Saturday, November 28, 2009

confessions of a pharisee

I have Thanksgiving pictures to post, crafts to tell you about, and the perfunctory hand turkeys to display.

However, I've been an absolute chicken with my blog. Oh, yes. I play it safe. Don't want to rock the boat.

Have you ever participated in one of those" Words that describe me" emails or facebook things? You send it out, and people have to respond with ONE word, that describes you. Great way to fish for compliments, right? For me it was eye-opening. I received "cautious" or something synonymous quite a few times. This would probably surprise my family and in-laws, as they get the unedited version of me on a daily basis. In "real-life settings," I am very cautious about what I do and say. So much so that I get on my own nerves.

So I'm hoping to branch out, use this not just for a homeschool scrapbook, but also to share and sort my thoughts occasionally. Might as well start with a confession. Good for the soul, right? Okay, here it is:

I've worked very hard for the past 10 years to *redeem* myself. Yep, you read that right. Everything in me knows that I can't do that. God saves by grace alone. I say that with all seriousness and conviction, yet my mind was tacking on "grace, yada yada yada." That couldn't be enough.

So I went to church, got actively involved, taught Sunday School, went to the women's Bible studies (all great things, by the way, but not always motivated by the right desires.) I abstained from alcohol, wore "plain clothes," had my babies and acted like the Christian mommy I was supposed to be. Seriously, a ponytail was my daily hairdo, because it just didn't seem "right" to dress up and priss around when I was now a mommy. All silly notions in retrospect. I let some of them slip early on. After all, I have two very fashion-conscious sisters that wouldn't let me slide too far. Love you, girls.

What happened with my activities was not a redemption, by any means, but rather a Pharisaical standing. I had adopted legalism as a way to live. One day the realization hit me: pride was my plank. I was being "good"; I had turned my life around; I was not doing "bad things." Therefore I was "okay." Or maybe more than okay.

I, I, I... It wasn't about Him anymore. The Light that I had been following had been exchanged with such a faulty and poor substitute somewhere along the way; one flickering and fading bulb hanging over me, offering very little real light to see with. What I could see didn't look too shabby.

My life has been shaking over these past few years. My foundations were/are shaking, as God always shakes that which can be shaken in order to leave behind that which is eternal. There are a lot of eternal things left; but the judgementalism/ legalism/ hypocritical ways are falling away. The truth isn't as hard to share now. I have a testimony that is there, and has never been shared. Why? Because someone could judge me. That doesn't seem so scary any more. Still scary, but not crippling.

I am a black and white thinker. In my mind, things have always stood starkly black or white, wrong or right. I was good as a child. Bad as a teenager. Good as a married wife and mommy. And so forth. The blacks and whites are falling away as well. There are certainly absolutes. No question. Some things are sinful. Period. Some things are truly good, noble, praiseworthy. No doubt. However legalism takes things that are okay and twists them into something bad. Rules and fences get set up where there is supposed to be freedom.

Clearly, it is important for Christians to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. But it is also important not to be so intimidated by "legalism" (the practice of turning Christianity into a system of behavioral rules which are not found in scripture,) that one is no longer free to serve the Lord in whatever way we have been called to serve Him.

And where does legalism start to affect others? The person who holds himself to those unscriptural standards holds others to them as well. My husband was raised in a family that believes in "the rules." You go to church when the church doors are open, you abstain from this and that, people who inter-racially marry are wrong (he no longer believes this, thanks to my sister and her husband...) ...on and on it goes. And they believe that if (when) you mess up, you lose your salvation. It's an odd mix of supposedly believing in grace, but also believing that our works control our eternity; That somehow screwing up in this life, even if accidentally, can remove them from the hand of God.

I'm tired of the games. It's not about any of this. And even if someone is doing something sinful, an absolute no-no... it is still not our place to judge. It's God's and His alone. We can use discernment, try to reach out, vote against what we know to be wrong, but leave the throne to the one who sits there.

An example? How about teen pregnancy, as this is the one I hear about most often, being in Arkansas. Yes, we're up there in the top ten states with teen pregnancy. Way to go, Bible Belt. Sex outside of marriage is wrong. But what do we do when someone comes to the church for help? Judge them? Accept them and help them, doing everything to act Christ-like? Why is it that most teens would be scared to go to the church for help? Why do so many Christian teens end up having abortions? Shouldn't we be a shelter for them? But it's so easy to slip into self-righteousness, even unintentionally. How can we possibly reach people for Christ, when we're on pedestals?

Even those of us who have testimonies to share... can't. Won't. Is the pain self-inflicted, guilt and shame brought on by God, or perhaps from our own brothers and sisters in Christ? Who is more likely to judge you: a Christian or non-Christian? Or, a better question: who do you perceive more likely to judge? We're here to reach the world. How others perceive us DOES matter. Why do so many non-Christians want to stay away? Is what we're offering (eternal life, joy, purpose) unbelievable when surrounded by our attitudes and legalism. Does it seem like just a set of rules to follow? Who wants to give up having a good time, playing Nintendo, watching TV, having a drink, dancing and singing, playing cards (just a few things that some churches think are wrong... and none of these, by the way, are actually sinful.)

One of my favorite books is Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor. Amazing book. Read it, if you haven't. Another interesting one I've read lately is Un-Christian, about how the unsaved world perceives Christians. One of the best: Mere Christianity by CS Lewis.

Just thoughts. Feel free to share. I haven't elaborated much, as I scramble around here and there, but those of you who know me will know what I mean. Feel free to ask, if you are unsure. Please *try* to take things the right way. I'm casting off the cautiousness, in attempt to be real. it's harder for me than you might imagine, so don't strike while the armor is down.


Ms Debbie said...

I think your " real " is closer to what you are than what you realize. I have always seen you as a great earthy mom who desired to do what is right. What is right today.. may not be what is right tomorrow. Today I was uploading pictures of my kiddos for a scrapbook night. I noticed that many pictures two of the children had music instruments in their hands a LOT. I would not have thought that, but the proof is there.. in the pictures. If you need proof of who you are - or are not - go back and look at the pictures you have posted. I see a very creative , spunky, trendy, earthy, giving , loving, wife, daughter, sister , mother and woman of God. Not once- did I see cautious. Glad to be your friend.

Suzanne said...

it's good to get real. there are a lot of us livin' here. and we'll catch you. completely understand

i love you. you can do this. i think you'll be amazed at how cathartic it really is. and how many people need to hear your stories.

i love you!

Becca~TimeWellSpent said...

Very good post. I really connected with this one on many levels. I played that game of FB. One of the words used was amiable. i wasn't sure how to take that.
I have struggled over the years of internally fighting that pull to "do it right" (whatever that means). I am thankfully married to a man who helps keep me a little more balanced than I probably would be without him:)
Good thoughts!

Sun-Kissed Scholars said...

Awww, thanks Debbie!! You haven't seen "cautious" because I'm cautious enough to hide it. :-)

Suzanne, speaking of confessions: I had to look up the word cathartic. ;-) And I l-o-v-e language... it's just not one I put in my vocab apparently.

"How many people need to hear my stories," huh? Well, I know I sure benefit from others. But I still hide.
And I believe that by hiding my history I'm also hiding God's redemption. How can I say "look at the marvelous things HE has done!!!", if no one knows of the pit I was in. Unshared testimonies remove the glory. :-(

Arato Girl said...

I think one of the biggest things judgmental people struggle with is self-condemnation. They judge themselves; they judge others; they get caught up in a pattern of negativity. Happiness gets sucked away (they don’t deserve to be happy anyway, right, and nor does anyone else?) and then black becomes blacker and gray becomes black and all they can see is darkness. That doesn’t seem at all how God intended us to live. I certainly have days like that. But we’re not supposed to even judge ourselves. When we start to examine our own motives, even for the supposedly good and selfless thing we do, we’ll always uncover a tangle of sin and self-interest. God hasn’t perfected us yet. I think it’s good to recognize it, of course, but not to be discouraged by it.

Here’s a pertinent quote from MC, since you mentioned it:

"… a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble--because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out."

It’s such a good point that we’re more likely to feel comfortable sharing the “shady” things about ourselves with non-Christians than with our Christian friends. That really is alarming. It’s like we’re all pretending the wrong things and we’re often afraid of each other. I’m so lucky to have some Christian friends (and family) who know my failings and the dumb things I’ve done and love me no less—perhaps even more.

I really love what you said here:

“legalism takes things that are okay and twists them into something bad. Rules and fences get set up where there is supposed to be freedom.”

I think God wants us to have so much more than we realize.

Vu Ha said...

Wendy, I think you are on the right path. Too often we live a "black & white" existance and our reactions bounce back and forth to extremes and it isn't until we are not afraid to hang out in the middle somewhere that we can truly be happy. Having said that, those FB things are actually pretty silly (hence why I never responded to any of them when I am tagged) because we are complicated creations of God and trying to define someone (or yourself) with one word would be inaccurate and misleading.

Now I could go on and on but I won't but if you want my perspective on some of life's little challenges, you can read some of my older posts on life's philosophies ( that I still live by today and you know I am a happy camper.^_^

Once again, I think you are heading in the right direction and I know you will find hat you are looking for as you keep on that path.

Vu Ha said...

Oh, and I would LOVE to hear someone's support as to why it is sinful for interracial marriages to take place. That would be a real knee-slapper. And if they state that "it is in the Bible" we can have a good long lesson on context.

Arato Girl said...

I’m glad you mentioned that it’s still a problem within the church (some churches) to get judgmental about interracial marriage. People actually still use the argument that our kids “won’t be accepted.” What we need to be eliminating is racial hatred, not interracial children. That’s like saying we shouldn’t plant trees because someone might cut them down. It sickens and saddens me to think that there are people out there—Christians out there—who think God meant that these beautiful children should never have existed.

Sun-Kissed Scholars said...

Ah, Vu, you would have a hay-day with my in-laws. I asked Fred again this evening if his family's stand against interracial marriage was a racist thing or a supposedly biblical thing. He simply responded, "they said it was in the Bible." So very sad.

When kids are brought up to believe that, by parents and their church, they don't always seek out the answers for themselves. Yes, even "Christian" churches can brainwash and misinterpret Scripture to feed their own misguided beliefs. Fred has overcome more than you could imagine.

Does this explain my dread of holiday in-law visits??? Here's where I struggle with judging. They are absolutely wrong to condemn others and twist the Bible for their purposes. But I would also be wrong to hate them for it. So I'm *trying* to live with grace, kindness, and all of those other good things that are missing from their lives. I've also tried to cautiously (yes, there it is) question their reasons... but they like to fight and not listen. So I don't say anything anymore.

Sun-Kissed Scholars said...

And, Ames, you are absolutely right.

I also love that MC quote!!

Vu, I'm getting on your site later tonight. Thanks, guys.

Just what are those Woods up to? said...

Where do I start? I love your post, your desire to not play it cautious and hide the real you. You asked if we thought it was ourselves or other Christians who make us feel like hiding. I think it's both. Like Amy said, I'm blessed to know several Christians who do/would accept the "real me." But I've also had the experience of percieving that others wouldn't, which has made me quite church-shy lately. It's sad, and I hope it won't always be that way for me. I know there are non-judgmental Christians who belong to churches out there (I immediately think of my bible study group), and also I want to BE one of those loving, unjudgemental ones in a church who counteract the hurtfulness of others who are misguided.

I love what you wrote: God always shakes that which can be shaken in order to leave behind that which is eternal. Soo true; you put it into words so well. Today, Adam and I are celebrating 2 years of a re-dedicated marriage. Not many people know that, because it's a scary thing to be honest with people that our marriage was falling apart before that. These past two years, we have realized we can't be perfect, and shouldn't pretend to be. But we can be REAL, and should be. And once we are real, God can(and has) really do wonders in our lives.

I'm proud of you, and your desire not to hide who you are are or who you've been. You just might end up hiding something that could be so helpful to someone else. Anyone who would look down on you probably is wrapped up in hiding their own flaws (like Amy said). I'm glad you won't let them prevent you from showing the real you. God knows the real you and loves you more than any human is capable of--what more do we need?? And on top of that, we know you and love you so much, just like you know everything about me and love me--and it feels so good! I want others to feel that good too; maybe we can help others to stop "hiding" by being real ourselves. The best way sure isn't always the easiest way.

christine said...

Wendy--Where do I even begin?! Fantastic post. I see God living through you on a daily basis. It's a wonderful thing to open yourself up as God leads you on this path called life. Feel free to share whatever you want. And don't worry, there's no judgement here, because we all have junk of our own. :) This is one of my favorite quotes. It may sound a bit harsh to some, but I love the idea of living life in a completely grace-filled way.
"He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust, and he therefore does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more. He overlooks ten thousand of their faults, because he knows that his God overlooks twenty thousand in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature, and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it. " ---Charles Spurgeon

Shan said...

I loved this post as well and actually didn't ever think of you as struggling with this. I have always sort of shared too much and scared people off and am trying to come a little toward the middle from the other direction. :)

One of the main things I wish for in the Christian church is more acceptance. We ALL have hideous flaws or have had at some point. I hate that one person's struggle is so much more taboo than another's. We are sinners each of us. Saved only by grace. There are certainly those dedicated to and achieving more Christ-like behavior and that is wonderful. But those people should be all the more accepting of people who are newer in their faith and try to help without condemnation by mentoring them in their walk with the Lord.

You do seem perfect at times and I know that you strive for Godly perfection, but I also know you have struggles just as every one does. Feel free to voice them and work them out among us. We love and appreciate you Wendy!

Sun-Kissed Scholars said...

Chris, thank you. And I love that quote, too. Yes, we all have junk... but people view some "junk" harsher than others.

Shan, Amen! The Christians that are farther in their walk should be all the more accepting and helpful to those struggling. Often, though, it's the patriarchs that come across as the most condemning.

Perfect at times? Ha. I've heard that before. And it makes me realize just how much I've hidden; just how scared and careful I've been.
People see what they are shown. I show very little.