although He did, and I will be forever grateful for that. It’s that He used my desert experiences, my shadows, my own inner darkness to show me His plans, His light and His love. He brought me through. He brought me to a wide open spacious plane, where I discovered on a deep experiential level that God was all I needed.
Once we know that, everything else He provides are just things to be incredibly grateful for.
So what does that have to do with the Scripture for today? Everything. It’s about grace. It’s about two ways of experiencing the world. One is where we fall under the sway of worldly opinions – our own and others – and the other where we lift ourselves out of the mire by looking to see what God’s opinion is of us. Ready? Here’s the choice:
The world will offer us hardship, suffering and hunger. But no matter what we experience, the world will reward us with dishonor, defamation and evil report. The world will call us deceivers and impostors. We will be unknown. We will be ignored, often. We will grieve. We will feel impoverished, no matter how much we have. We will feel like we have nothing.
We WILL have nothing. Why? Because in the world’s way of judging, we will never be enough. The world says we have to be the best. At everything. And none of us ever can. And if we are the best for a moment, here or there; or if we succeed at being better, just a little, than a select few – chosen for the very reason that they ARE worse than we are – it will pale. The light will fade. The exultation will diminish. Yesterday’s triumphs fail to warm our hearts. The world judges by comparing and measuring and assessing, and it’s exhausting. Why? Where does the world get this perfect standard?
It gets it from God, of course, although it will never tell you that. Because to tell you that the standard comes from God would be to point us to the good news, and the world wants to rob us of joy. The world – and here I am eliding the world with our enemy the devil – wants us to be miserable.
Instead of all that bad stuff, God offers us praise and a good report. He sees us as truthful and honest. To Him, we are well known. We are recognized. We are alive. We can always rejoice, no matter how cold our winters. He bestows riches on us, and enables us to give riches to others. In reality, in HIS reality, we possess all things.
Why? Because God is blind? No, but because God turns a blind eye to our faults, flaws and sins because if we ask for salvation, when He looks at us, He SEES Jesus.
Jesus took the dishonor and defamation we deserve. Jesus was called an imposter. Jesus was ignored. He grieved and mourned and wept. He died. He who was rich became poor in order to give us all that He left behind when He left heaven – the praise, the good report, being well known, being recognized as the Son of God and having everything.
God asks only that we leave behind the world and its way of judging. We are to come out from that way of assessing ourselves. There’s a violence involved. We are not to be “unequally yoked” – an odd phrase because to be “yoked” by definition means tied together. We are to “sever” ourselves from the world’s system of rewards and praise. We are to “come out from” all that.
The imagery is evocative of an animal creeping out from under a rock, or a person coming out of a shuttered house and flinging their arms out and twirling in the sunshine on the mountain top perhaps even singing The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of God’s Music.
Already, we feel a liberty stealing over us. You mean we can do that?, our hearts start to wonder.
Yes. Because in this world, we feel and are hemmed in by limits. All around us are symbols of shame, modern day stocks, variations on the scarlet letter. As Paul writes what he is turning away from, we feel the weight of it: dishonor, defaming and evil report. And yet, the reality that we receive from God is what we long for: praise, good report, well known, recognized, alive, always rejoicing, bestowing riches, “in reality possessing al things.
We move closer. We sidle up. We slip up onto the edge of God’s armchair. We put an arm around the back of His neck. We listen, the way we once listened, if we were lucky, to our earthly fathers read to us from fairy tales.
God says we must not receive His grace “in vain”.
Here is a staircase for us to climb. Salvation is through grace alone, but it seems we must want it. We must receive it. We must take it in. That wanting is the stuff of fairy tales. To see magic, we must look. We must search. We must step aside to see the bushes burn without being consumed. Like all journeys, this one requires sacrifice and deprivation. Paul lists the kind of sacrifices he personally endured, and says that if we, too, take our journeys with patience, kindness and love, we will find God.
This is the real pilgrimage our hearts long for. It’s the journey to which all other journeys point.
There is no script, just a hunger and a Holy Spirit guide who whispers to us about following love and truth. The truth is we are sinners AND that we are loved. To receive grace in vain to me means we forget that it’s grace we’re receiving.
We’re in constant danger of slipping down the worn slick stone staircase, back to the place of earning acclaim through our own efforts.
To long for God is not a good deed, nor an effort. It is instead who we are. We are all God-longers. It is to embrace the truth of our own identity. And to do that enables us to love others as ourselves – to love all the other God-longers we meet on our journeys. And if we unyoke ourselves from darkness and caves and shame, trying to get attention where we’re ignored, and unbuckle ourselves from all that, we wander outside and point out the stars. We make room in our hearts – and in our schedules, our agendas, our days, our hobbies, our idols. We stop looking to earthly things, even marvelous second husbands, to satisfy the supernatural hunger in our souls, when they can’t and shouldn’t and will chafe under the weight of our unrealistic expectations, of being “yoked” to limitless dreams, when we were made to rise to God together, on gossamer wings made by Him; to ascend on a stairway to heaven that IS God. “I am the stairway to heaven,” Jesus said.
We climb on His back, broken and bruised, so we can ascend to love, where we are beautiful. Our hearts will overflow, over and over again. The more we dip into God and His goodness, the more He enables us to love others, including even our husbands, even though, they are like ourselves – human – and because they are like ourselves – created in the image of God, longing for God just as we are.
To come away, to separate, to unyoke, is an invitation. It’s an invitation to receive all that we ever wanted, all we were made for, all that we hunger for when we live in the shadows. We will discover that God is longing to receive us kindly, to treat us with favor, to be a Father to us, to embrace us as His sons and daughters. It will be like our wedding day, every day. We will look, to Him, our very best, through the lens of the cross.
To accept on a daily basis that God adores us through His grace, is to receive His salvation with purpose. It enables us to dance through each day, no matter what our circumstances.
We can all run off to get married. Today. Now. “Today is the day of salvation.” God is waiting with open arms to embrace every one of us. In His love, we will be able to live. We will be able, God willing, to love.
And never be divorced again.
And lastly, the reason I haven’t written about getting married is because my heart is just too full. My cup runneth over.
posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on August 5, 2014