Sorry for a Sunday blitz today. Had a discussion with a friend that accelerated this one. I'd been letting it percolate in my brain for a while now, but it feels like time to write it out. I actually started on this track last night and took a different direction. so two posts it is!
There are no perfect people in the world. There was one, but He left. He will be back "soon," but He has a loose definition of soon. Sometimes, though, we feel this pressure to present to the world like we are perfect. Like all our struggles are manageable because we pray and show up to church.
The dress is on, hiding the fact that I prefer dirty basketball shorts and funny t-shirts covered in dog hair.
Makeup conceals the red puffy eyes of a person who cried all night because her temple marriage ended in divorce.
The tablecloth and pictures on the table for relief society conceal the fact that this lesson is about eternal families and the teacher is single and doesn't want to hear one more time about being a "mother" to nieces and nephews or to a primary class is just as important.
She feels like a fraud when she tells the class the blessings of having a priesthood holder in the home, because her father is absent from her life.
No one can know that I struggle with feelings of unworthiness because yesterday I did the same stupid thing I knew I shouldn't do and promised I would stop doing on Friday. No one can see that I did not want to get dressed and drive to church today because my couch is comfy and my dog was sleeping on my lap. I must pretend I'm always happy, because people who live the gospel are promised happiness.
This perfect presentation predates social media and it is damaging. One of the hardest things to overcome on our path to progression is the feeling that I am alone in my struggles. Everyone else finds it so easy to pay tithing or live a chaste life or not be angry when the FedEx people are just being completely unreasonable!! And when you talk about struggles, people make suggestions like pray for strength or live the gospel more fully or find a service project. Guess what? These things sometimes help. And sometimes you are already doing these things as much as you can and you still struggle.
When I look around and see everyone else seeming to live the gospel with ease, I feel alone. I feel guilt and shame. I feel like there is something wrong with me. I feel like I am not worthy of God's love.
This is the danger. Because the truth is that God knew we would struggle. That's part of the process. God knew exactly which mistakes and sins we would choose and He knew why we would choose them. Most people in the world are trying to be good people, and God knows that too. I believe there is nothing we can do that would make God stop loving us. We can choose to reject it, but it is still there.
There is a song that I think about when I start feeling guilt and shame; when I feel unworthy of blessings from God. It is sung from the perspective of Peter following the death and resurrection of Jesus. The high queen covered it, which is how I learned of it. Have a listen if you have time.
Here is the focus, if you can't or don't want to listen to the most amazing singer of all time. Peter denied Christ three times after Christ's death. And then, the tomb was empty and Mary saw the risen Lord. And Peter surely experienced guilt and shame for his actions.
"Back inside the house again, the guilt and anguish came. Everything I'd promised Him just added to my shame. When at last it came to choices I denied I knew his name! And even if He was alive, it wouldn't be the same."
But Christ knew he would do this: He predicted it! While I'm sure it didn't feel great to Jesus, He didn't stop loving his disciple and friend. The lyrics that move me the most are when those feelings immediately dissipate in Christ's presence. The only feeling remaining was love.
"But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume. Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room. And Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide. And I fell down on my knees and I just clung to Him and cried. He raised me to my feet, and as I looked into His eyes, the love was shining out from Him like sunlight from the sky. Guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release, and every fear I'd ever had just melted into peace."
This is how I think Jesus will receive all of us. The whole point of this earthly experiment is to help us be happy, not ashamed.
I'm not saying that sin is ok. We all experience godly sorrow when we fall short of where we want to be, and that is good because it leads to repentance and improvement and growth. But I do think there is a difference between godly sorrow and shame. One leads us back to Christ, pleading for help to be better tomorrow than we were today. The other causes us to hide ourselves from the Lord, like Adam and Eve when they knew they were naked. God already knows we are naked. He knows we fail. He knows we have sinned and that we will sin again. And He loves us anyway.
I think I need to be better at remembering that everyone sins and everyone struggles and everyone is on a different path. Sometimes, when I am doing well and things are easy, I forget that someone else might not feel that way and that is ok. I can also be tempted to judge those around me because they are not doing well at the thing I am doing well, or they made different choices on their different paths.
I need to be careful to treat people with love to the best of my ability. If someone looks different than everyone else at church, Jesus loves that person. If someone leaves the church because they struggle with difficult aspects of church history or even church present, Jesus loves that person. If someone has an addiction they can't control, Jesus loves him. If someone is gay, Jesus loves her. When I hide my crisis of faith behind a mask of happiness, Jesus loves me. And when I fail to grant other people the grace I seek for myself, Jesus still loves me.
John 8:3-11 tells us about a woman taken in adultery and brought before the Lord for judgment. Leaving aside the fact that this woman probably wasn't committing adultery by herself, which is a topic for another day, she was clearly violating commandments. She was engaged in what many consider to be a serious sin.
The scribes and the Pharisees wanted to stone her, and asked Jesus what they should do. Jesus responded "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.." And the men knew they were not without sin and left one by one.
Now, it was only Jesus and this woman left. Jesus was without sin. He could have cast stones at her. Instead, Jesus asked Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
Jesus doesn't condone the sin, but he doesn't condemn the woman either. He treated her with dignity and respect and love. That is how he will treat us when we come to him with our sins.
One more point to make, I said earlier that many would consider adultery to be a "serious sin." Sometimes we feel good about ourselves because we aren't doing "serious sins." I haven't murdered anyone or kidnapped any children. But there are no "good" sins. I'll probably write more about that later.
But for now, remember that Jesus loves us all the time. No one is without sin. No one has the right to cast stones at you. And you are not alone. All of those people smiling and greeting and teaching at church are facing mountains we can't see or understand. Let's strive to treat each other with the compassion we all seek.
Is truly believe that when we do meet our Savior, the experience will be a loving one. It will be reuniting with our dear older brother who loves us with a love we have difficulty imagining. We are all on our own paths and developing and growing differently.
Its ok to be struggling. Its ok to be doubting. Its even ok to let people see those struggles, if you are able.
I'm struggling. And Jesus loves me anyway.
If you have any thoughts, please let me know in the comments. I would love to discuss these ideas.