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This post is part 12 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page.
When we left the me in my story, I was finishing up my second year of Bible college. During the second semester of that year, God brought Russ and I into a relationship, and I chose not to return to college the following year. Once his training was over we knew there was a big chance of him deploying, and I didn’t want to be stuck in Bible college when that happened, especially as we hoped to marry before he deployed.
I went home for the summer, took a missions trip to Germany, got a part-time job, and threw myself into wedding plans.
As I was searching through my mind and my memories, I came up empty as to what to blog about for this time in my life. Really, for the next two years, nothing really comes to mind about my relationship with God.
There are moments in the wilderness where God provided manna, where water came rushing out of a rock, and where he delivered from sin with redemption.
Then there are moments where I simply wandered aimlessly.
I was still busy. I did life-changing things like dating long-distance for a year, getting married, having a miscarriage, and sending my husband off to war.
And all the God stuff?
It’s sort of like I put it all in a box and set it on the shelf. I pulled the box out on Sundays and Wednesdays when I was supposed to go to church…but even then sometimes I left the box on the shelf at home while I just sat there in the pew daydreaming about my wedding.
When you are trying to figure out how to love a man you can never touch, when you don’t know where you are going to be living after training is done, when you are struggling in finding independence from your parents while submitting to your new husband, when you lose your first child, when you are stuck a thousand miles from family all alone while your husband goes to war…
Stuff like worrying if music has a backbeat, not wearing pants, and watching G-rated movies just doesn’t seem all that darn important anymore.
Life just got a whole lot bigger and scarier. But the God I knew was still small and stuck in the box I created for him with my incomplete understanding of his grace.
One of my readers sent me a personal message last week – and she said this about her experience in the wilderness:
“I feel lost, scared, my good answers don’t fit my real life problems.”
Sister, I so feel ya.
Once I got married in the spring of 2008, we joined a good independent fundamental Baptist church. I really loved the church because Texas fundamentalism was a bit more relaxed than fundamentalism in other areas of the country. I was surrounded with a community of people that understood what I was going through. My husband’s picture was on the wall along with the pictures of about 30 other men from the church who were deployed. I made friends who were military wives and was able to go out for coffee with them and talk about our deployed husbands. We went walking at the park, shopping in Austin, and went to plays and mini-golf. They had me over for tea and invited me to water aerobics.
I was also heavily involved in the music program at the church, playing the piano almost every week and singing monthly. I sang in the choir. I worked in the nursery. I went to Bible study, and I even gave a devotion at a military wife Bible study.
I was cheerful and smiled a lot. I was kind. I served. From all external appearances, I was a good young wife who did good things and must have a pretty good relationship with God.
But there was a pretty major disconnect between my real life and my God.
Because when there were the 3am instant message fights with a depressed husband, when I lay on my bed – alone in the middle of the night – sobbing over the baby I would never hold, when the intense loneliness from an empty one-room apartment threatened to overwhelm me, when I got a horrible stomach flu there was no one there to care for me, when I wondered if I was going crazy because I was carrying on full conversations with a parakeet, when my work schedule exhausted me to the point where I was simply too tired to go to church…God just didn’t seem all that near.
So what did I do?
I watched all 10 seasons of Stargate SG1 – twice.
I watched teenage drama movies like Mean Girls, High School Musical, and Aquamarine.
I ate lots of ice cream.
I went shopping for cute clothes.
I poured myself into my full time job and teaching piano.
I stayed up til 1am watching dumb Youtube videos and taking Facebook quizzes to find out what cartoon character I was.
I stayed busy and tried to ignore the gaping hole in my life where I knew a personal relationship with God was supposed to be.
But the God that I knew just didn’t really seem to fit in that hole anymore.
I wondered if that God who was trapped in my box of legalism would make allowances for skipping church because I had spent most of the night talking to my deployed husband, allowances for staying in pajamas all day and not keeping up with housework, allowances for living out the “secular” teenage experiences I never had through Lindsay Lohan movies and Taylor Swift songs, allowances for daydreaming about homecoming instead of paying attention in church, allowances for wearing a sleeveless dress when my husband came home from war after nine months because I wanted to look “sexy”…
I was pretty sure that he didn’t. But I was too daggone tired and weary to care.
A legalistic view of God makes God small, irrelevant to daily living, and impersonal. <-Tweet This!
We know that the Bible says that “…we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” (Hebrews 4:15)
(And perhaps we can even quote the verse)
But a holy God whose approval we have to earn through our actions is not a sympathetic, empathetic God.
When we are worried that the length of our skirts or the style of our hair is going to offend his holiness, then taking our real-life angers, frustrations, and sorrows to him really seems laughable.
So when that guy dumps you, your baby dies, or your husband of four months leaves you for a war zone – you feel really, really alone in your seething anger, your hurt, your exhaustion, and your loneliness. So you keep it to yourself or try to drown out the feelings of hurt with worldly distractions.
At least that’s what I did.
But that’s not what God wants for his children.
When God says “be touched with the feelings”…it is the Greek word sympatheo, which means this:
1) to be affected with the same feeling as another, to sympathise with
2) to feel for, have compassion on
God feels our humanity. I truly believe that.
And he invites us to bring him our humanity – our human emotions, our human hurts, and our human sins – to his sinless self.
And to bring them BOLDLY. Not shamefully.
He invites us to place our “infirmities” – our weakness, our feebleness, our lack of strength, even our sinfulness – at the feet of his throne, a throne of grace.
And what will he give us? More rules to follow? Fingerpointing at all the areas we have failed and caused our own problems? “Churchy” answers that don’t seem relevant anymore?
Hebrews 4:16 says this:
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
He exchanges our human weaknesses for his mercy and grace…a grace that is sufficient, enough – even when our small, legalistic views of God have ceased to make sense when matched against the mess of our lives.
Dear Reader who is hurting:
I know sometimes you feel like you’ve outgrown the Sunday School God that you grew up learning about in church. I know it seems laughable that God really cares about your real-life problems. I know you may feel totally disconnected from the God of your past.
But I promise you: God is very much still relevant to your messy life. He created your humanity. He truly does love you in all of your human sinfulness and weakness. Take it boldly to his throne of grace…lay it at his feet in all of its sinful ugliness. That’s why the veil was rent. For you…for you to enter and give him everything. <–Tweet this!
Give him your anger. Give him your pain. Give him your worldly desires and lusts. Give him your unanswered questions.
Give him your all…
And accept his mercy and grace in return.
As always, comments are open. Do you ever struggle with feeling that God just isn’t relevant anymore? Do you ever wonder if he cares about your messy life? Have your eyes ever been opened to the futility of legalism because life just got bigger and scarier than all of that? I’d love to hear!
To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.
Next post, part 13: Roses in the dumpster: seeing God in everyday life