Let me tell you a story. My story. I grew up in a conservative, Swedish Baptist church in Minnesota. We were into minimalism before it was cool, and sang songs out of hymnals. We loved order, intellectualism and avoided chaos-- especially when it came to the messy parts of life and faith. We didn't like disorder, we didn't know what to do with it. At least I didn't. I made my life mission being right. I loved knowing all the answers, I was that annoying kid who raised their hand during Sunday school to correct others, I was pedantic, and self-important-- like Hermione Granger but without the cheeky, sweet side. I grew up into an adult who followed rules meticulously and was hounded by a deep seated fear of being "wrong". By the time I was 22 I was depressed, unable to avoid my over-active conscience, and someone who saw faith as a list of rules that I wasn't sure if I was quite following. Underneath it all I hated faith, I felt choked, stifled, suffocated under the weight of my own holiness. I poked holes in other people's theology because it made me feel right. And I desperately needed to be right. I didn't want faith but I was too scared to leave. So I stayed and hoped it would somehow get better.
This is a common story. I'm sure you've heard it before-- maybe you're even living it. I think it's what happens when we miss the forest of freedom that comes with believing in Jesus for the tree of self-righteousness and theology.
Jesus' message is much more inclusive and beautiful than the one I was chasing. When he hung on the cross he didn't turn to the thief hanging next to him, asking for mercy, to recite catechism or if he believed in predestination or free will. He didn't ask him about his beliefs on skirt lengths, or sexuality, or drinking alcohol, or whether or not he had any tattoos.
He didn't ask him anything, he just told him that he'd see him on the other side of this life, plain and simple.
I remember one tearful phone call with my mom, where I was "confessing" how I had screwed up, again. And finally in exasperation she said "I wish you'd break the rules so you could realize how much grace and love God has for you! There is an ocean of grace waiting for you to swim in."
So I started breaking my own rules and asked God what he thought about them. Never did I ever find he was angry with me. I began to find freedom when I realized I had made up most of my religion, not God. I watched chains fall off my heart when I realized He cares more about me than even I do.
If you don't feel free right now then you don't believe the message of Jesus.
If you don't feel loved then you've missed the point of the Bible.
If you don't see your heart changing to love God instead of fear his wrath, then you haven't really met him.
These days when I watch Christians get in online debates, or lose their minds when another Christian's theology doesn't exactly mirror their own I know they can't feel free. Only caged people try to cage others. Only people who feel judged try to judge others.
Loved people love others.
Forgiven people forgive others.
People who have required the benefit of the doubt extend that same grace to others.
I'm not sure what your faith looks like. But if you're choking know you can breathe again-- just so long as you let go of your own throat.
He's there, trying to gently pry one finger off your neck at a time, looking in your eyes and saying "I'm better. I'm better. I'm better."
I'm already bracing myself for people to read this and breathe in sharply, shake their head and tell me I've let grace go too far. But if I'm going to get it wrong, I'd rather be wrong loving people too much. If I'm going to get it wrong, I'd rather extend too much grace. Because you know who else was accused of showing too much mercy? Jesus. And he is infinitely better.
Disclaimer: don't hear me saying "Go defy Jesus' words in the Bible, it'll be fine." I just found in my own life that there was a lot of baggage and nonsense I had unnecessarily strapped onto my faith that Jesus never mentions and the weight of THAT crushed me. So if you feel like Jesus' yoke isn't easy and his burden isn't light, maybe it's time to reexamine what you're carrying.