Since these promise of God are holy, true, righteous, free, and peaceful words, full of goodness, the soul which clings to them with a firm faith will be so closely untied with them and altogether absorbed by them that it not only will share in all their power but will be saturated and intoxicated by them. – Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian”
It’s been quite the summer. The increasing clamor of political rhetoric based on hate and fear and name calling in the midst of an election season that seems only to divide and accuse is enough to completely overwhelm even the most politically inclined among us. Our hearts have been shattered again and again with news of more and more violence until we find ourselves desensitized and emotionally empty. We argue about how best to respond and who should respond, how to love and comfort all victims and care for each other while refusing to condone the systems of
oppression that have laid the blueprints for the emotional walls we have constructed around ourselves, brick by brick, until we are no longer able to recognize the humanity of our neighbors.
And frankly, I’m exhausted. I’ve grown cynical and angry, frustrated with our polarized political reality that seems to prevent any action from ever being carried out, devastated by the long history of racism woven into the very fabric of our nation, furious with “those people” on the other side of the political spectrum who I am sure are the ones to blame, upset with my own friends who don’t’ share my liberal views, who aren’t responding in the way I would like, or who maybe think I should be responding more strongly.
And in the midst of my fear and frustration, I’ve been doing a whole lot of wrestling. Vocational wrestling. Theological wrestling. Personal wrestling. In between youth group get-togethers with sticky bowls of ice cream on the fraying youth group couches, weeks spent turning church fellowship halls into under the sea wonderlands and backyard barnyards, sailing and canoeing adventures with middle and high school students, summer classes, friends’ weddings, and trips to visit the various places I’ve once called home, I’ve been desperately seeking peace, clarity, and wisdom. I have gone in circles time and again desperately trying to remember what brought me to seminary in the first place, trying to peel back the layers of conversation and prayers and sleepless nights and long walks and Google searches and crazy leaps of faith that have brought me to this particular place in this moment. I’ve done everything I can think of to catch a glimpse of the mysterious call that seems to defy all definition, this call that no matter how desperately I try to clutch onto and control it to seems to prove itself to be too messy to confine in a box marked “pastor” or “youth director” or “teacher” or “psychologist.” I’ve exhausted myself trying to discover what is desired of me, what is needed of me, what specific role I am called to fill in this broken, aching world.
We all have those lies that we believe. The lies that get under our skin, driving us to whatever dark places that always seem to be lurking just around the corner, waiting to devour us the moment we are at our weakest. Those demons we wrestle with over and over and over and yet always seem to take us by surprise. My lie? “You are not enough. You will never be enough. Do more. Be more. Try harder. Then, and only then, you will be worthy of love.” In the midst of a busy schedule and emotional exhaustion, I have found myself once again facing this particular demon. This time the demon critiques every emotion and destroys every attempt at vocational peace as I attempt to find some semblance of clarity in how my gifts might best line up with the needs of the world. The demon tells me the world is my responsibility to fix, my duty to save. The Church with its declining numbers and at times paralyzing politics is resting on my shoulders. Systems of poverty and oppression and homelessness and abuse are mine to eradicate. It’s up to me to be everything to everyone all of the time—and then I can rest assured that I am loved.
I recently started a summer class on Martin Luther and the Reformation. I entered the course with my usual academic gusto which, more often than not, nurtures the perfectionist inside of me and drives me to live up to the most unattainable standards. But as I delved into Luther’s works, I kept running against this one, consistent, pesky problem: grace. All-encompassing, saturating, intoxicating, beautiful, and, at times, straight up offensive grace. An entirely one directional grace that could care less about my most desperate attempts to prove my own worthiness, a grace that declares me loved, forgiven, and freed, but not because of anything I have done or not done or could ever do. Grace that surrounds every fiber of my being simply because of the Grace Giver. Grace that destroys the demon telling me to “try harder” with a single breath. Grace that calls me to trust in the promise of God, a promise that tells me that whatever price I am so dearly trying to pay has been paid in full, that I have already been declared beloved, and that nothing, absolutely nothing, can take that identity away. Grace that frees me from the lines I have drawn to isolate and protect myself, to prove myself superior and somehow more worthy of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness than my brothers and sisters on the other side of the political spectrum or with different theological perspectives or radically different life experiences and world views. A grace that refuses to choose sides. A grace that frees me to love and to serve and to be vulnerable, not because of my own need to prove to myself or to others or to God that I am good, but because I have first been wholly loved. A grace that tells me I don’t have to do it all, but more than ever opens me to hear the call of my neighbors. A grace doesn’t take me out of the messiness and brokenness of the world, but a grace that is somehow forever and always more than enough.
And this, my friends, might just be the good news that we so desperately need.