Monday, May 6, 2013

Taking on the yoke of Christ and removing my heavy load

I have so many heavy, heavy burdens on my heart today. I feel strongly that I need to share some of the thoughts I am processing.

For the past several years Paul and I have (unfortunately) gone from one extreme to the other in many areas of our theology. This happens to most of us from time to time. I acknowledge that we have been double-minded and that we are always seeking to find more middle ground. More balance. Paul and I have a heart for being authentic even when it hurts. We want to lay ourselves before others so that we might save them from making some of our mistakes. Or, if you have already made the same mistakes, we want to pull you out of the mire. BUT, one of the problems with this earnest sharing is... you, my dear followers. My heart aches for those of you who have followed us in to legalism.

What do I mean by legalism? Heaping burdens upon mens' backs that God has not required. I have written so much through the years that I later removed, for fear that it might lead someone away from God Himself and into a set of rules.

You see, I am a person who needs to feel gratification. I am performance driven. I am performance oriented. Grade me. Evaluate me. Give me a stiff set of rules to keep. But, whatever you do, don't be vague and "grey."

Christianity has many black and white areas. There are other areas that are more grey. And, instead of learning charity (with myself), I thought that I needed to know everything. Right now.

Over the past five years we have run straight into the camp of others who were heaping loads upon mens' backs that Jesus does not require.

I need to clarify - I am not calling anyone of you a legalist. I do not know your heart. I only know mine... and that only in part. Sometimes my own heart deceives me. Paul and I thought at every turn that our pursuit for holiness was pleasing the Lord. And, the part of me that yells "Grade me!" felt gratified. I felt like I could check off every possible item on the list of holiness that God was setting on my desk.

But, there was something missing on that list. Faith. We were missing the faith that believed that God's work was sufficient for our salvation. Jesus' blood was all we needed. Jesus makes us holy. We need to try to live in a way that pleases the Lord and honors Him - of course! Grace is never an excuse for sin! But, we do not have to have all the answers in one day, one year, or one decade. Growth takes a lifetime.

So, why am I dredging all of this up again? Now? Well, new patches of dead, barren ground (my heart) keep being exposed when rocks are flipped over. Forgive my metaphor. Other issues keep coming up and exposing the areas where I am still struggling.

But, where did this all begin? What are the roots of my own legalistic journey? That's easy. In 2006, Paul stumbled upon a forum on the internet that disputed all kinds of issues. This forum was not open to public comments. I think (unfortunately) that Paul and I thought we were special that we could get "in." That forum did not encourage us to love and good works. At all. It encouraged us to wrangle with each other with words. It propelled us into searching out ideas that are not on the radar of the "average" Christian. It did not fan a flame to share the Gospel with the lost. It made us feel stupid and unintelligent that we were not as learned as these other men and women.
In all honesty, there are some good posts on that forum. Some. I did not dwell on those. I was caught up in every little topic that would make me feel like I could measure and evaluate my growth and feel gratified. I was focused on the posts that made me feel like I had "arrived."
In case you know of what forum I am speaking, even though I intentionally left off the name: We know the owner of the forum. We went to his church in real life. Paul worked for him in real life. We moved across the nation to be with this man in real life. He loves the Lord. This is not an attack on that forum owner's character. We love him. We pray for him. I know that the intent of his heart is not to lead people into legalism. His heart is to teach. His heart is to see others sharpen one another. But, the forum can start people down an ugly path, if they - like me - are performance driven.

Also in 2006, we were introduced to the writings of certain prominent conservative Christian authors (I erased their names, because I am not meaning to "attack" any one person, couple, church, etc.) I read as many of these books as I could as quickly as I could. This marks a turning point in my life. I do not have the books now to re-read them and see if they are "legalistic," or if it was just the way I read and received them. Do you see the difference? I am not saying that these authors are "bad." Because I just can't be sure.
BUT, when I read their books I got wrapped up in being the perfect wife and mother. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. I wanted to be the perfect pastor's wife. Load upon load upon load piling up on my back.

Another thought - and I truly do not mean to offend, but this is what I see - Legalism will not work if you live away from others that share your belief system. Legalism only works in a group setting. (Of course, I admit, all belief systems work best in a group setting!)

But for me, personally, I was feeling pressured to keep my children in the worship service and be family integrated when no one else was practicing this idea. No one understood me. Paul was preaching. I had three children under the age of four, then four children under the age of five. I was alone. And exhausted.
Homeschooling - same situation.
Having as many children as the Lord gave us - same situation.
Modest dress - same situation.
What I saw as healthy lifestyle changes - same situation.
We were alone and without aid.
(Again, I am NOT saying that all of these ideas are "legalistic." Paul and I still practice many of these ideals, but NOT because we think it will save us, or give us more brownie points on a cosmic scale. God is not grading me. My report card is covered by the blood of Jesus. My mistakes. My insufficiencies. Covered by the blood of Jesus.)

