This is a painful one. It’s painful to remember how tied up in knots I was during this time. But it ends happy, so I’ll go there. I don’t expect many of you will understand this, but maybe some will.
I am a recovering Legalistic (Legalist). I had rules (commands) for everything. Funny I would say that as I’m writing my “rules to happiness”. But those are more like “good things I’ve learned”. The others were different. Darker.
It was very important for me to please people, and even more important for me to please God. Except that I never quite felt like I was accomplishing it, because gosh darn it, I kept messing up. I kept breaking a rule. And I would feel such a weight of guilt and shame for not living up to my standards that I wanted to run and hide most all the time.
For instance, gossip is wrong. So I would set out not to gossip. If I got together with a girlfriend and we dipped down into the gossip well for a drink, I would feel horrible about it later. I would apologize to the friend I gossiped with and to God, and then I would think about how I could keep from doing it again. The answer would come in the form of a rule. “If gossiping with “Julie” is wrong, I won’t hang out with Julie any more.” Problem solved.
Except there was Sally. Maybe I shouldn’t hang out with Sally. And what about Mary? And on and on.
If the rule was “no gossiping,” I would make a rule to encompass a broader circle.
I believe this is how the Pharisees used to do it. They would take a rule, like the one about keeping the Sabbath holy, and then add on layers of rules to keep themselves from breaking the first rule.
I did that. Eventually I was drowning in rules. But that’s not the worst part. If I was doing well with my rules, I was proud and arrogant. If I was doing poorly, I felt despair. So much despair that I decided to talk to my pastor about it – to turn myself in for being such a loser.
So I called and told him that I just can’t do this Christian Life thing, that I needed to be given a wide berth for fear I would mess things up. I felt toxic. I was disqualifying myself.
And then he surprised me. I expected him to say, “Yes, everybody knows what a mess up you are. Thanks for calling.” But instead he said, “Well, Alice, you could do that. You could excuse yourself. Or you could love more.”
“Love more. You could love more.”
“If you love more, the rules aren’t important. The people are.”
We talked about this for a while and I felt my world turn upside down. In a good way.
You mean I don’t have to quarantine myself for fear of spreading some awful Disease of Imperfection and Hurtfullness? I can simply love more?
Think about it. You can take the idea to love more and apply it to ANY temptation or difficult situation and it turns the focus from “not doing something bad” to “doing something wonderful”.
I can lock myself away from people, “risky” situations, even church. Or I can love more: Others, myself, and God.
If I’m loving more, I won’t want to hurt myself with bad food, or too much alcohol, or let someone continually hurt me. If I’m loving more, I won’t want to lead others into gossip or other hurtful behavior. I will want to bless their lives. If I’m loving more, I will want to do what God asks.
No rules to keep up with. No score card. Just love more.
Those words did turn my world upside down. I was a knotted mess of guilt. It’s true that we love God because he first loved us. I am so grateful that God used my pastor as he did. When I made that phone call, my pastor could have nailed the coffin shut if he had wanted. “Yes, you need to work harder!” or “Get away from us!” Instead he saw my hurt and showed me a different way. A very free and joyful way.
Which then opened my life to a lot of new changes, including writing, painting, being seen. Remember, I was hung up on being perfect. You become very brave when you find out you don’t have to be perfect. When you discover you are loved. You are loved so much more.
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.””