Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Lesson For Lent

Today I am grateful for the tender new leaves on my rosebushes. I'm grateful for renewed stamina and energy. I'm grateful to be strong enough to engage my life and the lives of people around me. I'm grateful for the promise of a new life to care for. I'm grateful for the red pie-bald pony in a sunny green pasture that I pass on my way to school. He's fat and sleek and well-loved. I'm also grateful for the small herd of Black Angus cows that graze and ruminate contentedly in a sheltered pasture bordered on three sides by a clear stream, and for the man who brings them hay when it is cold.

And I am grateful, perhaps most of all, to have a church again. To be part of a church family again, to have a priest who likes me, to take communion again, to tithe again, and to worship God again. I've missed it in ways that I didn't even understand. I've wanted to write about this process of healing and forgiveness for a long time, but I never felt that I had all of the pieces of the puzzle. It's obvious, if you've read my recent posts which were in some ways even a surprise to me, that I have great reservations about the church and church leadership. I've considered coming here and really spelling that out. Really elucidating the whys and wherefores of that to make it plain and to spell out what happened and how I got damaged. And I don't think I'd be in the wrong for doing that. It might be cathartic. But now I realize that it just doesn't matter to me anymore. I've come to think of doing that as a chore more than a catharsis.

But this much I'll say: I got sold out and misappropriated by the leadership of my church. And it wasn't right and it wasn't justified and there isn't any way to soften it. I lost many of my friends. I had to leave my church family and my church community. And it felt like a death.

And in the years leading up to the decision to leave that church, I sinned by forgetting the most simple and fundamental elements of my faith. I forgot the means of grace exchanging them for license. I worshiped church and not God. I said and did things for which I am ashamed. And I am responsible. And there is no way to soften it.

But you see, I believe that God, in his desire to reach me with mercy despite the consequences to my personal comfort and security, routed my sin with the intention of delivering me from it. In this year I have learned something of God's sovereignty that I didn't know before. I've learned something of what it means to trust God and to hope for his deliverance. And I've learned something of the mystery of what it means to forgive.

Lent has brought me the crushing knowledge of my sin and the glorious realization of what it means to be forgiven. It's something I had a notion of before, but not to this degree. Lent has brought me a love of Scripture and an understanding of the importance of worship. Lent has brought me the understanding of my need for mercy and the courage to ask for it frequently.

Every Sunday in this season, we've sung a song about mercy and repeated from the liturgy what I've come to regard as a fundamental prayer for Christians: Lord, Have Mercy. Christ Have Mercy. Lord Have Mercy on me. Every week we sing it and every week I need it. At first, I said it for myself and wept. And then to that I added a prayer for mercy for those in my small congregation who need to be delivered from all kinds of sickness, pain and shadow and wept. And then last Sunday as I sang it, to my memory sprang the faces of the people who have wounded me and I prayed for mercy for them and for their church and for the wreckage of their vision. I prayed for mercy for those who I really wasn't sure I would be able to address civilly should I see them. I prayed for mercy, but it was God who gave me the desire for it. It was God allowing me to pray mercy for them and in turn, pray mercy for myself. It was one of the greatest turning points of my life.

I felt the Holy Spirit unshackle me from the chains of hurt and hostility. I felt that as I prayed for them, God was answering my cry for mercy for myself. This is enough, he seemed to say, this gets buried now. And I feel, for perhaps the first time in more than a year, peace. I feel free to leave it behind me and progress into the life he has planned for me and about which I am so excited. It's over. And I think that my writing is going to reflect that. I think that my dealing with other people is going to reflect that. I think that the way I worship God is going to reflect that. And I am grateful to be relieved of that burden. I will try to remember to run to Jesus for mercy frequently and with abandon because perhaps more than anything else, I have learned that grace prompts the asking, but mercy covers my flaws and rights my course.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. I Peter 5:10


Elisa M said...

wonderful post. Heartfelt and poignant. I am glad you are in this place.
and that we are friends

Jeff and Brandi Koonce said...

you have always had a beautiful spirit. i hope you continue to grow in grace and mercy through your journeys.
we love you.
and david
and the baby :)

amanda hannah said...

i am so glad that the lord has brought you here. so much in your lives is being made right - so much hurt being redeemed. such wonderful blessings.

and i want you to know that i learned a little about loving from watching you.

Mod Girl said...

Praise be to God, for His work is ever continuing in our lives.

My dad always thanks God for His grace and mercy in our lives -- every time he prays he specifically thanks Him. As a child I thought that was funny but now as I grow in grace and receive more and more mercy from Him each day I understand.

I love what you wrote:
"I will try to remember to run to Jesus for mercy frequently and with abandon because perhaps more than anything else, I have learned that grace prompts the asking, but mercy covers my flaws and rights my course."
This is so true.

susan said...

Thank you, friends. Your words are really humbling.

Suzanne and Chris Jones said...

you have GOT to be a published writer. you are one of the few, if only, bloggers that make hang onto to every word. really, really feel what you are writing about in every entry. anyways, well said. you know we love you and david and it is good seeing you more regulary again. isn't lyle amazing? i am glad you are there, i know they are too.