The church where I attend is studying The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (a former Catholic priest and recovering alcoholic). It was first published in 1990 – the year I graduated from high school as an 18 year old imprisoned by legalism. So, reading it now 23 years later, I hear Satan’s thoughts, “I wonder how different your life would have been if you had read it then or sometime during those 23 years plagued by self-doubt and hatred, depression, judgmentalism?” But I know his words are lies.
My God redeems everything. He has always loved me. He’s never let go. He’s been guiding me all along. All because of my faith. That’s it. I’ve never impressed him; I’ve never changed His mind. He’s always deeply loved me, even when I didn’t feel it. Even when I thought I might not love Him. He saved me when as a little nine-year-old girl, I told Him I knew He is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do, so I obeyed Him in baptism.
If you wonder how deep my works-based faith stretched, I can tell you I’ve lost count of the times throughout my teens, twenties, and even early-thirties that I worried if I needed to do it again. How much did I really know at 9? I would mess up again and again, and wish for that pure white feeling that I had on my 9th birthday on Easter Sunday. I felt as white as the dress I wore that day, but only until the next time I sinned. I had countless youth ministers and friends, my own father, and Ben as my boyfriend, fiance, and husband, take me back to that day. All I remember from that day is how much I loved God. How thankful I was that Jesus died for my sins. I wanted to be raised to a new life just like he was. I just wanted to please God. And they ALL kept telling me that that was enough. I’m so glad that they all helped me to realize that God saved me that day and I just needed to trust that –even though I most certainly did not feel it. Those feelings didn’t come for decades.
If you can’t relate to my struggle to save myself, be thankful! I wouldn’t wish my struggle on anyone. However, I am thankful for God who did this good work in me. Because it’s through the struggle that I’ve come to appreciate His grace. I see now that my depression was a manifestation of a works-based religion. I’m not saying that that is true for everyone, but it was my story. So, God even redeemed my depression. It brought me to a better understanding of Him.
The most curious thing is that the truths that Manning reveals in his book, God has revealed to me in bits and pieces through the years. Manning put my feelings into words. I can’t explain God’s grace to you. I can’t explain my salvation to you. And I don’t have to. I’m so thankful that God has always been in control. He’s allowed me to see that He really is all that I need. It feels strange to not really care about what others think of me, and I might feel a twinge guilty. But it’s too freeing. I really don’t care what anyone else thinks.
I know what God thinks. He is crazy about me. He’s given me His Word. He’s put His very spirit in me. It’s a mystery. If I could totally explain it to you, why would I need faith? Why would you? The faith is what pleases Him.
Life is all about the journey not the destination. I’m still not there yet. There was a time that that would scare me. I would want to say I had arrived. I had it all figured out. I could check it off my list. Now, I’m just excited to see what happens next. Life just keeps getting better and better. My favorite thing – I like myself more and more every year. Just like I’m happier at 41 than I was at 9 or 18, I fully expect that I’ll be happier at 42, or 62, or 82, or if I don’t make it to any of those years, I expect to die the happiest I’ve ever lived. I can’t wait to see what God has planned for me. He tells me it’s better than I can even imagine.