This has been an important week for me. Between the meditation, the fasting, the small group meetings, the blogging, and the minutiae of every day life, I discovered Grace. Like I had never known. Like I don’t deserve. Like I can’t believe. As it turns out, I’m what you might call, “slow”. It seems, that despite nearly three decades of growing up in the church, despite having a wacky monk-mother who has spoken of nothing but Grace for the past fifteen years, despite having a close relationship with God…
I missed the point.
How I came to this realization is an interesting story… And one that I will no doubt share one day. In the meantime, however, suffice it to say that my wife and I had one of the most engaging and Holy discussions we’ve ever had last Sunday sitting in the same Applebee’s where Leah decided that she was willing to take a chance on the chubby nerd sitting across from her. Over a basket of boneless chicken wings, Leah saw a pattern in me that I had never noticed before:
My Faith… My entire relationship with God repeatedly falls into a cycle in which I try to convince God that I’m worth his time and effort based on the things I’m doing. I’m not trying to earn my salvation, per se… But I’m definitely trying to earn God’s attention. Like, if I’m a good enough Christian, he’ll be impressed and tell me so. Writing this so plainly, I feel like I’ve been approaching God like a hyperactive grade-schooler.
“God! Hey God! I’m fasting for Lent! Tell me I’m good!”
“I’m meditating too!”
“I know! Look at my pants!”
“Uhm… Your pants?”
“I have a special meditation outfit so you know I’m REALLY taking it extra super serious!”
“Oh. I, uh–”
“Do I get a sticker?”
Through my conversation with Leah, I realized that I wasn’t fasting to feel closer to God. I was fasting so that God would think I was good enough to be close to. The same goes with the meditation. I was doing the right things, but for the wrong reasons. And that’s what’s so tricky about it! My wrong reasons were still good reasons, just misplaced.
I love God. Truly, I do. But that wasn’t why I was meditating. I was meditating because I wanted God to like me. I wanted to make him proud. I was doing it out of a sense of obligation; like if I didn’t, then we would just be on flat, neutral terms.
This week I discovered Grace. Really and truly, I finally began to understand that God loves me. And it has nothing to do with what I do. Or don’t do. If I go the rest of my life without praying or reading my Bible, God wouldn’t love me less. If I never sat in silence again, he would still love me with a passion I can never comprehend. And yeah, I know… Most of you out there are like, “Duh. This isn’t new.” But, you don’t understand…
I’m the chubby kid that didn’t have many friends growing up. Adults were nicer to me than kids were, so I learned to foster the attributes that the adults in my life cared about… Intelligence, wit, creativity… I spent my formative life proving that I was more than just the fat kid. I was smart. I was funny. Those things made me worth it. Worth talking to. Worth knowing.
And so it came to pass, that I’m staring down the barrel of turning twenty-nine and just now realizing that I’ve spent my life desperately trying to prove to God that I’m worth it.
The dust is still settling after the shake-up that particular epiphany caused. But bear with me, I’m not done just yet.
In the light of this new understanding, participating in the Daniel Fast began to feel all wrong. I had got into it with the right reasons but the wrong motivations, and it was not going well. Leah was having a difficult time adjusting to it also. We made it just over one week on the fast before we reconvened.
Over the past week, we discovered that we were physically addicted to sugar. We had cut it out of our diet altogether and our bodies had gone into symptoms of withdrawal. We had begun eating far healthier than we ever had… But the fact that we had no choice in the matter began to turn us sour. Instead of being grateful for the healthy food we were eating, we had begun resenting it. Dinner time, usually a joyous occasion in which Leah and I happily engage each other and discuss our day and what had been on our minds and hearts had turned into an exercise of frustration as we tried not to bark at each other because we were so sick of eating rice and vegetables. In short, we were miserable. Actively, constantly, annoyed and miserable. As you might imagine, this is a state of existence that has a tendency of causing the overtly spiritual part to struggle.
So we spoke about it. And we decided that in taking on the fast, we had bit off more than we could chew. Neither of us could imagine another five weeks of living this way, but both of us were happily surprised to find that we maintained a desire to make healthier choices. So here’s what we’re doing:
For the weeks of Lent, Leah and I will be doing something completely different each week. We may be fasting from electronics, fasting from spending, or fasting from video games and social media. We might make it a point to actively get to know the community we live in. We might make a monetary goal of giving and helping people every day. But instead of being a “one-size-fits-all” situation like the fast, the bottom line is that what we’re doing will be prayed about, examined, and we will listen to our hearts throughout that week. Because when that week is over, we will be carrying pieces of the things we’ve learned forward into the burgeoning year.
You might call this a cop out. And that’s okay. Because the truth is, for the very first time in my life, I’m okay with being a failure. Because I know that God loves me whether or not I succeed. No matter how this goes, I know that I’m worth it.