At one time, we too, were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. Titus 3:3
At one time, I, too, was foolish. Disobedient. Deceived. Enslaved.
I’m not saying that I have it all together now. I’m still foolish. Still disobedient. Still deceived. Still enslaved.
But now I realize it.
At one time, I didn’t have a clue.
I didn’t know that the reason my life was full of malice, hatred and envy was because I held so tightly to the things I thought were true, good, right, pure, lovely and fine. I didn’t know that sometimes people who are foolish wiggle themselves into positions of authority and then teach you foolishness. I didn’t know that while obedience is good, being completely surrendered to someone else’ plans for you was foolish — and dangerous. I didn’t know that that kind of surrender put people in the place of God and kicked God to the curb like He was about as valuable as a pile of crap.
I didn’t know that hyper-purity would bring intense longing for companionship and crushing loneliness.
I didn’t know that my knowledge of the Bible and dedication to my interpretation of it did nothing but drive others away, leading to further loneliness.
I didn’t know that my righteous works were nothing but filthy rags to God and that other people were just as turned off by it as He was.
My insistence that I was right and everybody else was wrong was a symptom of a heart disease that I didn’t know I had.
My understanding of pride was that those who refused to acknowledge that Jesus alone is good and Jesus alone can save you.
This is a true definition of pride. But what I didn’t know is that it went so much further than that. The idea that I could make God happier with me because of what I’ve done (or not done) was pride. I didn’t know that my going to extreme lengths to practice purity was pride. I didn’t know that my insistence that I was right and everybody else was wrong was pride.
I didn’t know that I had a heart disease — and I didn’t know it was killing not only me, but it was killing my relationships and it was damaging other people’s relationships (or potential relationships) with God.
In college, I was your typical “Ex-Fundie” student. I had left fundamentalism, but I still carried the weight of graceless justification on my shoulders. I worked. I worked hard. I felt pressured to be a “light in the darkness” — but what I really was, was an old smokey and sooty lamp that served no purpose but to make people take a second look and shake their heads muttering “Huh?!?” as they walked away.
I didn’t have any idea what “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” meant. The part about it not being about us, but being a gift from God so that no one can boast about their own righteousness went completely over my head. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But one autumn morning, everything changed.
It was a morning like any other — except for one thing. The night before, around midnight, two freshmen had been making their way back home for the weekend. One moment they were talking enthusiastically about their future together — they were high school sweethearts and very much in love — and the next moment, the boy lay lifeless while his girlfriend clung to life just long enough to get to the hospital.
Two lives ended as a result of a head-on collision somewhere in the emptiness of the Minnesota countryside that night. Two families devastated by the loss of children, siblings, cousins, niece, nephew and grandchildren. Many were devastated by the loss of friends, support systems and encouragement.
I didn’t know them. I had never heard of them until that morning when I was supposed to deliver the campus mail and I was told to set the mail for that Freshie in Porter aside.
I ended up attending the campus memorial service several days later. At the service, the families talked about how their brother and sister, their son and daughter, their niece and nephew had truly loved Jesus and their goal in everything they did was to point people to Jesus. They quietly loved Jesus. And they loved others like Jesus would. They had chosen Colossians 3:12-14 as their life verses. Their goal in life was to demonstrate the following to everyone they made contact with:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if anyone has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
I had never heard those verses before. Of course, I’d read them dozens of times, but I hadn’t noticed them before. As the family talked about the ways their loved ones had demonstrated these verses, I began to realize that I was sick in the heart. These two young people had embraced grace and they did everything they could to extend that grace to everyone — not just the people who agreed with them. Not just the people who were kind to them. Not just the people at church and not just to their family and friends. They extended grace to sinners just as often as to saints. They extended grace to the broken just as often as they extended grace to the healthy. They oozed grace. They bled love. They breathed in Jesus and breathed out grace and love.
And I was sitting there, convicted of my own failure to love.
The family had given every person in attendance and paper with some pictures and those verses printed on it. Their prayer was that those who didn’t know Jesus would read them and come to know the God of grace and mercy.
I walked out of the building that day with tears streaming down my cheeks. I sat alone for a long time, reading those words over and over again.
Jesus asks us to be compassionate. Kind. Humble. Gentle. Patient. It’s supposed to be such a “thing” for us that it doesn’t just come out of our mouths, but it is something that we wear. It is visible to everyone, all the time, regardless of what we do, think, say or feel. We should be people who forgive quickly and love boldly.
All the time.
That day was a game-changer for me. I could no longer identify with the Holier-Than-Thou Homeschooler I had attended class with. I could no longer identify with those who only had the capacity to love certain people.
It wasn’t about what I knew anymore. It was about who I knew. It was about knowing the love of Jesus. It was about finding ways to show that love to others. Every day. All the time.
Sometimes my heart has an irregular rhythm — where one moment, I rock it, and the next I’m quivering back and forth between doing it right and doing it easy. Sometimes my heart burns with envy and hatred. Sometimes it gets clogged with selfishness and unforgiveness. If I was diagnosed with heartburn or clogged arteries, a doctor would give me an antacid or a cholesterol medication. If I had a heart rhythm problem, I’d be given a pacemaker. But God’s medicines are a little sweeter than a doctor’s medicine, though sometimes it might be a bit harder to swallow. His medicine is:
Above all, put on love, that binds them all together in perfect unity.
That’s God’s recipe for healing heart disease.