28 August 2010

Rules and Redemption

"God forgive me for that . . . and that . . . and that."

So went my thoughts, that year I turned 7. 

The way it ran in my head seemed so simple. Simple and terrifying.

Christians were supposed to be good. When they weren't, they were supposed to ask God for forgiveness.

But everywhere I looked in my heart and my life, even then, I knew I wasn't good. And so I asked God for forgiveness, frantically and constantly, so that if I died I wouldn't go to hell.

Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, but my young prayers weren't what he meant. Those prayers had little to do with being God's child and knowing him and everything to do with my little self striving to appease his anger. I was compulsive, praying and praying but feeling like I could never be clean.

Even then, I saw the good-and-bad motivations that made up the reasons behind most of my actions, and I couldn't reconcile them with what I'd learned about God and his expectations. It seemed clear to me that I wasn't good enough, that I never would be, and so I prayed on and on and on.

My relationship with God wasn't the only place where I tried to follow the rules. Rules have always played a strange roll in my world. I see them both as the path to success, approval, and achievement and as the most soul-binding things on this earth. 

I spent most of my young life trying to follow the rules and feeling so tied up in my trying that I felt lost. Everywhere I went, I'd find out what the rules for acceptance and success were in that particular place. I got so good at it, and so good at following them (or at least looking like I was following them) that I became a rule-chameleon. Whatever you were supposed to do at home-church-school-work, I did.  

As a mechanism for giving my sensitive little self the stability I craved and helping me succeed in social situations where my introverted self didn't naturally know that to do, finding and following the rules worked. It took an incredible amount of energy to watch people that closely and conform my behavior to the standards I found, but it worked. At the cost of knowing myself and engaging in life from my middle, it worked. 

Given all of that, I hope you can understand why, when it comes to spiritual practice and relationship with God, I don't do rules anymore. I can't. In fact, it feels like marked growth on my part that I didn't throw God in the Yard across the room when I saw that Chapter 2 was entitled, "Rules: the way."

I did brace myself, though, as I waited to hear about what yet another author thought I had to do to find God. 

Maybe you can imagine my relief when L. L. Barkat chose a wandering way, when she said, "my job is not so much to practice a rigid set of disciplines as to pay attention." Maybe, though I kind-of doubt it.

Inner-me jumped. Yes, please. Sign me up.

With all those years of scrutinizing others behavior to learn the unspoken rules, paying attention is something I can do.

I wish I could tell you how little me found freedom from her compulsive prayers, but I can't. I don't know. What I do know is this: one day, the compulsion was there, and I remember feeling like I was going to snap in two from the strain. And the next day it wasn't. 

I didn't do anything to earn my freedom and I certainly didn't deserve it. Instead, it was given as a gift from One who was paying attention to me. And if he can pay that much attention to one little girl, certainly I can pay a modicum of attention to him, the universe's God.


sojourner said...

thank you for sharing this about your inner child. the budding flower whispered loudly as i read. i have learned to live in the grey areas - i do better there.

Joelle said...

Oh. I remember this. And not so long ago. Begging, "Forgive me." When all is Grace.

emily wierenga said...

friend... i know this. so deep. i was that child, too. and i think, God loves the fear-less who somehow fear him, no? to find this balance. love and peace, e.

Anonymous said...

Wow...this writing is so vulnerable and so beautiful. Thank-you