When alcoholics realize they have a problem and get sober they probably have to steer clear of alcohol or anything that might lead to alcohol for a long time….. when someone realizes they have a problem with self-righteousness… do they steer clear of the church, of quiet times, of christians and their culture? I think it feels like that is what’s needed for the sake of my inner struggle sometimes. I have an ongoing battle in my heart, one that no one sees and if they were to see one side of it, it wouldn’t look like a problem, it would look respectful and admirable. But I see both sides now… have for some time now. And it’s not pretty.
What used to be a girl who knew all the right things and could say all the right stuff and lived the right way… now is more of a girl who is more skeptical of American Christian culture and wishes she could move to a place where they are just happy to see a bible rather than fighting and shunning those who don’t believe it exactly as they do. It’s REALLY hard to not roll my eyes at things some Believers say, it’s REALLY hard not to want to stand up and scream and say “that’s not what following Him is supposed to be! that’s not what Jesus said or came to do.” But then there’s that same girl wanting to drop names of who I know or the degrees I have or my pedigree…. wanting to be seen and looked up to. It’s really hard to be around and surrounded by Christian culture because whenever I’m around it from the first moment there is a fight going on inside my heart… one side feels so comfortable and very much at home, hungry for what I know I can be and gain from that circle, the other side is uncomfortable and wants to fall on the floor and weep and confess everything I’ve thought that day out loud just so people know the real me and know my real Hope. I feel like I’m both the pharisee and the tax collector…. and usually I’m finding it’s more comfortable and easy and doesn’t require as much energy to be the pharisee in Christian circles.
Sometimes I feel like an addict… a self righteous moralistic addict, but the very triggers I want to avoid (church, other christians, conferences, denomination gatherings, seminary, anything that growing up we were told we needed to do to have a good walk with God) in order to make the fight not as hard are the very things that can bring healing, encouragement, truth, friendship, and accountability. For me, It’s kind of like having an AA meeting in a bar. Challenging yes, but it forces me to keep my focus on what is the real Church, maybe that’s why I’m drawn to churches who meet in buildings that aren’t churches. I think it’s why I like living in neighborhoods where sin and brokenness welcome me as soon as I step outside of my home…. reminding me and holding up a mirror to the sin and brokenness in my own heart and in my own home. (not that I’m saying you have to do those things to see those things… it’s just what helps me.)
I’ve also come to realize that trying to force someone to see the addiction of self-righteousness, moralism, legalism… is probably akin to dragging someone who doesn’t want to stop drinking or sees that they have a problem to an AA meeting. But trust me, those things can fracture a family just as much as a family member being hooked on the bottle. I think it’s easy to think someone who has an issue with alcohol or drugs or other life altering destructive addiction is somehow worse than the addictions we run to but somehow look less harmful. But I’m convinced that the enemy likes it that way. Obedient, pristine, church going, law abiding people… who don’t know their full need of Jesus. What a great life… what a terrible eternity.
Since we are using the illustration of alcoholism… and I do know that it’s a serious problem that hurts families and destroys lives and not to be made little of… but I think what John Piper says about it is truly eye opening, at least it was for me. “Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.” source
The past few years I’ve longed for a day where I don’t feel like I’m still wrestling with my faith and where I belong and what really matters and what truth is the truth I need to be sharing and who are my kindred people and how do I root out religion in my heart yet draw from a rich tradition of knowledge and true wisdom? What authors/speakers do I read and listen to… writers and speakers I once wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot seminary educated pole I now find to be brothers and sisters in Christ who might take different takes on certain areas of the faith. How do I show my children Jesus and train them to be great people but help them fight the desire to just be well behaved on the outside and show them their constant need of Christ? Am I swinging on a pendulum too far the other way? What is being real look like in todays churches? I want to stand up and cheer sometimes and lay down and weep other times… but neither seem to be appropriate in any of the churches I’ve been to lately. I have Christian friends and family praying for me to see the error of my ways and yet those very ways have helped turn this girl who once prided herself in knowing all 5 verses of a hymn without a hymnbook to one who needs those very words to get through her day because my heart forgets and naturally drifts towards the two lies that either I’m one step away from His displeasure or that because of my great deeds He is pleased with me. When will it all just settle down and be this quiet peaceful walk with God and man? When will the wrestling stop? If I’m honest….it might not ever stop.
And I think I’m okay with that. Because in the wrestling I have found abundant life. I have found deep freedom. And I am hungry for more of both.