Apr 6, 2012

Understanding Easter and the Resurrection

I promised a post on what Tone and I have been learning and working on lately.  While I can't speak for Tone as that's his own story (and quite a good one), I can share what I have been learning about marriage, being a mommy, and living for my Savior.  
This is personal.  Deeply so.  And it deserves a long post to explain. This has been my struggle for the last ten years of marriage and it's only in the last few years have I started to understand and feel liberated from a tremendous weight I have been carrying. The last two years it has especially been on the forefront of my thoughts and walk with the Lord and my life is changing. When Tone and I got married almost ten years ago, we had no idea marriage was a purifying agent.  Lately, Tone and I have been hearing the phrase a lot, "what if marriage  was to make you holy, not happy"?  We wholeheartedly agree after much soul searching through the years.
Instead of grasping at happiness as selfish people asking what marriage can get me, we are seeking to learn how to love and serve each other and it has brought far more than happiness.  It has brought refiner's fire on our heads, it's been painful, and it has brought a great deal of joy and satisfaction.  Confused?  I had been too. That really doesn't sound like what I signed up for?  Yeah I know. I'll start at the beginning. 
I should start by saying that in my life, I felt my self-worth came by how "good" I could be. I should also start by saying that most of my married life I have struggled with the unrelenting, nagging voice that tells me, "You are failing at this wife and mother stuff.  You play a good game, but it a big charade.  If you were better, the house would stay cleaner and uncluttered, the kids would be better behaved, your family would eat more nutritiously, you would stop sleeping in, you would have better control over finances, you would be a better hostess, you would have a better attitude, you wouldn't get so overwhelmed, you would be better organized, you would be on time..." and the cycle of self doubt would continue as I read Christian books that were supposed to "help" me in all these areas, but each chapter left me feeling like I was coming up so short. I felt like the hamster on the little wheel who worked harder and harder to no avail.  The voices and feeling of defeat would NOT go away.

Feeling my frustration at times, Tone would look at me sadly and ask, "Who are you measuring yourself up to, Baby?  Show me the verse where you have to do all these things?"
I would mumble something about all these studies, speakers, and books I'd read or heard directed at people like me. They always seemed to have plenty of verses to back up why I should be doing quite a bit better in each area. I could always find someone else who was and willing to impart their wisdom. I'm sure they were all well-meaning, but the Christian community wasn't doing anything to help my feelings of defeat at all times.  But perhaps it just my perception as I was blinded by "perfection sickness".  I thought, I DO love God, I know without a doubt He saved me, and I just want to show it and please Him.  Why isn't this easier?  Sometimes I would pull up my boot straps, suck it up and make a grand run for about a week or two, which would inevitably, every single time, send me to bed with the flu by the end.  I would burn myself out from sheer exhaustion.  Friends and family were encouraging.  Apparently, everyone thought I was doing a great job except me.  I knew the real picture of what the fly on the wall sees everyday, and I always came up short of where I thought the bar should be.
You see, I did not grasp the power of the resurrection, and in my mind, I was unknowingly stopping at Jesus's death.  Easter this year has far more significance for me than it ever has.  I had always defined myself as a sinner saved by grace.  And that's stopping at the Cross without making it to the empty tomb.  Hang with me here.  I know that phrase is everywhere, but I think it's actually not telling the full picture, and if you stop there, you are telling a false story because there is so much more.  Sin brought the law of death on my head.  I couldn't ever measure up.  Not then, not now.  But by Christ's death, He put an end to the law of death which barred our way to Him.  That part I understood. I get it. I am saved by grace. I can't measure up. I am no longer punished and have access to God and He loves me.  But if that's all I've understood, that I'm just a sinner saved, then I have missed the most significant part of the whole Easter story.  I miss the part where I'm a saint.
You see, not only did Christ die and abolish the punishment of death that I deserve, He also made a new beginning of life for me.  A life I was not seizing and not even understanding that it was available to me.  I was still attempting to live on my own power and strength, that would never ever measure up on any level.  Shamefully, I never understood why Jesus didn't go straight to heaven after the cross and I always kind of wondered.  I mean, He did what He came to do and abolished sin and made a way for us. I thought the cross was the main point. What point was the resurrection except to show He was God? I conceded that was a good reason, otherwise, how could He show that He wasn't just a man? I didn't realize what it should meant to me personally except that it was "proof" that He was God. 

