Everybody I know is posting and tweeting cheery “Happy New Year!” messages, but this post isn’t for them.
It’s for those of you who are downtrodden and overwhelmed, overcome and out of gas. The holidays are over and now it’s time to tighten the widening belt/get rid of clutter/organize the homeschool room/put up decorations/cook black-eyed peas/begin reading the Bible in a year plan/fillintheblank. Those are all resolutions I’ve seen scrolling across my screen. To tell the truth, I am exhausted. Rather than fill me with excitement about a fresh start, the new year tends to remind me of my past failings to the point where I want to crawl under the covers and not come out until spring.
I hate winter. The appearance of death is everywhere I look. Somewhere down deep where we can’t see, the grass and the trees and hydrangeas and hibiscus are alive, waiting for the day when the sun shines enough to coax new growth out of old, hardened, battle-worn bark. A flicker of life is waiting to emerge. Sometimes I wonder where the little flicker of life inside my own shriveled soul has gone.
Did it bleed out when I thoughtlessly purchased food at the grocery store without really having a plan about what to feed my family, resulting in me throwing out a ton of expired cans of food just days after I participated in an event for the homeless?
Maybe that flicker died out when I was asked deep questions about my faith that I just couldn’t answer, and I suddenly felt bereft, adrift on a lonely island with ground that I thought was rock turned into swirling sand. Did God create Satan? If so, why? Did he create hell? If God knew Eve was going to succumb to Satan, why did he put the tree in the garden in the first place? After all, when my child was young and innocent I did not leave dangerous, deadly items lying around for her to be tempted to use. Yet Jesus assures me that my heavenly Father knows what I need and will provide for all my needs, just as a parent would not give a rock to a child who asks for a fish.
I call my own bluff. There’s a description of me in the Bible, and it isn’t a flattering one. At the end of his life, while waiting impending execution by the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote a second letter to Timothy, who had taken over Paul’s ministry. In referring to the last days, he wrote:
2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these. 6 For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. 7 Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3)
It’s not a very pretty list, is it? Yet there have been times this past year/month/day/hour that I have been a lover of myself and a lover of money and the stuff it can buy. I’ve been boastful about my child and arrogant about my beliefs. I’ve questioned whether or not the writings of Paul should be valued as high as the writings elsewhere in the Bible — questioning which my evangelical friends would probably say makes me a blasphemer. While I’m no longer disobedient to my parents, I am frequently disobedient to others in authority, as happens every time I get in my car and drive five miles an hour over the speed limit.
Rather than being grateful for my blessings and for all that is wonderful and good in our world, I’ve been ungrateful, thinking instead of what I do not have (a life in Florida) rather than what I do (a roof over my head). I had unholy and unloving thoughts towards the man who sat beside me today at the movie theater — he was crunching popcorn in the loudest possible way, making it difficult for me to understand what was being said.
There’s also what feels like an irreconcilable wall thrown up in a relationship that I just don’t know how to scale — and that I don’t know that I want to scale. I’ve spoken slanderous words about people I don’t even know personally — such as certain world leaders who deserve more of my prayers than my derision. My self-control is often absent, especially when it comes to filtering the words that come out of my mouth. Savage? Well, I haven’t gone all Jeffrey Dahlmer or anything, but I have had such intense anger that SAVAGE is an apt description of the cutting words that have slashed my loved ones. And, on occasion, my dogs.
Opposed to what is good. What is good? Depends on who you ask. Is it good to allow governmental agencies access to our every conversation in the name of national security? Is it good to welcome gay people and divorceés and homeless people into the church? Is it good to lend a helping hand to the drug addict? Is it good to shop at Wal-Mart in order to save a little money on the family budget knowing that the people in other countries worked in sweat shops at wages that barely allow them to eat ?
Treacherous and reckless aren’t usually adjectives ascribed to overly cautious me, but some would say my choice to homeschool through high school is both reckless and treacherous. Am I ruining and betraying my daughter by keeping her out of public education?
Conceited. Am I excessively proud of myself? Depends. I’m proud of my writing abilities. I’m proud of my daughter. I’m proud of my husband. And I like my long hair — probably too much. I’d cry if I had to cut it or if it all fell out. But cooking? Absolutely not.
Do I love pleasure more than loving God? Hmmm….I certainly love avoiding pain. What does loving God look like? Am I loving Him through the mundane, praying without ceasing, offering praise in all circumstances? Nope. Not.At.All. Instead I wallow here on the couch curled up with a heating pad for my aching bloat and dreaming about being elsewhere (like, in Florida!) rather than being here smack dab in the middle of cold misery.
