Daily Devotional: We Are Not Broken, Nor Discardable

broken heart 3I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

 

I continue to focus on the prayer “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”.

I find the concept of sin vague in this translation.    What is sin?   What must we forgive, and seek forgiveness for?

I find it helpful to look at both what the word itself means in Greek and also how it gets translated in other versions of Scripture.

Sin itself, hamartion, is an archery term describing when one misses the mark or target when shooting with an arrow.  It is to aim and miss.  I find this an interesting image for that which we seek forgiveness for and extend forgiveness for in our web of relationships.

Aiming and missing does not sound nearly as evil, harsh, or shameful as sin often sounds when preached on in churches.  Growing up first in an Adventist background within the doggy hellfire preachingAdventist-based Church of God movement and later in conservative evangelical circles, sin seemed shameful and destructive.   God stood ready to punish the tiniest infraction and, in Adventistism, ready to wipe us out forever without trace in a lake of fire at the end of time and, in evangelicalism, worse yet toss us into hell to be tortured forever for the tiniest unconfessed sin.  Although as I grew to know both spiritual paths better later in life, I discovered that in fact, no, it was not so cut and dry as this, the fact that this is popularly how both spiritual paths were presented as understanding sin in my early years as a Christian certainly sent a strong message to me as a child: the tiniest infractions, failures, had terrible consequences.   The God who ran the worlds, created me, and spun life into motion was horribly angry and offended at my failings.  And what’s more, they were not just shortcomings.  They were basic to who I was.   Both the Adventistism and evangelicalism of my childhood talked about our “evil sin nature” and bucked against the idea that we were basically good.  No, we were deeply broken, our best deeds but dirty rags that God despised without extending some extra grace allowing God to look past who we at heart, to whom God sought to transform us to become.

It’s no wonder that until I came to grips with such harsh theology and spirituality I lived with deep shame, thinking every failing to live up to what I believed was God’s moral code or call to holiness or my own best hopes for how to live, I felt I was as worthless as the dirty rags I heard the preachers say God despised.  Is it any wonder that I could join DC Talk in asking, full of fear, what if I stumble, what if I fall?

 

“What If I Stumble”

 

“[Brennan Manning:]

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today

Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips

Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.

That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

 

“What if I stumble?

What if I fall?

 

“Is this one for the people?

Is this one for the Lord?

Or do I simply serenade

For things I must afford?

 

“You can jumble them together

My conflict still remains

Holiness is calling

In the midst of courting fame

 

“’Cause I see the trust in their eyes

Though the sky is falling

They need Your love in their lives

Compromise is calling

 

“What if I stumble

What if I fall?

What if I lose my step

And I make fools of us all?

 

“Will the love continue

When my walk becomes a crawl?

What if I stumble

And what if I fall?

 

What if I stumble

What if I fall?

You never turn in

The heat of it all

What if I stumble

What if I fall?

 

“Father please forgive me

For I cannot compose

The fear that lives within me

Or the rate at which it grows

 

“If struggle has a purpose

On the narrow road you’ve carved

Why do I dread my trespasses

Will leave a deadly scar

 

“Do they see the fear in my eyes?

Are they so revealing?

This time I cannot disguise

All the doubt I’m feeling

 

“What if I stumble

What if I fall?

What if I lose my step

And I make fools of us all?

 

“Will the love continue

When my walk becomes a crawl?

What if I stumble

And what if I fall?

 

“What if I stumble?

Everyone’s got to crawl

When you know that

You’re up against a wall

It’s about to fall

Everyone’s got to crawl

When you know that

 

“Everyone’s got to crawl

When you know that

You’re up against a wall

It’s about to fall

Everyone’s got to crawl

When you know that

 

“I hear You whispering my name

(You say)

My love for You will never change

(Never change)

 

“What if I stumble

What if I fall?

What if I lose my step

And I make fools of us all?

 

Will the love continue

When my walk becomes a crawl?

What if I stumble

And what if I fall?

 

“What if I stumble

And what if I fall?

What if I lose my step

And I make fools of us all?

 

“Will the love continue

When my walk becomes a crawl?

What if I stumble

And what if I fall?

 

“What if I stumble

What if I fall?

You never turn in

The heat of it all

What if I stumble

What if I fall?

You are my comfort

And my God

 

“Is this one for the people

Is this one for the Lord?”

 

Like DC Talk, this picture of what sin is led me to live in fear at every failing I would go too far and do too much.

not broken

To be fair, this idea that God would just toss us aside was not what, at its best, either Adventist or evangelical spirituality taught.  Adventistism seemed to have a kind of divine-human synergy at work where God’s grace was there empowering good works.  If one worked together with that divine initiation, one could change, grow, throw aside old behaviors.  It was behavioristic, to be sure.  But need not be hopeless.

Likewise, in a pinch, the evangelical preachers I heard would say that, no, we are saved not by our works lest anyone should boast, but purely by grace which is God’s free gift.  Purely by God’s choice to love us, through the work of Jesus on the cross for you and me, can we experience God’s love, grace, and acceptance.  They would say that nothing could snatch a true believer out of the hand of God, for their salvation was secure.

Yet both traditions preached so strongly against sin, talking about sin as if it was a sign of an irreparable brokenness so deep, a type of affront to God so great, that God justifiably could while remaining loving either utterly destroy every trace of who I was or (worse yet) Youre-Not-Brokenactively torture and torment forever.   I am at the point in my spiritual journey I can realize that those two pictures cannot stand together.  Exterminating another or torturing them cannot be the fruit of healthy and true love.  Such language leaves this sense that great shame, fear, and doubt are appropriate responses to sin.

Seeing sin as “missing the mark” – having aimed our arrow and missed, sets things in terms of relationship.   You know in my 12 years of marriage to my late wife there were many times she, out of love, tried to surprise me with good things but despite her best efforts, didn’t.  I can think of one dinner she tried to cook for me.  She worked hard at it.  Well, it was a disaster.   The house filled with smoke … the meal ended up being a combination of things I didn’t like.  I smiled and acted as appreciative as I could, but she could tell… the meal missed the mark.

Strangely, though, this did not make me look down on her.  I smiled inside and out at many of her times of “missing the target”.  Her heart, her attitude, was all love and wanting to please someone she cared deeply about.   Missing the mark was not being immoral, nor being damaged beyond repair.  It was just trying one’s best to express love, communicate care, yet not totally knowing either my personal tastes or how the day would work out.  In the end, her missing the mark endeared her to me as well.

That experience reminded me of one of my favorite country love songs:

Well, I’ll never forget the first time that I heard

That pretty mouth say that dirty word

And I can’t even remember now what she backed my truck into

But she covered her mouth and her face got red

And she just looked so darn cute

That I couldn’t’ even act like I was mad

Yeah, I live for little moments like that

 

Well, that’s just like last year on my birthday

She lost all track of time and burnt the cake

And every smoke detector in the house was goin’ off

And she was just about to cry until I took her in my arms

And I tried not to let her see me laugh

Yeah, I live for little moments like that

 

I know she’s not perfect but she tries so hard for me

And I thank God that she isn’t ’cause how boring would that be

It’s the little imperfections, it’s the sudden change in plans

When she misreads the directions and we’re lost but holding hands

Yeah, I live for little moments like that

 

When she’s layin’ on my shoulder on the sofa in the dark

And about the time she falls asleep so does my right arm

And I want so bad to move it ’cause it’s tinglin’ and it’s numb

But she looks so much like an angel that I don’t wanna wake her up

Yeah, I live for little moments

When she steals my heart again and doesn’t even know it

Yeah, I live for little moments like that

 

Similarly, there were times in that 13 year relationship, 12 years of which were marriage, that I tried to be sensitive, caring, and loving to my wife but in my efforts hurt her feelings because in any relationship, even after years, it is hard to always know what exactly what will make someone feel loved and support.  Usually, even then, she could tell I came from a place of care, love, and support, and instead of pushing her away, it also endeared her to me.

YouAreNotBroken_bI have yet to experience anyone for whom I have those feelings, as I did for Katharine, since she passed, but my experience with her helps put missing the mark in a different frame.   Ultimately if someone loves you deeply, they do not hold over your head frailties, mistakes, and weaknesses.  Rather when your heart comes from a place of love and compassion, you see that and not the mistakes.

Ultimately, does not God love us more than I loved my dear departed Katharine and she me?  Does not God love at us with the eyes of love as God did Jesus and say, before we have done anything right or wrong, “this one, this one here, is my child.  This one is the One whom I love.   This one is the One in whom I am well pleased”.

Ultimately when God made us, God looked at us and said “they are good, very good”.   perfectly_imperfect_by_kana_misai-d3k6v2kRealizing sin is not us being broken beyond repair, nor us being horrible people deserving shame, is a good starting place in coming to let go and forgive ourselves for our failings, a necessary prerequisite for forgiving others.

When we recognize we are good, acceptable, and loved by our Creator regardless of what we do or fail to do, we can also recognize this in others.  Even those who harm us, who harm others, have at core not a brokenness beyond repairing, nor do they exist as moral monsters at heart, but like us are creatures of God of infinite worth.  Recognizing this allows us to search for that spark of Sacredness and beauty even in the most vexing people which can be the thread we hold to opening us up to compassion toward them, forgiveness, and healing.

This is hope too in our times of pain, loss, and trauma which can leave us feeling like such used up, broken pieces of pottery that are worthless.  This is not the essential truth of our lives.  Instead the essential truth is that we carry in us a beauty and strength beyond measure.

In the next few posts, I want to explore some other understandings of the sin we pray for forgiveness from and seek to forgive – that of transgression and debt.  In the meantime, let us let go of this need to shame or be shamed, embrace our and others infinite worth.

Micah

beloved (1)

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