Oh, it's so much more! You see, the same body that was killed, was brought to life.  In identifying with us in His own body, we likewise are also given new life. By giving the hope of the resurrection, Jesus destroyed death itself, and all the power that went into raising Jesus from the dead is now available to me.  Yes.  ME!  I have a new title.  It's not "sinner" anymore. That part died with Christ all those years ago. It's "saint".    Holy Moly Cow.  I truly don't feel like I deserve a title like that.  I mean look at me and this crazy life I lead.  With respect to my Catholic friends, the Bible refers to a saint as anyone whom Christ indwells. It is not about Jesus being separate from us and us working ourselves closer to Him (and falsely believing those who really do the best at this are the only saints), but rather it is Jesus is in us that makes me a saint.  He is the only way we can have the power to live as Saints.  Now I knew Jesus was in me, and it was by His power in my weakness, but honestly, I had no idea how that worked or how to tap into it.  I honestly thought being good should just get easier because He was living inside and with me now, and instead, it really wasn't.  I just knew of a high standard because I was a Christian, and getting there seemed unattainable.
(Sidenote:  This is on our way home from church.  Yes, he did sneak those sunglasses into his Sunday school class and wore them all through church.  Told ya I'm not the world's best mom.)

Did you know "in Christ" and "in the Lord" occurs 164 times in Paul's epistles?  I think that means it's super important.  
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come." 2 Cor. 5:17

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." Galatians 2:19-20
  
James Bryan Smith says in his book, "The Good and Beautiful God" that "When I hear a Christian say, 'I'm just a sinner saved by grace', I want to say, 'That makes as much sense as saying, "I'm just a worm with wings."'"  He was referring to the butterfly which some use to show the complete life change a Christian goes through.

He then says later, "Because I am now a new person, a new creation, I also must live a new way." 
(This was the part I understood, but unfortunately I was not much farther in my Christian walk.  Luckily, Dr, Smith keeps writing) 
 "As one indwelt by Jesus, I can now live as Jesus did: in utter dependence on God, in a deep and intimate relationship with Him, fully relying on God - not my willpower - to live the Christian life."
And here's a verse for ya:
"Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5

So reading that all these years, I thought, "Well, I'm a Christian, so God lives in me, so that must mean if I fight hard enough, I can measure up.  I mean, sure, I'll never be perfect, because I'm still a sinner, but I should be able to get better at things, right?  God's gunna help me with this."  I am a bit ashamed to say that I never understood how that would work out.  Thus began the "try hard, do good, fail again" cycle.  I felt like the greatest of hypocrites.  
So if the key is to abide, then how does one go about doing that?  Thankfully, I'm starting to get an inkling and it's so liberating.  I know finally what Jesus meant when He said, "My burden is easy, my yoke is light."
Lest I mess this up, I think I'm going to quote a little bit more from Dr. Smith's book because he nails it. He starts by quoting another book by James Stewert, "A Man in Christ".
"Christ in me means something quite different from the weight of an impossible ideal...Christ in me means Christ bearing me along from within, Christ the motivating power that carries me on, Christ giving my whole life a wonderful poise and lift, and turning every burden into wings...not as something you have to bear but as something by which you are borne."

We certainly can and do sin as Christians. But it no longer has a hold and power over me. This actually is what confused me.  If it no longer has a hold over me, why do I still feel defeated all the time? You see, I will still make wrong choices and I am free to make my choices and choose my priorities.  But I am free. I am no longer under an impossible set of rules and they don't define whether I am good mother or wife or sister or friend.  I am no longer defined as a sinner. I rediscovered this verse in Romans this last month, and I was so astounded it took my breathe away.  Listen:
"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Romans 8:11

Oh my goodness.  Did you catch that?  The very same power that physically brought Jesus back from the dead, is the very same power that resides in us every single day.  

"So then brethren, we are under no obligation, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh." Romans 8:12.
That life of being enslaved to a list of rules and do and don'ts has been broken with the resurrection.  It has no power over me any more.  The spiritual life is not a life of laws and precepts but a life of participation, affection and love, a life of mingling and mixing with God.  This is what it means to abide, and apart from that I can do absolutely nothing.
The more I dig into my Bible, the more I know without a doubt that God is good, holy, and loving.  He is all those things.  When I reside in this knowlege, soak it up everyday and roll around in it and percolate in it, His love just sort of streams out of me.  I struggled to be perfect and rolled around in a deep sense of failure.  Tone would ask me, "Well, what exactly IS that bar that you are measuring yourself up to?  What would that look like?"  I could never say, but I just knew I wasn't hitting it. I have now discovered that my glory is not in what I do, but in who I am.  I am a new creation, a child of God.
Henri Nouwen writes:
"The question is not: How many people take you seriously?  How much are you going to accomplish?  Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus?...In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God; a heart that forgives, cares, reaches out and wants to heal."

