There are a lot of reasons why last year was important. We moved back to the midwest, had another beautiful baby boy, bought a new house, etc. But most importantly, it was the year I stopped making God chase me.
[Cue Musical Interlude]
[There are certain songs and certain songwriters that just speak to me. Michael Gungor is one of those songwriters, and this is one of those songs.]
In case you didn't catch the words:
Out on the farthest edge
There in the silence you were there
My faith was torn to shreds
My heart out of balance
And you were there
Always faithfulThere were times in this past year when I felt further away from God than I have ever felt before. I felt unworthy, ashamed, completely apart. I asked the question, again and again:
You still have me
You still have my heart
I thought I had seen the end everything broken
But you were there
I've wandered at Heaven's gate
I've made my bed in Hell
But you were there still
You have me
You have me
You have my heart completely
How could God love me after the things I had done?
The silence in response was deafening, but I realized something this year. It wasn't the silence that comes from the absence of an answer. It was a different kind of silence. It's like when my wife, Jill, is trying to talk to me, and I'm engaging some kind of technological distraction and just barely listening. She says something. I say "Uh-huh" and she says "What did I just say?"
Oh no. She's testing me.
Sometimes I can repeat back the last thing she said verbatim (yes, I'm that good at multi-tasking), then she ups the ante: "What did I say before that?"
There is a silence that follows that I am immediately aware of. The tension is palpable. I know the look that is going to be on her face when I finally disengage my face from whatever gadget I'm using at the time to address her. (Hint: it's not a smile.)
But here's the thing: She's already told me everything I need to know to answer the question, I just wasn't listening.
When I ask how God could love me after what I've done, I already know the answer. All of the information I need to answer that question is sitting right in front of me, and the answer is so painfully simply, I feel like God is looking at me with that eyebrow-cocked "Are you serious?" look that my wife gives me when I fail her attention-deficit tests.
I. Am. More. Than. My. Mistakes.
The same way Jill loves me (I think) in spite of the fact that I have been a crappy husband in the past, and the same way my son still loves me in spite of the fact that sometimes I lose my temper, God loves me in spite of my failures. But this isn't just a distant love that we talk about in abstractions. It's a pursuit. I have been to some dark places in the past year. I have dealt with skeletons that were buried so deeply, I would forget they were there until they came spilling out of the closet into my "normal" life. I have stared that cold, empty nothing in the face, and all the while, I felt the relentless pursuit of Grace.
I felt it in the quiet solitude of mornings alone in a house full of love, in the rare and cherished cuddles of the boy-who-can't-be-bothered-to-sit-still, in the loving voices of people that always seemed show up and ask just the right questions at just the right times. Even in the stories of heartache and loss all around me, and even in the darkness in my own heart, I felt it.
You were there. You were always there.
So why tell this story? Well, I suppose the answer to that is simple as well. There's another important lesson that I've learned this year: I'm never alone. I know I'm not the only one wrestling with forgiving myself for what I've done. Maybe you think that what you've done is too horrible, that where you've been is just too far away to see the light of redemption, but it's just. not. true. Nothing is beyond the reach of Grace. No one lies outside Her grasp. How can I be so sure? Because She found me, and I was a long, long way away.
"But you don't know what I've done."
I'm telling you it doesn't matter.
People are dead because of me, and not in some indirect, "we're all responsible" kind of way. Actual people are actually dead who absolutely would not be dead if it were not for my actions. I was a monster that reduced the value of life to numbers on a spreadsheet. There are pictures to prove it. Little Afghan girls who had fathers are now fatherless, and Iraqi women who had husbands are widows because of what I've done.
In spite of it all, still God's Grace recklessly and relentlessly pursued me, and this past year, I stopped running.
You should too.
Let it go. Don't let it define you. Maybe my writing this post is God's Grace pursuing you. Turn around, dig in your heels, open your arms, and let Grace collide the deepest parts of your regret and shame.
Just stop running away.