I have bad theology. Now that may not surprise some of you – heck you may have always thought that about me – but I have a way of looking at my faith and my relationship to the Divine that is downright destructive, and it took this Lent to help me see how my theology hasn’t just harmed my relationship to God, but has left me damaged in my interpersonal relationships.
I have always been, and remain, more of an Arminian than a Calvinist. I believe God calls all of us as Children of God, and it is up to humanity to partake in that grace. I believe in what is known as prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is that grace which calls to us before we even accept our relationship with God. Oversimplification of the difference in the two theologies would state that Calvinists believe that God predestined some to be saved and pursued. Calvinism professes that humanity is incapable of doing anything worthy of God’s love, and so God’s love is unconditional and salvation not based on any characteristic or action of the believer. I prescribe to the first belief. I believe that God has always been, and will continue, to call all of humanity; but we must take the step to recognize it and step towards our faith. Sounds like a healthy theology until I tell you how much the idea of pursing God has shaped all of my relationships. It is perhaps the reason that, as of yet, I remain what my father calls “an unclaimed treasure.” It took the darkness of Lent to help me bring to light how I have twisted the theology I love.
As a United Methodist pastor, I am part of a church that follows the liturgical calendar. For the last almost six weeks, I have been observing Lent both personally and with my church community in our worship services. For Lent this year, we decided to preach on the seven last statements Christ is reported to have made from the cross. The seven last statements are a mash up of all four gospel accounts of what Christ said as he was crucified. It has been a challenging and fun series based on the work of preacher Adam Hamilton’s work, “The Final Words.”
Recently, I went through a lot of personal disappointment – the content and context of which doesn’t matter. I was processing that disappointment as I was working on my sermon on Christ’s statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As I worked on the sermon, I felt my heart sink deeper and deeper into sadness and melancholy. One day, I could barely get out of bed. Since I am achievement driven and a ‘doer,’ being immobilized in thought and despair isn’t like me. I called a woman who has prayed with me through every life decision and who I trust with even the hardest faith questions and the broken pieces of me. We agreed to meet up in the prayer garden at my church.
As we met in the garden, I began to tell her how everything seemed so hopeless, and how I had been working so hard in personal and professional areas but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. She listened to me as she always does, with this beautiful, peaceful look on her face. Suddenly she got this look on her face that I have only seen a couple of times. The face usually indicates that something has struck her and she isn’t sure whether I am ready to hear it or not. She looked at me and we had what I can only describe as a “Good Will Hunting” moment. You know the scene – the one where Robin Williams’s character just rocked Matt Damon’s character saying, “It’s not your fault.” Matt Damon’s character, Will, wept as he processed that everything that has happened to him was not his fault. The scene resonates with so many of us because we have had that moment when our paradigm completely shifts, and for a moment, the place that was darkest welcomes a little light, and maybe a little hope. My “Good Will” moment happened that afternoon in the prayer garden. My friend stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Sarah, you do know God loves you and is pursuing you, right?” I nodded, and then I decided to be honest and admitted: “No, actually I don’t know that.” I admitted for the first time that I have always treated my relationship with God as I do with most people in my life. Somehow I learned that I need to work really hard to keep people pleased and therefore wanting to be in my life. I always believed that I had to pursue God. A lot of work I have done has been to feel God’s love, but it has alluded me. I believe in God’s love for others, but when it comes to me, I am not sure I know what unconditional love feels like.
As I made this realization, my prayer partner knelt down in front of me and wrapped her arms around me, whispering in my ear, “He loves you and He is pursuing you.” I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. I realized that most of my life I felt like I had to work for love and acceptance, which has left me saying, “Why have you forsaken me?” The last couple of weeks something in me is changing, and I am not sure what I will be post-resurrection, but I am aware that, as Brene Brown would say, “It is time for me to stop hustling for my worth.”