I spent most of my life as a judgmental, narrow-minded, self-righteous person. My beliefs led me to feel that I had a corner on truth which, sadly, the rest of this benighted world did not understand. I would sanctimoniously make sure that my doctrine was correct, while my attitude ate away at my relationships with those different from myself.
To all of you who were, at one time or another, hurt by this attitude in my life, I offer a sincere apology.
Recently, I have been considering how one’s belief system informs one’s life. And I realized that no matter how many tight logical arguments you can use to back up your views, if your life is not like Christ’s there’s something wrong.
I used to spend so much of my time obsessing over being entirely correct that I became very self-focused. I held myself to impossible standards that I or others in my life had invented, and spent hours yelling at myself in frustration when I failed to live up to those standards. Although I labeled some parts of my system “grace,” there was no grace present. Every time I messed up my own invented standards, I begged God to forgive me and hastily promised to do better, burdened by the nagging fear that if I didn’t grovel enough or beg quickly enough, I would be forever damned. Although I said I was grateful for God’s unconditional love, I pictured it as a love which was withheld when I messed up, a love which God bestowed grudgingly, rolling His eyes at my weakness and wondering how many more times He would have to deal with my sinful ways.
And the entire time, I was totally obsessed with my own behavior, my own thoughts, every second of every day. When my focus was entirely on my own behavior, whatever that behavior was, it was actually very difficult to spend time doing things Jesus says to do, like loving other people or not worrying or being at peace in Him.
Jesus said once that “by their fruits you shall know them.” So I don’t care how long a history some doctrine has, or how many logical arguments you can use to pull it out of a handful of Scripture verses, if holding to this belief makes me an ungodly perfectionist, it’s not right. Or maybe, I'm not right.
As I have grown and learned more, I have started to believe in God’s love. I mean a real love, a love that is all-embracing and radical. A love that isn’t withheld or bestowed grudgingly. A love that I only missed out on because I didn’t choose to accept it. I used to be too busy judging myself and other people to really believe that unconditional love could exist.
And once I understood God’s love and the way that He wants this world to be, I began to let go of my self-obsession. I do enjoy exploring my own talents and abilities, but I also love those times when I get an opportunity to be a conduit: to spread even just a little love or joy or peace into this world, the love and joy and peace that I’ve received from God.
I remember once when I was very young, my dad was talking to me about the importance of “getting saved” as soon as possible because I didn’t know if I would be alive tomorrow or if I would have said no to Jesus one too many times. I’m a little scared, now, wondering what would be in any parent’s mind that would prompt them to frighten their child into salvation like that. But at the time I pictured Jesus standing at a door that He was closing, and I was practically hysterical praying that He would let me in before He closed the door all the way. And He kept closing it, because He was skeptical of whether I was really sincere. I could see the disappointment in His eyes that I wasn’t taking Him seriously enough. I was actually crying by that point out of pure desperation, wondering what combination of words would make Jesus want to let me in that door instead of closing it.
Now I see Jesus the way the Bible describes Him – taking on humanity, walking down dusty streets touching the sick and the broken, dying with his arms outstretched to receive everyone, even me, because He loves that much. And I see Him as John pictures Him, partway through His life: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.’” He is standing in the busiest city of his nation, on the day when pilgrims have packed the city for a religious festival, and he is crying out at the top of His voice for everyone, everyone to come to Him. He would never shut a door in my face, and when I construct doors and walls, He knocks and calls my name, begging for me to let Him in.
And if I believe in this Jesus, there is no way I can stop the love of people, the love of life, the joy that is inside from overflowing.
And so this is why, even though I no longer cling tightly to every doctrinal particular I used to believe, I am more in love with Jesus than I ever used to be.