Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It may be a race, but that doesn’t mean it's a competition.

I have this recurring thought and it has haunted me for many years now. It is the worry that “I’m not where I ‘should’ be in my relationship with God”. Today, as it hit me again, I felt someone (read: Holy Spirit) point out that although this may sound like a valid relational question, as much as it may be disguised as one, it is actually a religious law-dripping question whose only fruit is condemnation.

I started thinking about why I feel this way and again something reminded me that oddly enough (or not so) this thought would come in the voice of one of the elders I had the most contact with in the religious establishment I recently left – and the same elder that felt it was his duty (and I’m sure he felt it was the right thing to help me) to express to me how badly he thought I was doing, and how I’d been wasting time the last few years messing around on figuring out who I am (it was prophesied that God wanted to work on my identity) instead of being more involved in ‘the life of the church’. The problem (in his eyes) was I wasn’t really going to ‘church’ or attending the weekly prayer or home-cell meetings regularly enough. Also, I was haphazard in most things church-lifey and made enough religious faux pas (and some very blatant ‘sins’) to warrant his dissatisfaction with me. And I do understand where he was coming from. From a religious ‘legal’ viewpoint, he had full right to be concerned and unhappy with my track record. But the thing is - we’re no longer living in condemnation and he’s judgment meant he was blind to what God was busy doing in my life. I am sure that if he had taken the time to be more involved in my life and actually dialogue with me instead of making conclusions from the sidelines (what might have helped is if he’d seen me as a fellow God-seeker, and not some mindless sheep that he needed to lead), he might have seen things as I’d been seeing them - differently. From my side, the past 3-4 years have been active God years. Most of them have been incredibly hard, out-in-the-desert type years - I’ve felt dry and hurt and far from God, I’ve felt confused, lost and alone, I’ve been wounded and rejected and sidelined - but I’ve always known He was there and I’ve always had the sense that He’s been doing a work in me. Truth is I have seen God grow me immensely in the last few years (so much so that I’d rather do the detail in another post someday), and it has resulted in me being closer to Him than I’ve ever been. One of the biggest things that has happened is that I have come from a place of over-reliance on the pastor and church leadership being ‘god’s voice’ and mediator between God and me to Dad cutting out the middleman (through some rather painful circumstances) and leading me to relying on Dad to guide me, and learning what it’s like to hear Him speak and learning to let Him be who He’s longed to be to me.

I’ve really come far over these years and stepping out of the religious box has only been some of that journey – outwardly, I think it’s been a big part – but it’s only been a small result of what Dad has been busy doing on the inside. That said, I know there is still so much more Dad is doing and going to do in me, and some of that is what I started the post about, the ‘not good enough’ complex Dad revealed to me today. As I thought about it, what hit me was that even though I’ve ‘left the building’ (out about 6 months now, although it’s been coming for a lot longer) I am still struggling to shake the religious dust off my feet. To some degree or another, I still feel like I’m caught in the religious rat-race of comparison and competition and ranking and gauging. I still subconsciously rank myself with those religious goggles, even if it’s just against some made-up ‘perfect’ ideal. And the whole thing stinks.

As I’ve been pondering on why I still struggle with this, I’ve realized that just because we’re “out of the religious setting” doesn’t mean we’re automatically out of the religious mindset. I suppose this ties in with Wayne’s remarks on how people who have ‘left the religious box’, wanting to start a ‘new improved’ house church thing often slip into the same religion just in different packing.

For me, this has shone a light on the slimy, squalid ‘how Christian are you’ mindset that is so prevalent in the religious environments I’ve been involved in. Shockingly, it’s so deeply set that it’s taken 20+ years for me to realize that it’s not actually a right and godly thing to yearn for, but that it’s actually a hellish mechanism that draws us away from God. It’s a lie draped in truth. It’s a snare that ensnares too many of God’s children. Sadly, today really is the first day I’ve realized that this mindset is actually wrong.

This whole thing strikes me as typical older brother behaviour, don’t you think? To constantly compare ourselves with the brothers and sisters around us, or even worse, against an imagined ‘perfect persona’ ideal is so typical of the older brother. Doesn’t this just show how ancient and entrenched in our religious dogma this mindset is!

For too long I have been beating myself up over ‘not being where I *should* be’ in my relationship with God. Funny thing is, I’ve never bothered to ask Dad if I’m where He wants me to be! (Sadly, just writing this welled up a sense that “I’m obviously not where He wants me to be, how could I ever be…” – oh how deeply entrenched this religious mindset lies!)

Thankfully, God is bringing me to this realization – it is one that I logically know, but it often gets drowned out by the religion-lies: He has me where he wants me. I’m at exactly the right place now that He wants me to be. I have realized (as obvious as it sounds) that it takes focusing on Him to change me, not on striving toward some unachievable, vague ‘perfect man’ ideal. That is just the law packaged in its oldest form. Where the law cries out: “Strive! Perform! Compete!”, I hear Dad whisper: “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden, and I will give you peace.” This grace-talk, this freedom-speak – it is revolutionary and so counter-cultural. It was 2000 years ago, and it still is today.

Where religion seeks to constantly bring us back to the law and condemnation, Dad seeks to take us into His freedom, into His life of abundant grace. This is the place of peace and joy. Isn’t this a scandalous gospel!

Tonight my heart’s cry is this: “God, please save me from my religious pride, and let me learn to rest in You”.

No comments: