Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Selfish Religion Strikes Again

Photo by SheCat

It was one of those mornings when I just didn't feel "connected" to God.  Didn't feel like I had my act together, spiritually.

Uh oh.  Warning bells should be sounding already.

"Didn't have my act together spiritually?"  Who am I kidding?  Are there ever mornings when I DO have my act together spiritually?

Well, ok, maybe it was just a poor choice of words.

Or maybe it really should have clued me in.

The usual morning battle began with its typical frustrations, and I was struggling with my usual surges of frustrated anger.  And so the self-talk began.

"I've been reading all these wonderful grace-based parenting books, but this morning I just can't seem to access all the wonderful, inspired feelings those books gave me.  I don't want to browbeat this child.  I don't want to drive him further away from God.  I don't like how angry I feel.  I don't like the kind of parent I'm being..."


We often think of Pharisaism as the desire to be one's own savior via one's own righteousness, and that's true.  But Pharisees take it even further.

Pharisees (like me much of the time) don't just want to be our own saviors.  We want to be our own creators.  We like a certain religious "look," and we will orchestrate our behavior to get the "look" that pleases us.

"I don't like the kind of parent I'm being.  I need to be different."

We are determined to create ourselves in the image of what we like about religion.  If we like lots of legalism, we'll make ourselves strict legalists.  If we've decided we like grace, then we'll make ourselves gracious.

Except, of course, that grace is something we can't create.  We can only receive it and pass it along.  And we cannot receive it if we're too busy trying to create it ourselves.

So there I stood, frustrated and angry, looking at my child with my physical eyes, but looking at me-me-me with the eyes of my heart.  My feelings were quickly teetering towards the old familiar desperation, because of yet one more self-deception that we Pharisees labor under.  We stagger, crushed under the lie that we are to be our children's saviors.  We have to create ourselves into the religious image we believe is best, so that we can save our children.

No wonder we get so ugly and hateful and mean, when we're carrying such a heavy burden that we were never designed to carry, one we know we can't bear.  One that is crushing the very breath out of us.

There's only one way out of this kind of tailspin.

It's called Love.

And love, my friends, does not focus on self.  Not even with the best of intentions.

Pharisaism says, "What kind of parent do I need to be?"  It feels either arrogance, anger, or a terrified squeezing in the chest.  Because it's all about me.

Love says, "What kind of love and grace does this child need?  Father, what would you like to give him?  Savior, show Yourself to him."  Love may ask the child, "What do you need?  How can I help you?  How can I serve you?"  (Notice the "I" isn't gone...it's just not central.  It's not creator, savior, or controller.)

Love lives in a wide place, where the air flows freely and breathing is easier.  It throws off the claustrophobic self-absorption of Pharisaism, and the weight that we cannot bear.

Pharisaism seeks iron-clad control.  Love seeks to give itself away and, in the process, it hopes to influence in healthy ways.

The difference is profound.

Oh, love still hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot. But it hurts in the right ways, ways that our Lord has promised to comfort. And because love knows that God stands supreme, that Christ has poured out His love in our hearts (both for our sake and for giving away to others), love can relax.  Love knows that it acts as a conduit rather than as a self-sufficient creator.

And love has the power to transform us in ways that are far deeper and more real than any of our attempts at self-creation.  Don't you think I was a different mother this morning, the moment I stopped critiquing my performance and started simply loving my child?  Of course I was...and yet that's not the best thing that happened this morning.

The best thing that happened was that my child and I experienced some of God's love and grace, in ways that honored the Lord.  My joy is not primarily that I became something I can feel good about, but that the Lord and my "neighbor" (in this case, my child) were loved as they should have been.  True, the "benefits to me" and the "benefits to others" may be two sides of the same coin, but if I focus on the "me" side, the love quickly disappears, and ugly things arise in short order.

It all boils down to this...are we trying to love primarily for our own sakes, or for others' sakes?  If it's primarily for our own sakes, it isn't really love at all, and those on the receiving end of our hypocrisy will see that fact with painful clarity.

A. W. Tozer said it well:

"While we are looking at God 
we do not see ourselves - 
blessed riddance!  

The man who has struggled to purify himself 
and has had nothing but repeated failures 
will experience real relief 
when he stops tinkering with his soul 
and looks away to the perfect One.  

While he looks at Christ, 
the very thing he has so long been trying to do 
will be be getting done within him."

Which is, in fact, what 2 Co. 3:18 is trying to teach us.  (If you're reading the blog in a feed reader, you might want to click through to the actual blog page, where Scripture references appear as live links so you can read them.)

Remember that Jesus said that all the law and the prophets can be summed up in the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matt 22:35-40).  And that kind of love is not something we can work up in our own strength, but as we walk with the Lord, we can rest assured that He will develop that love within us, so we need not be afraid to hope for it (see Rom 5:5).

Love the Lord, abide in His love, and love your neighbor.  As you do these things, the Lord will make you what He wants you to be.

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