I was up late last night reading the memoir of a woman whose husband lost his faith right around the time their second child was born. She didn’t lose her faith, although it shifted quite a bit from the on-fire, anything for Jesus, we’re destined for greatness culture in which they spent their high school & college years. (This sort of intensity rarely survives the transition to regular life.) This book is her story of looking for a way forward while wrestling two toddlers into their snow gear every Sunday to get them to church by herself.
What surprised me is that the saddest part of the book wasn’t her husband’s loss of faith. It’s the description of the faith that he lost. In one scene, he shares what it was like for him to believe: he spent every day working to placate a God he could never satisfy, who would be disappointed in him if he failed to do everything right in his personal life AND change the world. There was no love, hope, joy…certainly no peace. It was all work, all on him, all the time.
Doesn’t that sound horrible?
I’ll just say it: that’s not God. Whatever it was, I’m glad that he’s free of it. And even though it hasn’t happened yet, I feel like this might be a set up for him to be saved, for real.
Some of the most glaring side-eye I’ve received in the church leadership world has come when I’ve shared how glad I am that I wasn’t “raised Christian” in the way people mean when they live in the Bible Belt. My mom made sure I had enough Catholic sacraments under my belt to be married & buried in the Church if I wanted to, and then left me on my own after that (likely because I was a total pain in the &*% about the whole thing). I had enough information about God to know how to find him, and freedom to walk away and come back at my own pace. Which means (and this is where the Christian leadership side-eye comes in) I had room to sin. Christian culture is TERRIFIED of sin, and the result of this is the creation of miles and miles of protective boundaries designed to keep good Christian kids from ever being tempted. To which I read stories like the one above and say, “Hmmm….how’s that working for you?
Here’s the thing: If you never sin, you don’t know what it’s like to be saved.
Let me be clear: I wasn’t “rebellious.” I was never, ever trying to flip off God (or my parents, or the Church I rolled my eyes at). Almost everything I tried, I really thought would work. As they say in 12-Step programs when they describe hitting bottom, “My own best efforts got me here.” What has sustained me in the hard parts of life since I said yes to Jesus’ offer to save me from that mess is my vivid memories of how wrong I was. Not wrong as in, I’m such a horrible person. But wrong as in, Wow, that was some poor information I bought into when I made that decision… And a genuine, deep regret over the ways I hurt so many other people in the process. No matter how bad things have been since then, I’m absolutely clear that I’m worse off without Jesus, and that not everything that promises the breakthrough I’m looking for (spiritual or otherwise) will take me to a place I’ll want to be. But I only know that because I had the freedom to wander around a bit and get my butt kicked.
I get why we recommend against it. It’s super hard to watch. In recent years as so many of my pastors and church friends (and what seems like every author I read and admired when I was new to Jesus-y faith) have wandered off to salute the sun, define their entire personality by a number assigned from a multiple choice test they once filled out, and/or ponder the voluminous writings of Ken Wilbur (whom they’re certain is brilliant and transformational, except that they can’t quite tell what he’s talking about…) I know how little those things deliver, and the lies they carry. But I also know that engaging those things may be their best shot to experience actually being saved, so I try not to freak out. And when they blow me off when I say, “Um, so I tried something similar and here’s where it landed me,” I try not to take it personally.
God knows us, and He gives us room to wander because He has a solid plan to find us.
I’m not in official Christian leadership anymore, so I can just be honest: If you’ve spent your entire life trying to be good enough to please God, or if your worst transgression is that you occasionally have an unkind thought when someone cuts you off in traffic, there’s a chance you’re not sanctified, but rather just repressed. Which means you need to move around a bit and maybe even screw up royally, so you can be saved. Repression and salvation are very different things. Only one comes from God.
You can’t be rescued without wandering into a situation you can’t get yourself out of.
You can’t be found until you’re well and truly lost.
I believe we all need that experience.
Now, that said, even sin needs some guidelines.
Do your best to avoid pregnancy, medical calamity, and anything that could land you with an especially long prison sentence. (Jesus can absolutely save you in the midst of any of those, but the practical reality will still be yours to deal with.) Maybe don’t blow up your whole life, or the lives of the people you love. Don’t do something you don’t really care about just to “test” God. And if you can help it, don’t pick your sin just to upset somebody else. Go towards something that actually seems like it might be good. It doesn’t have to be big. It might even turn out that what you thought was a sin, isn’t, actually, and won’t THAT be a nice discovery?
Finally, as wild as this sounds, involve God in this process. I’m a big fan of one line from the Our Father prayer: Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil… See how the desire to be saved is woven right in there?
Because here’s the truth: You don’t actually want to sin. What you want most is to LIVE.
The alternative perspective we’re tempted to believe?
- That we have to be good to be loved.
- That God can only work through us – what we do, how perfectly we obey, how pristine we keep ourselves so we don’t make Him look bad.
- That we have to save ourselves.
Not true. Not true. Not true.
God loves us, but He’s not limited by us. Ask Him to show you this reality in your life, and to set you free from whatever lies you’re believing about who He is and what He requires.