So, here I was reading these books that made me enter into years of bondage of placing myself under UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS and without the aid of anyone "like-minded." I fell apart. I was depressed. I was miserable. I wanted to die. I hated life. I hated my family. Yet, all the while I thought that these intellectuals in the books I read and the forum I was on, were the ones who had it all figured out. They were trying to help me have a more holy life.

Friends - do not let someone else pressure you in to how to live. Not me. Not Facebook. No one. The Holy Spirit will teach you through the Word of God how you should act. Other books might help make sense of the meaning of texts of the Bible. Then again, maybe they won't.

I am NOT angry as I type this. I am NOT bitter. I am sad. I am earnestly trying to save others from losing God in the midst of chasing rabbits. I am trying to lower the bar of what you think God expects, so that you don't kill yourself (and the little ones running behind you) as you jump impossible hurdles and fling yourself (with little ones behind you) through imaginary hoops. I am trying to prevent other legalistic families from suffering, falling apart, or experiencing the tragedy of divorce, abandonment, death, murder, or suicide. (The Lord brought me out before I hurt anyone else or my own self. Others are not so fortunate. My heart aches for the families with mommies or daddies who "snapped" under pressure and made a life-changing mistake. Oh, my dears. If my vulnerability can prevent any such incident, I would gladly bear my whole heart. If you are weary to the point of leaving your family or killing yourself - get help, dear one. You are precious to me and precious to the Father. If you have no one else to talk to, you may email me. God loves you, Friend! He has plans for your future! What Satan means for evil, God means for good! You have friends. I am your friend. You can trust me with your pain. I understand. I write this post from my own former agony. There is hope, Friend. Grab hold of it and hang on for dear life!)

Ladies, I am not trying to add to confusion. I do not want to be another voice adding to the chaos around you. I want to be one who comes along and begins to unstrap the unnecessary burdens off your back. I am not saying "drop everything," because that too would be folly.

Mothers, God does require us to try our best to raise God-honoring, God-fearing children. But, it is not all black and white. God does require women to be modest, but it is not all black and white. God does say to be holy, and live in a manner worthy of our calling. Some areas are clearer than others.

Let's give each other grace. We may read different Bible translations. We may dress differently. We may go to different types of worship gatherings. We may choose to educate our children differently. We are all on a journey and NONE of us is perfect. But, if we are believers, we ARE all holy. Jesus Himself has become our holiness. He took our sin. We took His righteousness. Let's be careful of what we try to talk others into doing (or not doing!) in the name of the Lord. Teach in love. Teach with mercy. Teach and lead by example. And, mothers, be ever attentive to the fact that there are little ones chasing after you. Do you want them to do what you are doing? Or, knowing that children often take what we do (or don't do) and blow it WAY out of proportion, do you want them taking your behavior and blowing it up?

Let's be loving, our kids can mimic that. Let's show mercy, we want our kids to catch that. Let's show moderation, forgiveness, understanding, patience, etc.

Pray and ask the Lord to show you if you have un-intentionally heaped burdens on your back (and your childrens'). You can unload them now at the feet of Jesus... and then try not to pick more up along the way... and so on. God will give you wisdom when you ask for it. God wants to heal your heart. He wants you to learn to see yourself as He sees you - through the blood of Jesus. He wants you to keep moving forward and press on to the goal. He wants you to be Christ-like. He wants you to be conformed to Christ. Ask the Lord to show you what He wants from you. Your best answers will be found on the pages of Scripture. Not on a blog. Not in a book. Those may help, but only if they point back to the Lord.

Pray hard and press on.


Bean said...

WOW - A MOST EXCELLENT POST, and I just love this part you wrote"

"Let's give each other grace. We may read different Bible translations. We may dress differently. We may go to different types of worship gatherings. We may choose to educate our children differently. We are all on a journey and NONE of us is perfect. But, if we are believers, we ARE all holy. Jesus Himself has become our holiness. He took our sin. We took His righteousness."

I have come to the a similar conclusion. God looks at our heart, not at our clothing, our denomination, or our ability to follow tons of man made laws.

This is one of your best posts!

Blessings to you,


MamaHen said...

Wonderful post Bethany! At one time I tended to swing towards legalism and then I was freed of that and then started swinging toward liberatism (I think that is the word-knowingly taking advantage of His grace and and making a mockery of it.) Hard words, but it is true. I think we will always struggle with something, but it always has to come back to JESUS and what He did on the Cross and His Resurrection.