Thursday, March 27, 2014

Repentance and Remembering

I moved to Kansas City 8 years ago.  I bought my own little house and packed all my earthly possessions, including my only friend, the German Shepherd, into my pickup truck and drove 1900 miles to start over (I took the long way - it was January).  I arrived hopeful, feeling like I was somehow "home."

Once here, however, things started to happen - you know, things like: I got a job. I finished my BA.  I started another degree.  And another one.  I got downsized.  I got another job ... and another one.  Life started that mad tumble for which it is so famous. I started dating, I quit dating, I became a pastor, I resigned being a pastor.  I got married.

And somehow, in the midst of all of that, I completely forgot why.

Does that ever happen to anyone else?  I'm going along and suddenly I get caught up in some sort of doing instead of being. I forget something important about my story, about who I am and the why.

I look back now and realize that, once I got into seminary, I started to pick up on a standard.  This standard said that everyone has and should have at least a Master's Degree.  This standard said that everyone "normal" or "successful" comes from an upper middle class or well-off family.  It said that I was an object of pity because my parents didn't pay for me to go to school and I didn't attend one of the private undergraduate programs everyone else did.  The Standard started to tell me who I was, who I wasn't, and who I needed to be.

And I can't blame this particular standard, as if it broke into my house in the middle of the night and started sleeping in my basement while I wasn't looking (though that is precisely what it has felt like).  The truth is, I am prone to picking up stray standards and bringing them home with me, posting them like notes on my bathroom mirror and then using them to judge myself every morning when I get up.

And the Standard weighed on me.  Those who lived up to it were greeted in the hallways and cheered.  But it didn't seem to be working for me.  It didn't seem to be accomplishing in my life that to which God had called me.  My graduate program was a disaster and my church was, too.  I felt like an utter failure.  Achievement, education, intelligence (at least one form of it), a particular standard of living, looking a particular way, talking a particular way - somewhere along the way it had become my identity.  And even if I challenged that identity, it was still there, stuck to the bathroom mirror of my heart.

But as I venture on this path of remembering during Lent, I find myself returning to the events that brought me to Kansas City.  I remember one night in particular more than 9 years ago...

It was the night I finally forgave ... myself.

It was the night that, for the first time in my life, I actually felt worthwhile.  It was the night when, for the first time in my life, I could truly love and forgive others.  It was the first time in my life that I felt free, free to be myself without shame.  All stray standards that I picked up somewhere along the way and used to torture myself were gone.

You see, I didn't move to Kansas City to "be somebody."  I moved because I already was somebody.  I didn't finish my degree to measure up, but because my talents and life were worth my attention and development.  I embarked upon this adventure to embrace a lifestyle of repentance.  I wanted to repent of my romance with death by choosing to face my life.  I repented of fear by embracing who I was and the responsibility I have to live.  I repented of worthlessness, lies, and abuse by believing in myself, by investing in myself, by valuing myself, by saying no to unhealthy things AND saying yes to good things.

As a side note, I had to learn how to be satisfied with good things.  I'm still learning.  When one nurses on low self esteem and the sick images/standards of our culture, developing addictions and compulsions and tolerating abuse, it may be awful, but it becomes normal.  It is like growing up using whole milk even when you're lactose intolerant: you're accustomed to the taste and it's what you have to drink.  And even though it makes you sick, anything else just tastes ... well, nasty.

I learned that repentance isn't something you do once and for all.  It isn't something you do occasionally or even regularly.  It is a lifestyle.  It is a lifestyle to which I have given myself because I am forgiven, because I am accepted, because I am valuable and redeemed, because I am loved.

I had to have an experience of that forgiveness, that acceptance, that value, redemption, and love. I had to know it and accept it and let it change me.

And it did.

So I'm not here to be successful, to be "educated," intelligent, or to keep up with the Nazareneses.  I am not even here to be normal.  I am here to live in loving response to my Savior who taught me my value as [he] taught me how to forgive.  I am here to be with [him].  I am here because I am a new creation, and I must live in a manner worthy of repentance.

And I repent of my post-it notes - the ones that say my relationships should look a certain way, that I shouldn't struggle with anything, that I shouldn't have problems, that I should look better and act better and be better somehow.  I repent of the standards I have lifted up to tell me who I am so that I forget who I am and who I've been and from what exactly I have already been saved.

Can I get an amen?  Anybody else want to repent of your post-it notes - and keep on repenting?  Anybody else want to center their life around an experience of love and acceptance and freedom?  I highly recommend  it, even if I forget myself sometimes.  I highly recommend repenting of picking up stray standards and bringing them home with you.  In fact, I dare you to do it. I dare you to develop a whole lifestyle around repentance.  For the Kingdom of God is near.

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