Here is the battle I find myself right in the thick of these days, and it's terribly unoriginal: I don't always believe God loves me because I suspect I'm not very good.
I feel a tremendous amount of dissonance and uncertainty in my life. Everything is problematic, it seems, from clothing sources to food processing to racial tensions, from international wars to guns to the criminal system. Everything I took for granted, everything I assumed was normal and fine, is now revealed to be part of some corrupt and violent system, and I feel paralyzed--what to do? How can I avoid contributing to this hell on earth?
I had a typical middle-class evangelical American childhood, and in many ways, this was a gift. But then I went to college and felt like I woke up for the first time, as though my first two decades were spent sleeping and suddenly I was awake, seeing for the first time privilege and suffering play out in the world, aware that the whole world was connected and that the powerful preyed upon the poor, floored by the shades of grey where I once saw stark black-and-white. I began to embrace a theology that no longer claimed escapism to an afterlife was our best hope, but instead hopefully insisted on working toward redemption and peace and heaven right here and now, believing the God revealed in Jesus is good news for all that is broken in the world and inside of me.
This was all so exciting in the beginning. It was thrilling and fresh and it likely saved my faith, but it also has left me feeling utterly overwhelmed. If everything is problematic, how can we possibly live our lives, how can we possibly make choices that aren't tormented?
Now I compulsively read blogs and books and watch movies and can't stop gorging myself with knowledge about all that has gone so terribly wrong. I don't want to fall back asleep to the world; I don't want to be caught unaware, ever again. Sometimes I think to myself, My God, I had no idea. And I can't believe all I didn't know, and this frightens me, how sheltered and outright ignorant I was. It can lend a frantic and frightened air to my inhaling of information.
I feel insulated, surrounded by people just like me, and I'm uneasy over this. I look at the people who work in Africa and in homeless shelters and with refugees and I nearly drown under waves of panic, despair, shame. How do I become the person I think I should be? I feel like a fraud.
I want to allow my heart to be broken, to listen carefully and let myself be changed and challenged, and I also long for an existence that isn't lived in agony. I can become so anxious over whether I'm doing the right thing. Is it possible to take joy in my life, to say thank you and feel grateful and see the beauty, while also remaining open to conviction and prophetic voices and repentance? Can I live my life without constantly looking outside myself to decide whether I'm doing okay, doing enough, making the right choice? Can I make choices that differ from the choices of others and not worry myself to death over our difference convictions, choices, opportunities?
Most of all, I need to hear and believe that whatever action I do or do not take, this will not make Jesus love me any more.
The funny thing is, when I relax a little, and trust that I am loved, it seems easier to make those changes in my life. There is space, and within the space I can move more freely. My choices feel more joyful and less frantic and frenzied, because I’m not trying to convince Jesus (or anyone else) that I’m worthy of love. When the choices I make come out of a place of believing I am already loved, deeply, then there is more freedom and joy in the decision, even if it's one of sacrifice.
"Anything that asks us to walk in our belovedness and extend that to other people is the best kind of madness there is." -D.L. Mayfield