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.”
Listen to “Let it be” by John Lennon
I am an older man who has found amazing new love after divorce from a long, difficult marriage. Like you, I had always thought that I needed to work hard to earn love. To my surprise, I subsequently learned that it’s not so. My new life partner, Vicki, not only doesn’t need me to do anything for her, she also just loves me for being who I am.
How did I find her? I didn’t, she found me. When did she find me? When I was focusing on just being myself. Oddly, she just loves me for being me. That’s it. Believe me, it’s a totally new, weird and wonderful feeling. We’ve now been together nearly 7 wonderful years.
I don’t know you, though I believe you are a friend of my brother’s (Jonathan). But from everything that I can see from your work, talents and life as shared in your blog, your father is right that you are “a treasure.” But you have already been claimed by God, so I don’t buy the “unclaimed” part of that statement.
I really don’t believe in the “laws of attraction”–they are too close to the unseemly gospel of prosperity that I don’t much care for. But, I believe that if you simply proceed with the life you are already living, you’ll be found sooner than you think.
And thank you for sharing so openly. It is truly inspiring, and a great reminder that we are all already loved by God and can experience that Grace without precondition. A great prelude to Easter. We can all experience new life–right here, right now–in both our human and spiritual relationships. Peace.
Hi Richard- thank you for reading and you will have to ask your brother how, but your cousin Terri is one of the reasons I grew up in the faith! I think the challenge is to learn to feel “claimed” regardless of the circumstances. I am super lucky to have the kind of life that gets to pursue these thoughts and gets to dive head first into adventure whatever the outcome! Blessings
Hi, Sarah. I am Amy Fullerton’s mom.
When I get to revisit the gift of God’s pursuit, I usually cry first…”I leak” as an Emmaus speaker said…and then I sing How Great thou art or Amazing Grace.
His love for me is overwhelming and so often I thought undeserved. But He knows far better than I my worth, as He does yours. You are loved because you are you…and that is all God needs to know.
I find myself saying thank you to God now instead of why or asking.
Thanks Char for reading and prayers that I get to the place of being able to rest in being loved simply because I am!
Thanks for your honest, beautiful offering. Your own vulnerability to share this journey is such an invitation to others to ask our own questions.
I don’t know if you’ve heard the song, So Far to Find You by Casting Crowns, but when I first heard it, it touched this question deep in me. The story behind it is a beautiful one as it began being about an adoption process. But it quickly changes to something very personal from the Trinity to us.
Thanks Janet for reading and for the song recommendation!
Thank you for this wonderful read. I am also a minister, and single. My past relationships have left me very jaded because of how forsaken I felt when it seemed the person was only involved with me based on what I could provide and when that ran dry said person disappears. I too have felt that I needed to pursue God and the love that is offered. I have always preached that God comes to us, but for whatever reason it never became real. thank you again for this wonderful post.
Michael I will pray that both of us learn to feel our identity as the beloved! blessings this holy week!
Thanks for such a vulnerable post! I have struggled with this same roadblock many times in my life. If I remember right, you have a tat that says Beloved, right? The one who loves pursues the Beloved. When I recognize that, sometimes I want to run away, but mostly I become more the person that God created me to be. God loves you so much and so do many, many people. Be resurrected! You are God’s Beloved!