We met in a coffee shop (shocking I know). She needed someone to talk to, she couldn’t break free of the tormenting thoughts that kept her in chains. Her past was peppered with sin. Adultery, drunkenness and addiction painted the path she’d traveled. She couldn’t comprehend that forgiveness was possible or that God would even want to embrace such a tainted life. She hadn’t fallen accidentally into this pit, she dove head first ignoring the warning signs and internal voices that whispered and then screamed for her to turn around.
I listened, my heart stricken with grief at the once lively, now broken young woman with empty, hallow eyes that desperately wanted to feel hope again. She had been raised in a good Christian home. Church every Sunday morning and night. She’d heard about God’s love and the stories of Noah, King David and Daniel facing those brutal lions.
But there was a disconnect. Most of what she’d experienced was “religious” in nature and not based on a relationship that changes the heart. Mom and Dad were good people, especially on Sundays, but Jesus was not a part of their everyday life. He comfortably fit into the church building and stayed there. She was told of His love but never experienced it first hand. She pictured Him disappointed and embarrassed by her mistakes in the same way her parents were now.
She’d stopped attending church after the disapproving stares became to painful to bear. This only further ramped up the rhetoric of guilt and shame poured on her by her parents. She felt they were more concerned with their own reputation in the small community than they were in her deep pain and loneliness. Sitting her bottom in a church pew was not what she needed, an authentic engaging relationship with the Father, was the only way she would see hope again.
We talked about how Jesus reached out to the rejected and how He didn’t scorn them but offered acceptance and mercy. Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the lepers, and even the story of the prodigan son are just a few examples of the love that God wants to pour out on each one of us.
She had spent her life thinking that fulfilling her religious obligations (going to church- not missing Sunday nights- reading her Bible) was good enough and was as deep a relationship as God desired with her. She had no idea that He wanted to be a part of her everyday ordinary life.
We talked about many things including the way that God loved her now and wanted her to live inside a relationship with Him. I explained how He wasn’t looking for perfection or some sort of religious performance and that all the theology in the world would never bring her happiness. Her feelings of separation from God were not because she hadn’t done enough or been good enough. God promises never to leave us, never. He loved her, always has and always will. She thought His love was conditional, and when she willingly walked away from what she knew was right, she assumed He abandoned her.
Of course that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10
Did you read that? Don’t skim it, read…His love for us is not based on us loving Him first…but on Him loving us first.
I saw hope spring in her eyes that day. She began a journey of learning to live inside the Father’s love.
Authentic. Not performance based. Merciful. Unconditional. LOVE.
Her religious upbringing couldn’t help her, sadly it relied too heavily on actions without a heart connection. Knowledge about God can be wonderful IF it’s not a replacement for relationship with God.
This verse forever changed my life about 28 years ago, I hope it touches yours today: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matt. 11:28 The Message Bible