It sounds terribly dramatic, but there were days I wanted to die. I still can’t explain all of why, but I felt soiled and ashamed – fallen. I didn’t want to live anymore. I went to bed at night asking God to have mercy on me and just let me stay asleep and not wake up. Not wanting to live was a feeling I had never before experienced but there I was.
Truth, it was much deeper than just the affair. It was the raw realization that I was no longer sure of anything I had once been so sure of. Religion alone teaches us to walk a line and not question things. Trouble is, my entire world had been shaken in several ways and I wasn’t sure of anything or anyone, namely myself and the faith I had blindly clung to since childhood.
I cried…. a lot.
In fact, I wallowed in shame and self-pity because that feels easier than surrender.
Guilt says “you did it” but shame is guilt’s next door neighbor that says “you are what you did.” And my heart had decided I was doomed to live smack dab in between them.
Maybe it was high time for my faith to be totally re-worked, to be my own. Not just some nice sounding story about rule following, happy living, and making it to Heaven one day.
How is it possible to love God, to feed homeless people, to sing on the worship team, and to behave in a way that is the exact opposite of everything I had presented myself to be? I wondered if I was exactly what she had said I was, a fraud. Maybe none of it was ever real at all. Had I faked the last twenty years of my life?
That’s the trouble with religion.
Religion creates a dangerous self-righteous dependence on human effort, in being good, in trying hard enough. Religion apart from grace is a house built on sand that will eventually fail when the waves of life come thrashing against it.
I had spent my childhood reciting the ten commandments and the laws of the Bible only to discover at twenty-eight years of age that I was completely incapable of keeping any of them.
I felt so disappointing to God, looked over, deserving of being discarded for further use.
What I didn’t know then is that the whole point of the Law is not to demand we keep it all, but to show us that it is literally impossible to keep any of it. The Law is a bridge between fallen humanity and grace. It was never meant to condemn us when we realize we can’t ever be good enough but to show us our need for the cross.
“The sinners to whom Jesus directed His messianic ministry were not those who skipped morning devotions or Sunday church. His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners. They had done nothing to merit salvation. Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them. On the other hand, the self-righteous placed their trust in the works of the Law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.” – B. M.
Who was I really? Would I ever be whole? Could what was broken in my marriage and in my life ever be restored again? Was God good? Was He faithful, even when I was not?
I longed to reconcile the monumental chasm between what I had thought I was, and what I truly was.
If there is anything I remember about the months following the affair is that I teetered on the brink of depression. I didn’t recognize it for what it was then, but looking back I know I was falling further and further into a bottomless dark hole. That’s what depression feels like.
One morning in particular, I stumbled out of bed to stand in front of the mirror and stare at myself in disappointment as had become my habit of doing. Only this morning, in place of shame and self-hatred I looked to see in my face were these words:
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. -Hebrews 4:14-16
It’s hard to be bold about anything when you’re clothed in shame, when you feel like a total fraud. Much less to come boldly to the throne of the same God of whom you’ve broken His laws big time and failed miserably.
“There you will receive mercy…”
Mercy (noun) Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
How I needed, I wanted mercy.
Was this really who God was? So different than the image imprinted on my mind as a child growing up in Sunday school reciting the ten commandments and hearing messages of hell fire and damnation for sinners, and kneeling in my bedroom to beg for forgiveness when I made had disobeyed and made my parents mad big time?
Could this be the same God with the angry disappointed glare looking down at me, waiting for me to prove that I don’t deserve anything that faith in Him offers.
“….and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
Grace: (noun) The free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
Free and unearned.
I had heard and sung about it the past decade of my life, but never truly, deeply experienced the unexplainable miracle of grace.
The thing is, grace is reserved only for those ragamuffin souls like me, who recognize their own poverty. It is not for the self-righteous have it all togethers. I was broken. And my brokenness had brought me face to face with the emptiness and darkness of my life apart from the life of grace the cross came to give me.
I needed to surrender.
It’s an odd concept that grace would require submission, but it absolutely does. We cannot receive grace while attempting to do the work of the cross for ourselves. Pride convinces us we can be enough on our own, surrender says “The work is all up to you God. I am nothing apart from what you’ve already accomplished.”
“For Ragamuffins, God’s name is Mercy. We see our darkness as a prized possession because it drives us into the heart of God. Without mercy our darkness would plunge us into despair – for some, self-destruction. Time alone with God reveals the unfathomable depths of the poverty of the spirit. We are so poor that even our poverty is not our own: It belongs to the mysterium tremendum of a loving God.” – Brennan Manning
Grace was the gift of the cross. Free, unearned, undeserved, no strings attached.
And all mine for the taking.
Those words, and others like them left here and there by my husband became like life-giving oxygen to my weary soul. Just as that first friend I confessed to, the man whose heart I had broken in two was carrying my worn, shame-filled body to the cross where we would begin to find every single thing those verses had promised, and more.
He read to me, night after night. Stories of redeeming love, of the power of mercy and grace – of the power of the cross.
I had come face to face with my own brokenness and poverty of soul, and it hurt like hell. I just wanted this season to hurry up and end. Could we just go back to pretending to be whole again?
But the wonderful mystery of the cross is that it reveals our true selves to us, it breaks us, so that it can redeem what is broken and remake us into something new.
My heart had been seized by the power of a Holy affection, and I would never ever be the same.
What I have discovered and come to embrace about brokenness is that it isn’t something that comes and then goes away again, brokenness is an unending process of falling, and looking to mercy to pick us up back up again and again. Brokenness is living in a constant state of fully recognizing our own poverty apart from it. Grace says,”No matter what you do, I think you’re worth so much that I’ve already paid the ultimate price for you.” Grace says, “I still want you, just as you are.”
Although it is painful, brokenness is a beautiful gift that many will never experience because they never allow themselves to be broken. There is good reason that the most unmerciful, mean, unhappy, bitter people on earth are the most religious.
Religion, self-righteousness, and pride will forever separate us from experiencing the miracle of grace because brokenness requires humility, it demands poverty of spirit. Brokenness is one of life’s greatest gifts because it drives us straight to the feet of the healer because we know that we will never be whole on our own.
Failure, shame, and depression only revealed my own inner brokenness that had been there all along. But I needed to be completely and obviously broken so that I could acknowledge it and experience the tender mercies of the healer, so that the faith of my girlhood could be re-built all over again, but this time on the firm foundation of grace.
The woman who rejected me may have “outed me” to many, some of whom will not even speak to me if I run into them in public to this day. But I do not fear brokenness or transparency or being outed by others about who I really am, because the strange thing about the painful, bloody cross is, it completely heals and removes what seemed like permanent stains of shame. There is nothing left to condemn, because “He who the son sets free is free indeed.” John 8:36
And after all, grace is the only way we become most beautiful in the places in which we have been broken. Grace meant that my scarlet letter was being forged forever in gold.
The scars of my brokenness would be branded on my life as an emblem to all the world that shouts, “THIS is what the cross has done!”
All that was sad and dark, was coming untrue. Grace was changing everything.
“The confessing church of American Ragamuffins needs to join Magdalene and Peter in witnessing that Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.” B.M.
to be continued…..