I told Kara on the phone last night that I'm a recovering legalist. I've known this for quite some time. I gave her some background, but basically here's what you need to know: I came to the realization early in college that despite my understanding that faith does NOT come through works, I was constantly evaluating my standing with God on very works-based things. This is not an uncommon practice (you've heard of people imagining God with a big tally sheet making checks in a "good" column and a "bad" column) - and I thought I knew better.
Then very early in my freshman year of college I had a random encounter with a Campus Crusade staff member. I didn't know her very well, but she met with me and asked me - out of the blue - to give her a percentage of how certain I was that if I died that night that I would go to heaven. And I thought about it. A variety of things went running through my head - thoughts about how infrequent my quiet time was - amazement at her boldness in asking me this - and then she stopped me. She said, "You know, you can know for sure." At the time I didn't realize that this was a common CRU tactic - I was just stunned at my own thought process. Where did I get confused about God's grace?
I could point to the fact that I grew up very "churched" - between church itself and going to a Christian school from kindergarten through 8th grade. I know lots of Bible stuff. I could point to the heavy emphasis that there was on having a daily "quiet time" in high school. Even though I wasn't sure how exactly how to do it, I knew that I wasn't really doing well if I was inconsistent with it.
And there's that word - consistency. I used to pray for it. I asked other people to pray that I would have it. Thing is, that never really helped me be more consistent. Then I heard a teacher (can't remember where) say that consistency is a false virtue. It's not valuable in and of itself - it's a way to do something, but not the thing itself. Now - I don't think consistency is a bad thing per se - but I don't think it was healthy for me to focus on it as much as I did. It definitely wasn't healthy to continue to beat myself up over my repeated inconsistency with spiritual practices. It for sure didn't bring me any closer to God.
I read Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel for the first time in college. I've probably read it 3 times since then. It's been a huge part of my recovery process (from legalism, that is). I've heard people say on more than one occasion that he's repetitive - and that all his writings are the same: "Grace, grace, we're loved, we're loved, blah, blah." And this tends to be my articulate response: "BUT DO YOU UNDERSTAND IT? I don't. I need to keep hearing it." The yelling helps.
In a Christian Ed class last year, a prof said that sometimes books are beneficial in the way that they notice how far the pendulum has swung in one direction - so it tries to be corrective in another direction. Brennan is that way for me. I was looking for something work-related yesterday and got out The Ragamuffin Gospel and looked through my markings (I'm a book-marker).
I just wanted to share these musings, because talking it through with Kara last night was one of the times I've been able to articulate it best. And then I wanted to share just a bit from Ragamuffin Gospel. (It's from the chapter called, "The Victorious Limp.")
And I just realized the quote I'm going to use is from someone else - Lloyd Ogilvie.
"Peter had built his whole relationship with Jesus Christ on his assumed capacity to be adequate. That's why he took his denial of the Lord so hard. His strength, loyalty, and faithfulness were his self-generated assests of discipleship. The fallacy in Peter's mind was this: he believed his relationship was dependent on his consistency in producing the qualities he thought had earned him the Lord's approval. [in my book I underlined this & wrote "wow"]
"Many of us face the same problem. We project into the Lord our own measured standard of acceptance. Our whole understanding of him is based in a quid pro quo of bartered love. He will love us if we are good, moral, and diligent. But we have turned the tables; we try to live so that he will love us, rather than living because he has already loved us."
(I don't think that this gives us license to do whatever we want. I think that this kind of love should compell us. And I think our (my) disobedience might be more out of the fact that we (I) don't understand His love.)
So pray for my recovery...