While reading a new devotional book this morning I panicked. The "read between the lines" message was that if God really matters to you, you'll do what it takes to squeeze God time into your schedule and take practical steps to experience his presence. I quickly realized that my life has been a series of well-intentioned-spiritual-goal-failures, and that I am unlikely to benefit from more sheer willpower solutions.
I'm not good at reading the Bible. I can't sit still for five minutes, let alone pray for five minutes. I used to get up at 5am to have devotion time before work, most mornings I fell asleep in my Bible. I tried evenings and didn't feel anything "spiritual," so I figured I was doing it wrong and eventually gave up. (I used to go to a church where emphasis was put on “feeling” God’s presence and it's hard for me to turn that doctrine off).
Much of my relationship with God has involved me working to deserve His love. This also compounds the guilt I feel around God, and why prayer time feels like work to me, not like rest. "Sorry God," is how I end most of my attempts at devotion.
I don't have a lot of time to make either, even if I wanted to. I haven't had extra time for years. I had Gracie in 2010 and Luke in 2011 while Chad often commuted three hours a day and worked nine more. At the time I didn't have a lot of outside help, plus I had postpartum depression and severe fatigue, both times. Then Gracie was diagnosed with cancer and treated for two years. Next year I had walking pneumonia for eight weeks, continual sinus infections, and sinus surgery. Luke had severe asthma and nonstop nightmares. Then Grace’s cancer came back last fall. Needless to say, I haven’t had amazing “devotional time” in these last eight years...if ever.
And so when I read that if I really love God, I'd find a way to make it work...it triggered all my fears I am weak, I am a failure, that God is disappointed in me, that He's a slave driver who just wants more and more. That I am unlovable and unable to show love unless I work harder.
It triggered my fear that pastors and clergy know God better than me and that everything I've learned about God must be untrue if a pastor or "spiritual authority" says so. Or hints so. I still don't understand why I so desperately need a pastor's validation of my faith. It's as if I take their words about me to be God's own approval, and I am devastated when their spiritual formulas don't work for me. I always feel that I am the hot-mess-black-sheep who can't get her act together when everyone else can.
I didn't realize that all this was triggered this morning. All I knew was that I felt the effects as if I had been shot. I bled out anger and fear and self condemnation all over the place today. It wasn't until I was doing the dishes tonight that God revealed to me that this morning's reading triggered my spiritual trauma that isn't fully healed. It was such a huge relief to at least know why I had gone off the deep end. I felt overwhelming peace and acceptance again. And it reminded me of a story I've been wanting to share.
Several years ago I attended a spiritual retreat at my church. Unfortunately the guest speaker not only triggered all my fears, I think he was aiming to kill. He spoke against Christians needing medicine. He thought real Christians prayed, and real Christians had their prayers answered by miracles, because of their prodigious faith in God. Obviously Grace's life had been saved by God giving us access to medicine, but the man said it with such authority that I felt like everything I knew about God was now revealed to be a lie.
He was a spiritual authority. He knew everything. I knew nothing.
I actually had to get up and leave the church in a panic. I went for a walk in the neighborhood, trying to staunch my spiritual wounds without success. I was terrified that somehow I hadn't any faith after all, that I had fooled myself into believing that God could love me. Looking back, I think it was a spiritual attack, because on paper it doesn't make sense. It wasn't a logical conclusion, it was a spiritual overwhelming of darkness and fear. My spirit was being held underwater and I was about to drown.
And then I heard, or rather had a vision, from Jesus.
He reminded me of the scene from Luke 7 and/or Mark 14, when he and his disciples were having dinner with their friend Simon. A woman, possibly Mary Magdalene, pushes her way through the male dominated dinner party to get to Jesus. She breaks open the jar of exceptionally expensive perfume, and anoints him with it.
The men are appalled. A woman and a sinner has touched God. She's a hot mess, crying on his feet and wiping them clean with her hair. Judas says it was a waste, she could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. The men reject her act of worship, reject her faith, reject her.
And this is where I saw the vision. I saw the woman rise to her feet, trembling at their judgement. She's violated cultural and spiritual boundaries to get to Jesus. Those men are the spiritual authorities. They are right. She is wrong. They know everything about God. She is nothing.
I saw Jesus also stand up, reach his arm out and bring the woman to stand behind him, so that he could take on their criticism and protect her from it. He became her shield.
"Leave her alone," he says in the Bible. And in the vision I heard him add, "She belongs to me."
He showed her mercy, though she was a sinner. He validated her simple faith. He chose her, and her faith, over their self righteousness. He saved her from their condemnation and took it on himself. And he did take it on himself. Judas then decided then to betray Jesus because of this scene. He refused to serve a God who couldn't tell the difference between the outcasts and the elite.
Jesus knew that saving her meant losing his own life. But he did. She belonged to him. That's what love does, and he loved her more than he loved his own life. He refused to let any of the spiritually elite take her away from him.
He reminded me of this vision today, and therefore, I am incredibly grateful for my terrible devotion time. I don't have any theological training, no fancy titles or gold stars. I have a lot to learn. I don't do my faith "right." I am a hot mess. A black sheep.