I had a great conversation with a friend today, that reminded me of a very difficult place in my life. We were talking about how we feel when we have walked off the straight and narrow path. The emotions in that moment, and how hard it is to take the first step back.
In my teen years, I got into some trouble mentally, emotionally, and physically. I had known God and even committed to him earlier in my years, but I had gotten way off track. The moment I realized how off track I had gotten myself, was not a pretty one. I remember feeling the gravity of my sin and my weakness. I felt as heavy as lead. It lay on my shoulders like a million tons. I was so ashamed. The feeling in my gut was unbelievably heartbroken and lost.
I wanted to tell God I was sorry, but it was just so scary. Was He so angry with me, that He didn’t want me to talk to Him? I was too dirty. I couldn’t kneel before Him this way. The stench of sin, that was rotting my soul…rising to Him.
I vividly remember how hard it was to say those first words…Dear God…I’m so sorry. I poured it out for Him. I apologized for every filthy thing I could remember. I cried till I was exhausted, and then I pulled myself up. It was time to rest. Rest in His peace. I had come back home.
I hope my children don’t have to question whether to come back to God, but if they do, I hope I have set an example of unconditional love and charity, that shows them that they can always come home, to their earthly home, and their Heavenly one.
Charity is a hard one. Perhaps the hardest, because it goes against our human instinct. When someone does something wrong, we sometimes point it out, or distance ourselves from them, or even worse…just talk about them behind their back. It’s not good and it’s certainly not God’s way.
As a teenager coming back to church, this was occasionally the reaction. It’s everywhere. In every church. I have had enough conversations to know it’s even common. Charity is not common. It’s an action word. Charity is loving. The verb loving. It’s the way we love our children. We try to help them put their best face forward. It’s preserving their dignity. It’s putting ourselves and even our own comfort below their spiritual need.
If an exotic dancer walked in to your church…what would that look like? Judgmental stares? Avoidance? Someone taking it on themselves to let them know they were dressed inappropriately for your service? I picked this example because “proper church attire” is a topic I heard a lot about when I was growing up.
What if it’s not an exotic dancer? What if it’s a member who has been gone awhile and is already terrified of walking back in? Would they deserve these reprimands and judgements because “They should know better?”
I’m gonna say no. Growing up in a church culture, does not guarantee spiritual advancement. Spiritual growth is a personal decision and with a seeking of a closer personal relationship with God…comes more wisdom. You can’t yank someone to your higher wisdom rung on the ladder. They have to climb themselves.
I’m going to venture to say that the last thing that someone needs when they take the courageous step back to a church crowd… is a scathing critique of their failures, skirt length, cleavage depth, substance problem, tattoos or piercings. Oh yeah…and their spiritual failures, not being clocked in on their punch card at every service, hanging with a bad crowd, and the worst of them all…discouragement.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth
I think for some it would be surprising to know that shame is loud and heavy. They already know. They just made the first baby step back and the reception at the church gates isn’t nearly as warm as they need. It’s not condoning to not say something. It’s patience. Patience and charity. It’s joyfully welcoming the lost sheep back in. We have to allow other peoples spiritual growth to evolve. Walking back in the church doors, doesn’t mean they are where you are. They are experiencing their moment of fear, embarrassment, and bare naked vulnerability. Now is the time to hug. Now is the time to show charity.
No one is too dirty. God wants His children to come home and be washed in the blood of His son, who died for all this filth. God wants us to rejoice like the angels when the lost sheep, the prodigal son…comes home.