Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the darkness of human nature. Our dialogue is full of discord and Christians seem to be no different. No better. We are polarized by our differences and paralyzed by fear. For about the past year, I have allowed it to shatter my hope and make me bitter.
I have used Grace is Messy as a bully pulpit, smashing bullies in return. I railed against those who weren’t as liberal with their love and acceptance as me. I pushed people away, blocked others, and fought back – hard. But that isn’t what Jesus called me (or you, or any of us) to do.
And this looks nothing like grace.
Loving Your Neighbor Isn’t Always Easy
I have been angry at the injustices done to others. I have been burdened by the meanness I see online and in the public platforms of politicians and celebrities (and yes – celebrity pastors). But I was no better, because from one side of my mouth, I talked about the unconditional love of God, and out of the other side, I bashed anyone who didn’t seem to “get it”.
Freshwater and saltwater cannot come from the same spring. (James 3:11)
In the past few months, God has used people in my everyday life to soften my heart. They have gently guided me toward getting quiet. They’ve encouraged me to slow down and actually listen to what I’ve been saying. God has used my boss, my wife, and a couple of dear friends to ask, “Are you sure this is the message you want to be sending?”
Last week, after a really great talk with Kay Warren, I’ve finally been able to let go.
I am learning to separate the sometimes nasty behavior of other people from the character of God. I sometimes forget that I, too, have acted in ways that are inconsistent with God’s nature. I have been guilty of the very same nastiness.
During my two years of ministry school, I disconnected from anyone I viewed as living below God’s standard of holiness. What that actually looked like was cutting anyone off if they didn’t look as religious as me. Friends or family who listened to secular music, cussed, or voted Democrat (eek) were cut off, but not without receiving a detailed list of all the ways they weren’t living up to God’s (read: my) expectations.
I have caused more than my fair share of pain. The grim reality is this: humans have been traumatizing each other since the day Cain spilled his brother’s blood on the ground. When folks call themselves “Christian”, but treat others with hatred, it makes me want to lay down my love and fight back.
But I hear Jesus calling me to lay down my sword and pick up his love.
So, I had to let go. I had to put those heavy things down in order to find true rest. I had to stop scouring social media and cable news for hours on end. I’m not saying to ignore tragedy and injustice. But I am saying that, for my own mental (and spiritual) wellness, I cannot let entire chunks of my day be consumed by fear-based media or fear-based religion.
My arms were so full of my own fears, disappointment, anger, pain, and bitterness that I had no room to embrace God. When I finally let go, I realized my hands were now empty, and I was desperate to reconnect to the Love that grounds me.
It is God’s unconditional love that pulls me back from the ledge when I am ready to jump. So when I’m peering over the edge of the cliff, I have to disconnect from the lies and tune into the kind and compassionate voice of my Father. The world spends millions of dollars marketing the “fake news” of who I’m supposed to be, but the Holy Spirit is constantly whispering to my soul, the truth of who I actually am. I just have to get quiet enough to hear it. I have to meditate – to let myself sink down below quiet, to the level of stillness, just like Ed Bacon taught me to do.
When I disconnect from fear and reconnect to the Source of Love, things begin to shift. I am able to pray for my enemies and embrace those I disagree with. It doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to injustice, but it does mean that my sense of “righteous indignation” is no longer a license to return hatred with hatred.
The Good News? Paul Young says, “There is no darkness that I bring to the table that God is not already in. At the very darkest place, you will find that Jesus is there. Jesus is just asking for an invitation into the darkness.”
Hope is the Thing with Claws
Jesus is our hope in dark days. Hope is a stubborn refusal to give up on the promise of Jesus: that better days are coming. Hope is the thing with claws. Hope calls to each of us:
Let go of the pain.
Paul Young says, “Love doesn’t run away from brokenness or imperfection. Love runs toward it.” And he’s right. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father goes running toward his wayward son. When the father replaces his son’s filthy rags with royal robes, I think he is peeling back the lies the son foolishly believes. The son believes the same lie many of us believe – that we actually have the power to push Love away. But just like the Prodigal Son, I am learning that nothing can separate us from Love.
Life is messy. Politics are messy. Religion is so damn messy. But grace is messy, too. Grace is our common denominator. Love is the reminder that everything (and everyone) belongs. And Hope is our promise that better days are coming.
Steve Austin is a life coach, speaker, and author of Self-Care for the Wounded Soul. Steve’s goal is to help you create a lifestyle of focused emotional health and clarity. Looking for more ways to create space? Subscribe to Steve Austin’s free weekly newsletter by clicking right here.
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I shared a few thoughts on grace, redemption, and oneness yesterday on YouTube. You can watch that brief chat, below: