Unforced Rhythms of Grace–1.1

I mentioned last week the leading I feel to begin to share with you the labor of love I have written over the past year and a half.  It is entitled Room To Move and is a book about spiritual disciplines and how God uses them to make room to move in our lives.  I will be posting excerpts from different chapters.  In some cases you might get most of the chapter and in other cases you may just get little snippets.

What if it was up to me? You know, the connecting-with-God thing. What if it were up to me to be a good Christian? Wait, don’t roll your eyes. I know, you believe in grace and you know it isn’t up to me. Salvation is by faith not by any works. Yada. Yada. Yada. Check. But what about after salvation? Isn’t it up to me to be good then? We know we can’t get ourselves to heaven but can’t we at least make ourselves act right? I mean, we are new creations. The old person is gone, the new has come. Wait…what? So, I’m this new person that loves Jesus and is supposed to be really righteous because my old self is gone. Can I just tell you how I’ve tried to be good and my new creation isn’t doing all that hot? I mean really I’ve tried and not just me. A whole team of people have been at work on this whole godly project. You need to understand, I am the product of a well thought out plan to create a woman who would love Jesus and be “good.”

Before you close the book because you’ve taken one glimpse into your past and realize there was never any such plan and you certainly don’t feel “good”, wait.  Yes, I am the product of a well thought out plan. However, I haven’t revealed what the end product truly looked like.

Go back with me just a few years and see what I’m talking about.

It was 1980 and my poor mother was not getting any sleep. Apparently I was one of those babies. I cried incessantly. According to my mother, she weighed 96 pounds at my first birthday because she never ate or slept due to my constant screaming. (I’ve yet to live down the tales of such horror but don’t worry payback was sweet with my own children.)

My parents moved four times during my first year of life and I remember them telling me stories of visiting churches. They would come to pick me up from the nursery and find me in a separate room because no one knew how to console me. That arrangement, obviously, didn’t work for my parents. They would leave feeling defeated and the next week would visit another church. This continued Sunday after Sunday until they met Mrs. VanWinkle, a nursery worker at a local church they visited one week. From their first visit, Mrs. VanWinkle would carry me on her hip the duration of the service. She loved me despite the insufferable crying. Week after week, Mrs. VanWinkle would patiently care for my precious seven-month-old self. Precious is probably a stretch but I digress. This tenacious and warm-hearted act by an elderly nursery worker solidified my parents’ decision. It wasn’t long until they joined First Baptist Church, Kilgore, Texas and I grew up being nurtured, loved and taught to love Jesus.

I’ve been in church for a long time. My days began with a kind woman named Mrs. VanWinkle and continued as I was taught the stories and memorized the books of the Bible. I went to Training Union, Discipleship Training, GA’s, Children’s Choir, Youth Choir and church camp. Some of you don’t even know what all of those programs are but, trust me, when I tell you they molded the model of a good Christian girl.

Oh…but wait, there’s more.

After high school, I attended a Baptist college and later graduated from seminary. I know stories, I know theology and doctrine. I even know about a relationship with Jesus. I understand the importance of a “quiet time” and have been in enough deep, theological conversations to last me a lifetime.

I know all the right things to do and what to say. I even married a preacher boy from that baptist college and quickly learned how to fall in line as a staff wife. As I look back on my early years in ministry and marriage, it would seem that I had practically hit the trifecta! Most would consider me more than adequately equipped to live the Christian life. I could talk to anyone about how to have a quiet time and I could even lead someone to salvation in Christ.

Do you see it? The orchestrated plan? Are you impressed with my credentials? Please, don’t be. Because what you are assuming is that the product of all those credentials would be a woman who has it easy when it comes to following Jesus—surrendering my will to His is natural and never forced. That assumption would be misguided.

Because what may have started with good intentions quickly became less about God and more about me and what I had accomplished as a Christian. As a season believer and church goer, I was shiny on the outside but the inside (the part only God could see) had become dry and cracked and I wasn’t sure how I had gotten there. I knew there was a time I had experienced God in a more real way.

Church and God became more of a duty than a joy and a relationship. I could put on a happy face but often, I resented the time my husband spent investing in others and nurturing spiritual growth. I didn’t want to do another program at church and pretend to like all these church people.

I wasn’t moving forward in a relationship with God, I was pushing through. I was forcing myself to look “right” and quite frankly, I was getting tired. What might have once been considered a joy, now felt like a burden.

I, like many others in the church, had learned to meet and even exceed the expectations of the church culture. I had learned to look “put-together.” However, in my attempt to look good, I held tightly to control of all the elements that made that facade possible. There was no room for God to change my plan, my position or my pursuits.

I was doing pretty well as far as the American church is concerned. I had religious degrees, saved sex for marriage, and even got paid to talk about Jesus. But my heart was asking “Is there more?” I have heard over and over that Jesus came to give abundant life and give it to the fullest. Yet, I found myself asking, Why am I not experiencing abundant life, the joy, the rest? At some point, the mask fell off and my question became a search for something real. If this God-thing was all I had been taught it was, what was I missing?

I’m certain I’m not the only one asking this question. I’ve been around long enough and gotten real with enough believers to know many of us are asking “If I really chose God would it make any difference?” Because all the trying, all the doing has just left us tired, wondering when the good stuff with Jesus comes in.

“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.” Matthew 11:28-30 from The Message (emphasis added)

I’m taken by those two words, freely and lightly.  I want to live freely and lightly. As an adult with so many responsibilities, so much turmoil, so many uncertainties, (just turn on the 6 o’clock news, you’ll understand what I’m talking about), is free and light a pipe-dream? Does anyone really live freely and lightly?

**Next week we’ll begin to unpack this question and the ache we feel for more.

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