“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
– John 19:30
This weekend I went on a beach retreat with 150ish girls from my campus ministry. And, as this year’s trend has gone, I was a little apathetic about going. I don’t know if you read my post from January 1st, but I started the new year a little rough. That bitterness and cynicism I mentioned are still very present in my life. I have been questioning everything. This isn’t necessary a bad thing; questions lead to answers generally, and answers lead to a stronger faith. That’s what I’m waiting on. I’m waiting on a change.
So today while some girls were sharing how this weekend revealed things to them, I sat silent. I was wondering what exactly I could take away from the messages and stories I heard. They were all great. I’m not saying they weren’t. I just didn’t get an emotional reaction like the others seemed to get.
I did notice something though. Leading up to this weekend, I kept thinking about this activity we do together. I won’t go into details, but it involves owning up to some stuff. Stuff like anxiety, your sexual past, eating disorders. Whatever you have struggled with in your life and feel guilty about, it’s probably going to come up. This activity is a really good thing because it shows us we aren’t alone; however, I was dreading the checklist. I seem to add something new every year and I just couldn’t face it.
I was also feeling a little guilty for not even carrying my Bible to the retreat. I mean I had the app on my phone, but still. I told myself, “Gosh, Summer. Jesus carried a cross and you can’t carry a book because it’s a little bit too heavy? Do better.”
I was feeling guilty for being apathetic about… well, everything, this entire semester. I’m pretty done with school and making plans and driving and paying for things and doing homework. Maybe I haven’t been apathetic towards my faith; I have noticed the struggle from the beginning. But I guess I haven’t done much to try and repair it. I’ve kinda been waiting on God to make the first move.
I still feel guilty for being anxious at everything. It keeps getting worse and I keep avoiding confronting it as a real possible medical condition because I should be able to fix it myself. Get right with God, say my prayers, and the constant state of worry will go away. Right? I feel guilty for not trying hard enough to make it go away.
I can’t measure up. I’m certainly not the Proverbs 31 woman that Christian culture idolizes. My list of ways I suck keeps growing and growing and my checklist of godliness is diminishing by the minute.
You’ve probably noticed by now that the constant pattern here is guilt. This weekend it was brought up several times that guilt is not from God. Actually, the opposite. Guilt is a lie. Guilt is a lie that I am not good enough and I have to keep working harder and harder. Guilt is a lie of hopelessness.
All of the things I’m struggling with are really valid. A lot of things I do are not biblical and there are certain verses in the Bible going directly against these things. In the Bible study I lead, we always talk about how God makes the “rules” for our protection and well-being, not as just another list we have to strive to master. I teach it all the time. I tell all of my girls. But I live as if I believe the exact opposite.
I make myself feel guilty for doing all these things. I compare myself to Jesus who carried a heavy cross and endured torture and think that I should be more like that. But I’m missing the entire point. Jesus carried the cross so that I wouldn’t have to.
Reflecting on this, I really think God would love me just as much if I sat around doing nothing all day. He would love me just as much if I constantly lusted after boys and had endless sex and drank all the time and killed a few people on the side. Honestly. No one is beyond the love of God (though judgment is another story). The difference in being a Christian, however, is that I need to be repentant of these things and confess to God that I am wrong.
And that’s all I have to do…
Wait, what? That’s really all? I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I really can stop working for God’s love and approval. And the love and approval of others, while I’m at it. I can rest. If I truly find my satisfaction and my all in Jesus, I’m going to want to “follow the rules.” Following the rules isn’t going to make me more loved or accepted, it’s just going to show that I find my joy in the Lord and willingly give him full control. It still seems way too simple.
But it is simple. Trust God. Believe Jesus is Lord. Confess that human nature and our individual hearts are wicked alone, but not beyond redemption. There is no additional work we must do ourselves.
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
– Romans 3:20
Jesus knew I would never be perfect. That’s why he had to come- to fulfill the law of God, the law that man can never fully achieve. That’s why he had to die. And his death is also the reason I know that one day I will stand before God in perfect holiness. I can stop trying to achieve this on earth because it’s just a dead end.
I used to think that everyday I needed to “pick up my cross” and ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” Both of these are valid and I think that I still need to do that. Both of these phrases seem pretty popular in the Christian culture I’ve been exposed to. What is missing, however, is what to do if we fail.
Maybe we should rephrase things a little bit.
Pick up your cross, but do not feel shame if you drop it.
Follow the example of Christ, but do not feel shame if you fall short.
Shame and guilt are present in the world because the enemy is present in the world. God never called us to feel these things. We are only called to confess our sins and acknowledge that we are messed up. But we are called to recognize that there is hope.
A Christian is simply someone that believes Jesus is Lord and died to pay for the sin of the world. It really is that easy. It starts getting messy when we turn Christianity into a set of rules and a moral code of absolute, unattainable perfection.
Apparently, I have a lot to say about this subject. Maybe this can be my next book that I never finish. I never finish anything. But luckily my God does.
And in Him, you are forever forgiven. You are forever freed from guilt and shame. You are forever loved.