Do I maintain the outward appearance of religion? Probably not much anymore. We don’t have a church home. I haven’t been blogging about faith. My thoughts about faith have more to do with questioning these days than answering.
I’m definitely the weak woman who is always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth, running after new ideas, new curriculums, new opinions, new ways of thinking, only to abandon them when the next new idea/curriculum/opinion/way of thinking comes along. I’m coming to realize that I don’t have an independent thought in my head. I parrot things that others say. If I ever write anything profound, you can bet it likely came from someone else.
All this to say that I’m feeling like giving up even before this year has really gotten started. Looking at the long laundry list of my sins is unpleasant and depressing. I know I am saved but I sure do need to start acting like it. If I can figure out what that looks like, I’ll let you know.
In the meantime the flicker of life deep inside me is still there hidden underneath all this dead wood and scaly winter skin. If I didn’t believe in God then I wouldn’t even be stressing over words that Paul — a man — wrote two thousand years ago. I know all this and yet I am still smarting. And then I think of what Jesus — God’s Son (way more worthy of being followed than Paul, IMO) said to those who repent:
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” (Matthew 11)
I need that promised rest but have so many sins wrapped up in who I am as a person that I really have to just repent of being me.
Praying those of us who feel overwhelmed and overworked today at the thought of this coming year will find that rest for our souls that Jesus offers. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather learn from on this introspective day!
3 thoughts on “A Reckoning”
Christie, Thank you for your honest words. I’ve found myself questioning much the last 18 months, and I’ve become somewhat disillusioned with religion that is worn more as an accessory to a seemingly perfect life (we like to keep up appearances!). Winter is hard. But the last 20 years in this northern climate have taught me the unexpected beauty of these dead times. Even a seemingly dead faith, inundated by uncomfortable questions, can become a thing of beauty; it just takes more time than we’re often willing to give it. Never be afraid to question. An honest question offered to God in faith is worth far more than empty religion.
It’s been a long time, but I still love and miss you. Keep your chin up, and thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone during this dead time!
I probably shouldn’t even comment on this at all, but this was just so sad that I have to say something. One of the worst things about religion (in my opinion, of course) is that it puts the focus on how many ways you are sinful, filthy, and hopelessly flawed (by simply being HUMAN, for goodness sakes) instead of how AMAZING you are to just get through the daily crap life throws at you. You are AMAZING because humanity is unique, capable of such ugliness and yet also such beauty and incredible love and hope. You are made of the same stuff as the stars, and that is BEAUTIFUL.
You are MUCH more than a long list of sins and flaws.
(Here is where I just deleted several paragraphs of anti-religion ranting because that isn’t my style. You know that I had the same doubts and questions as you do, in fact even more so, and ended up walking away from Christianity. I am NOT an atheist, I’m more an agnostic who believes there may very well be a God, but He is FAR too big and FAR too complex to fit into our brains in ANY way whatsoever. He definitely wouldn’t fit into a book or a religion and humans have fallen FAR short in trying to make that happen. Those were my conclusions and that was MY path and you have chosen differently, which is absolutely great…I won’t try to push my conclusions onto you, hard as that is for me, so much was deleted!)
But PLEASE consider that a true God of the universe wouldn’t be focused on how horrible you are or require you to be miserable because of some arbitrary list of sins someone came up with along the way. A TRUE God of the universe would probably see you as AMAZING and full of the BEAUTIFUL flaws of humanity. He would not expect you to be better than human, because being human (and capable of both the ugly and brutal yet full of love, hope, and passion) is the POINT! Being focused on perfection is missing half the picture, not to mention sucking any joy out of your brief visit on this wonderful world…and I’m sure He would want you to enjoy the incredible and complex universe He gave you.
Just my two cents and I hope it did not offend you. Much love, regardless. 🙂
Wow, your post resonates with me.We moms are warriors, but were most of us never taught that. The scariest thing I think is, especially with you and me homeschooling, the kids’ eyes catch all the flaws in us, especially as they grow. So we try to prioritize, but, wow. Overwhelming.
I, too am on a similar journey. I know in my head I am the one He chose to redeem…and He chose me before I chose Him. I know that Christ’s work on the cross put it in Satan’s face that he can no longer shame or blame me. Jesus is our Advocate. The thing is, I need time to spend in His word so I can get the head stuff to the heart. You’ll be in my prayers.