I have been learning something lately, and it’s probably been the most important lesson of my life. It would have saved me a lot of heartache if I had learned it sooner, but God works in mysterious ways, and I wasn’t ready to learn this lesson yet. I wasn’t ready to give up. Now, emerging into the brave new world of parenthood and daily failures, little and great… I’ve realized the need to let go of the guilt of the sins of the past. But how? It’s not like I haven’t tried to do that before. It’s not like I haven’t tried to forgive myself a thousand times for the mistakes I have made. I’ve known that God has forgiven me, but I being so much “holier”, could not forgive myself. Ridiculous. As if what I think of myself matters more than what God thinks of me.
This lesson has been coming to me in little ways for weeks now. A paragraph in a book. A line in a song. A seminar that I am previewing for a friend. A sermon. Over and over again. Fear God not man. I thought I knew what that meant. I thought it was about other people, and of course had used this to enslave and condemn myself for my people pleasing tendencies. But what about living to please yourself? Even though my desires for myself are to meet some “good” goal of righteousness and closeness with Christ, Satan has turned it into something ugly. When I fall down, which of course as a human I will, I beat myself to a pulp and cannot feel loved by a God so Holy when I cannot even love myself. Sometimes I feel so wretched I don’t even let people love me. I have been filled with contempt and self-hatred for so long. I have seen the pattern of it bubbling up in my life whenever I don’t meet my own standards of living. I have lived in places of extreme self-condemnation, that Jesus never would have wanted me to be. He died so that I would not be in condemnation! I am supposed to be forgiven and set free! But I have not lived like it. (I have condemned myself for that too.) And truly, I didn’t know how.
I guess I had to really give up…to really break down for the Lord to be able to get this message through to me. I have wept tears because I don’t want my daughter to learn from me that punishing yourself is the right way to holiness. I know that I cannot teach her to forgive herself if I cannot forgive myself. When she sins, I want her to run to Jesus and let him forgive her, and for that to be enough.
What I’ve been learning in the past few weeks is that it doesn’t matter what I think. “Fear God not man,” means I am not to fear myself. I am not to put my standards of living above God’s (as if they could somehow be higher and more holy?) I am not to sit in judgment upon my own soul (as if I will be more just than the Holy One). I have no right! It doesn’t matter what others think, and it doesn’t even matter what I think of myself. It only matters what God thinks of me, and if he forgives me, then that should be enough for me! It doesn’t even matter if I forgive myself or not! WHO CARES? The Creator of the entire Universe forgives me. He has pardoned me by giving up his own Son to pay the penalty that I deserved to pay, and instead clothing me with His own Righteousness. All because he loves me. Because I am his Beloved. Why do I argue? If I allow his forgiveness to wash over me, if I stop sitting in judgment upon myself, then I’m sure forgiveness of myself will come as well. But until then, his forgiveness is enough for me.
As this lesson has dawned on me, there has been a new spring in my step. It’s spring outside and the spring in my step feels like true freedom. Not the freedom I thought I had when I was living a “good enough” life. I am free because Christ has made me free. I do not deserve it, it is a gift. And I think if I let Christ preach these truths into my chest with the coming of the morning light each day, then I think I can finally live in the freedom that scripture always talks about. I can accept the gift! I can let go and rejoice that he has removed my sin from me as far as the East is from the West and remembers it no more! I can stop trying to earn my salvation by living up to my own “holy” standards, and instead live a life full of love for Jesus. All the rest will follow.