God’s love is not condemnation
The process of packing up one’s life in order to move it, to change it, to transform it into something completely different is a process of opening drawers, clearing out closets and neglected corners, reaching for lost treasures underneath the bed.
There are so many things in this house, in this life that I’ve built, that are hidden, out of view, out of the light, collecting dust and existing only as something forgotten.
I don’t like this process. I struggle with it. In order to go through it I have to make myself see things that I would rather not see. I have to fess up to the deeds that I have done.
Regret feels like a Tupperware of memorabilia from a life I hoped I would live, but that never fully came to pass. I lug it around from one dwelling to another and it keeps getting heavier with every new move.
The darkness of hidden things is heavy and oppressive.
What I wouldn’t give for some freedom from that feeling; some lightness in my heart and in this life I’m living.
Lent is a season for examining the nooks and cranny’s, the disorganized junk drawers, the unopened boxes from 7 years ago that are taking up space inside the heart and making it impossible to feel alive in God, in the body, in relationship to the ones we love.
Lent is more than a spring cleaning. It’s more than buying bigger boxes to cram full of old emotional junk.
Lent is picking up those artifacts of the life you thought you’d have, the life you thought you should have, and gently discarding them.
Lent leaves a pile of garbage in the garage that didn’t look like garbage when you bought it, but that turned out to be something undeserving of your love.
And maybe that’s the heartache of this season.
We don’t like to let go of the things we thought would save us; the things we hid out of sight, but never stopped coveting.
We love these things. We love them in darkness. We love the darkness, because in it we can hide the parts of ourselves that we do not want to see; that we don’t want others to see.
When I moved here to Portland in 2013, my life looked very different. I went by a different name – a kind of spiritual pen name that stuck. I though I was well done with God and Jesus and the institution of the Christian Church. I was moving boxes of unsold cd’s, undesired merchandise, into a new garage along with the boxes of promo pictures, old fan letters, and too many journals that I stopped mid-way.
My pursuit of a career in the spotlight had left me wounded and a little breathless, and tired.
Funny thing about standing in the spotlight is that when it shines on your face all you can see is darkness. And sometimes that’s all you can feel, too.
But then, somewhere down on Couch Street near Powells, God interrupted my life and shone a light on the sidewalk, and I saw clearly the suffering of the world. This vision moved me to an act of service, a change of direction, and ultimately, a consent to believe in the God whose Son was sent not to judge world, but to liberate it.
This memory of the light of God’s love is not something I’ve hid away in a box or that I tucked neatly into an album. This memory is alive in my heart. It is a fire burning, casting light, and fueling the ongoing transformation, initiated by God.
If I had none of that unsold merch – none of those journals with chicken scratch lyrics about young love, or bookmarked admissions of guilt, pages of shame – if all of that was thrown in the garbage pile, I would still have this fire. It would still rage in my heart.
The light of God’s love, incarnated in flesh, lives in this body, which is so much more than an overcrowded garage.
I took a carload of garbage bags to the dump and threw them in a pile of everybody’s trash. Bulldozers were needed to push it around. There was so much evidence of lives left behind, dreams let go, and misplaced love, discarded.
And somehow, even after a carload of trash, I still have more stuff to go through. Boxes of nostalgia are also containers for shame, which is among the heaviest of things I keep in long-term storage.
It doesn’t belong here anymore. The judgement, the condemnation – which is not an edict from God, but an experience that entraps me – is that I continue to make a space for it.
I’m so afraid that people will see it, see my shame or my perceived failures, that I would rather keep it than risk it being seen by junkyard scavengers.
But Jesus says, God so loved the world that God sent a Son whose love is so vast and so expansive, whose light shines so brightly that no darkness could overcome it.
And the light of this Son, will soon shine on a cross, where he will embody the suffering of the world, the suffering we bear, and the suffering we cause; to others and to ourselves.
Lent means coming to terms with who we are, in fullness: the parts we show and the parts we don’t. All of those parts belong to God. All of those parts are loved by God.
God shines a light on the fullness of our lives and in that light we can see the idols we’ve made out of ambition, and pride, and vanity, and selfishness, and any number of other trinkets we’ve been hauling around forever. And we can look at them, like the Israelites look on the serpent, the cause of their suffering, and be freed from their hold on us.
The light of God’s love is not condemnation.
The good news, my friends, is God’s perpetual invitation to step into the light of God’s love, to be seen fully, to be loved deeply, and to experience the joy that comes from being loved.a