Is That All?
Years ago, I participated in a group therapy session over the course of a weekend retreat I attended. We'd been encouraged to be honest and open in our sharing, and to know that we were in a safe space to do so.
There was one young woman who had been silent the entire time, but who finally spoke up, and said:
"I have been carrying around a secret that no one in my life knows. No one knows this about me... not my family... not my friends... no one. And I am ashamed of it. I know that you all will judge me if I tell you, but for some reason I just feel like I need to hear myself say it."
Then she told us.
And then she stood there trembling with tears running down her face, her eyes downcast... waiting for the response. At last an older lady in the group chuckled a low, deep chuckle.
"Is that all, honey? Hell, I've got secrets of my own that make that look like nothing." She stood up, walked over and took the young woman in her arms. The young woman sobbed, and sobbed, overwhelmed by the grace.
Sometimes I think we believe God is overly upset by our transgressions---that God registers shock on God's face over the things we've done.
Because when we look at ourselves and see brokenness, darkness of soul, mistakes and all the ways we have fallen short of the glory... we judge ourselves, we imagine that we are too messed up for grace.
And we imagine that God thinks just like we do.
I read this poem not too long ago by the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly. Forgive the bit of a curse word in it, but I honestly don't feel like taking it out... it's necessary:
Now that I think of it
I suspect my creator
May well be amused
By my sin.
God smiles in the pleasant morning
Frowns in the storm
And if he ever noticed my sin
He was probably touched by its
Smallness, like a little bitchy insult
In a lost conversation.
I loved this poem so much when I read it, and I've been waiting for a moment of inspiration so I could write about it.
It has this twinkle-in-your-eye, tongue-in-cheek way of expressing our desire to reduce the absolute magnitude of God, which is beyond our imagination and larger than our comprehension down to the role of a peevish magistrate.
That's a fairly awesome and very Irish way of looking at it, to be fair. But there's also an ancient Hebrew poem that does something similar, only with a bit more eloquence. It's found in Psalm 103:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our mistakes and failures deserve
or repay us according to the ways we fall short of glory.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who revere him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
This Psalm came to my mind this morning because I remembered including it fairly often in the liturgy of worship services I've led in the past. We would call that part of the service the "Assurance of Pardon."
All of those painful things you've been holding on to...
All of the mistakes...
All of the ways you fell short...
All of the things you've done to wound others...
All of your brokenness and frailty...
They've been removed as far as the east is from the west... forgotten... forgiven... not remembered or called to mind by a God who looks upon you and does not see you as broken, messed up, lost or not worth saving.
This God looks upon you and sees you as beloved.
And this God... the Creator, the Sustainer, the All-in all... this God chuckles when you speak your dread secrets---the ones you have been holding on to... the ones that have filled your heart with sorrow and chased away your light...
Then this God walks over to you, pulls you tightly into a divine, mama-bear embrace, and says...
"Is that all, honey...? Is that all?"
May you feel this forgiveness wash over you like warm, Spring rain. May you be set free from the weight of your own expectations.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.