I never before understood how God's strength was perfected in weakness.  It just seemed like my weaknesses were keeping a tighter stronghold on me.  How was God going to use that?  Well, you see as I fall in love with God and His love fills me up so much that it spills over, then for example, I can be more loving to my children.  Which then has nothing to do with me and my tendencies to yell at them.  When I yell,  you know what that means?  I need more of God's love.  More time with Him.  More reflection and prayer and meditation.  Only He can erradicate those things in my life by replacing them with His thoughts, His love, His goodness.  It also doesn't mean I am a failure, that I don't measure up.  It means I am simply a work in progress as He transforms me day by day.
So how does this play out in my daily life now?  How does this look now that I am free?  What does a new life walking as one who has the very Spirit of God walking around in them look like?

For one thing, I take life slower.  I sit outside on my back porch and read my Bible and sit and think and soak up life lessons that busy-ness doesn't let me hear. I have taken room for God to soak into my life by letting there be time for a still quiet voice.  

I also realize that daily choices are made out love for God and others and not a set of rules.  When I fall in love with my beautiful, good and loving God, I see everyone around me in that light.  For example, that means if I make a choice to play with my kids, I realize that a loving choice was made and the former "rule" that dishes should get done no longer holds me in a feeling of a lose/lose situation by picking one over the other.  When I make a choice to discipline my children, rather than yell at them, I am doing much better at loving. When I do yell at them, I don't feel defeated.  Yelling doesn't define me as a terrible mother.  I know that walking with God has peaks and valleys and some days are down in the valley but I'm still a child of the King who is teaching me His ways.  Because I walk humbly submitted to God and am washed in His love, I can submit when I yell immediately and apologize to my children.  I no longer have to be right and perfect and defensive.  I also can make decisions that may be different than someone else's and not have to defend them. If they are made out of love for others and line up with what God is showing me, then I'm OK.  I can be soft.  I can be weak.  I can be brave because He is shining through all of that.  Perfectionism is gone, and a heart humbled before the throne is the one I yearn to have. 

Sometimes I caught this is the last few years.  I certainly would have said that I knew I was a child of God and that I wanted a humble heart. I certainly had a heart that bleed for others. I wanted to serve only an audience of one.  I begged God to help me do better.  I knew I was weak.  But it was like having the puzzle pieces and no finished puzzle.  I just couldn't connect those dots to see how doing better was actually pointless.  Doing better just meant I was trying harder.  The great paradox to me is this:  The less I try and the more I just desire to know God's love and show it to those around me and bask the in the beauty of His love and holiness and perfect goodness, the better all those other things get.  I have a lesser desire to yell.  I enjoy cleaning the kitchen because my husband likes coming home to a clean house.  I am more willing to be a little late rather than flip out because a child can't find his shoes and my heart goes from peaceful to frantic and angry in about .25 seconds.  I lovingly cut my son's hair into a faux-hawk because I know in the grand scheme of things, the conservative might judge me, but I really don't care because my son was so delighted with it and it was loving to him.  I am free from feeling judged.

Easter is amazing this year.  I finally get the power of the resurrection.  I have partly kept myself in that tomb, beating myself up for being a sinner, when all I had to do was look up and hear, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He is risen." Luke 24: 5-6  All I have to do is seek Him as the living One.   The One who walks with me.  So I'm not stopping at the cross this year.  I am not just a sinner saved by grace.  God doesn't see me as a sinner anymore but a saint that He loves, indwells, and wants to use in all it's weakness.  Yes, especially that weakness.  

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for being real about where you struggle, and the new life God is revealing. That is the beauty about the Bible - we are never finished growing. My college pastor used to say, "Scripture speaks at all levels" meaning that we can read the same scripture 100 times, but God can reveal new truth through it on the 101st time when we are ready to hear that truth. So your old way of understanding got you to where you are now, and you were finally ready for this new truth to change your life. What an awesome journey we are on! So glad to rejoice along side of you!

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  2. Beautifully said. I don't know that I'm necessarily stuck in the cycle of defeat (although I fall into that from time to time), but this is definitely something I need to be reminded of. It's good to remember that what matters most is our relationship with God, and when that's the priority, the rest will go much better. Thanks for sharing your heart and those precious truths we all need to hear. :)

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  3. I think you have it exactly right, Jenny! I can feel your peace in your writing. Someone shared with me this week, "God put all His anger about our sin on Jesus. He's never angry when we sin - maybe grieved for us or sad, but never angry." God is love. He wants us to love Him deeply and from that we'll love others deeply as well. You got it right in what you wrote, but this is a lifelong lesson. We have to encourage one another in loving God more. I love you deeply, Jenny, and am grateful every single day for the woman and child of God that you are. I'm so proud to be your mom and it's fun to learn from you!

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