Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Religion vs. Relationship

People sometimes describe me as a "religious person." While I know they intend this to be a compliment, I actually cringe whenever I hear it. The word "religious" brings to mind some ugly stereotypes -judgmental, fake, unattainable expectations, rules, rules and more rules, hypocritical, sanctimonious, and plastic people who try to present a perfect image on Sunday and live a totally different life the rest of the week. WHEW! Did I just say that out loud? While these stereotypes are not all-encompassing, there is an element of truth to them and I pray they do not characterize my life.

I was blessed to grow up with parents who love and follow Jesus. They passed a legacy of faith, love and service to Jesus on to my brother and I, and I will always be grateful to them for sharing their faith with me. I spent a good part of my childhood years acquiring knowledge about God. Even though the message of grace and authenticity with God was in the Bible I was studying, it was largely missed in my heart. In hindsight, I see that I was often "religious" in my behavior and as a result, abrasive with truth. My black and white approach to serving God ended up wounding myself, people I loved, and God.

In my early twenties I experienced relational turmoil and pain on a grand scale. The things I valued got turned upside down and it forced me to evaluate and wrestle with my perception of religion and God. Was this Jesus who I grew up loving like a family member really God? How could God say He is good and allow such awful things to happen to me? Is the Bible really the infallible living and active Word of God and the basis for all truth? What if it was all a farce? A man-made religion drawn up to answer tough questions and provide a false sense of hope in an ugly, cruel world?

Over the next few months, God and I duked it out. I dug into the Bible and read it with fresh eyes. I questioned everything. I prayed. I cried. I whined and complained. I verbally let God have it and told Him exactly what I thought about how my life was shaping up, where I thought He went wrong, and gave pretty explicit instructions on all the things He needed to change starting YESTERDAY.

It was liberating to be authentic with God. I had lived my life with the false assumption that I needed to clean up to come to God. That I couldn't approach Him unless I was in my Sunday-best clothes, freshly showered, perfumed and polite. To come to Him snotty-nosed, filthy inside and out, fists clenched and defensive and have Him still scoop me up into His arms, answer my questions, and calm my fears was life changing.

In my deep dark pit of sin and despair, I cried out to God. Like Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel, I wrestled with God. I wrestled with truth. With faith. And in my vulnerability, God revealed Himself to me. He whispered to my soul, "I am the way, the truth and life. I am bigger than your fears, your anger and your disappointments. I am God the Healer. I am God the Redeemer. I am God the Restorer of broken relationships. Do you trust me? Let's build a relationship together."

The past fourteen years have been a beautiful story of falling in love. With my Savior. My Redeemer. My Best Friend. My Forgiver. My God of Second (and third and fourth and 18,000) Chances. I don't want to be religious. I want to be known as a woman who walked with God in deep and intimate relationship.

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