I remember one evening in a church service, about ten years ago, when the pastor called people to come forward and write on a black piece of paper with a black marker. He assured us that no one would be able to read what we wrote there, and assigned the task of confessing an area of the faith where we felt the weakest. As he spoke, I knew immediately what I would write.
The music started and people were popping up all over the room, stepping forward to the tables and writing things down that no one but God could see. After a few moments, I, too, made my way to the front of the room. My hand was shaking as I wrote what I had never dared admit to anyone: I don’t really LOVE people.
The tears began to flow as I laid the weight of that confession at Jesus’ feet.
I have always been a rule follower. Ask anyone who went to high school with me. I follow the rules and I have never had much tolerance for people who don’t. My good behavior was a huge source of pride, and I honestly had a hard time understanding why everyone can’t just do the right thing. I never felt sympathy for those who were living out the consequences of choices they had made. I lived my life in competition with other “good” girls, and I had a hard time being happy for people who had success or mourning with people who failed. In short, I was the ultimate pride-puffed self-righteous white-washed tomb. And, on that night in church I admitted it for the first time in my life.
That was ten years ago. And, it was the beginning of God doing a major overhaul of my attitude. He started opening my eyes to the pain in the people around me. For the first time ever I stopped relying on my own goodness, and I started to understand that there is no goodness in me at all, except what is Christ in me. Imagine my shock when it finally hit me that my lack of care for other people was the biggest, most obvious evidence that I am not good. Not at all.
And, God has continued to work in me. He has a hard job. Because the first thing I fall back on to this day is the rules. The behavior. The outward appearances. And, God has to continually whisper the truth into my hard head: It’s the heart. It’s the heart that matters.
It’s a constant battle for me. For Him. Still, He has made progress in me. Slowly, slowly.
But, this week, I was kiting right along, feeling like I was doing pretty well, and then just like that, I found myself speaking with a lack of love, lack of mercy, lack of grace. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. And, then someone said it: You have no mercy. No compassion.
Suddenly, I felt like I was two inches tall. I was ten-years-ago Melissa, weeping bitterly over a hard heart that wants to let goodness crowd out Christ-likeness.
Discouraged is an understatement. I was devastated. I felt like I would never get out of this wretched place where rules trump compassion. Where I extend none of the mercy that Christ extends to me. Where I take His forgiveness and refuse to hand it out to anyone else.
But, then God, in His goodness, as if to demonstrate just what that elusive mercy-giving looks like, brought this piece to mind, written by my own hand. Only He could give me some words to say, and then bring them back to me at just the right time, when I feel like I am failing at Christianity. When I am too weak to do anything but rely on His wisdom and kindness.
Because, you see, it really isn’t as much about where I am, but where I’ve come from. And, I know that God has worked in my heart and soul in the past ten years. I can see the signs of His persistent pruning of my spirit. And, I thank God that He doesn’t give up on teaching me how to love people more than I love the rules. Together, we’re working. Being good is good. But, loving well, with tenderness and compassion and mercy and grace, is even better. I’m getting there, God. Please have patience. And, you? People of the world? You, too. Because I see where I need to go. And, I’m getting there, slowly, slowly.