Footprints…all through my house.
I stood in the middle of my living room, broom in hand, trying to sweep up the dirt from footprints left by 40 or 50 of my closets friends and family and the more I swept, the more my eyes filled with tears from the joy spilling up out of my heart. It had rained early on the day of the party and my yard was a mess. So, we were left with these muddy tracks all through my house. I tried to follow them as infinite as they seemed, through the kitchen, up the stairs, in and out the front and back doors and then intersecting in the living room where I was standing. All of these many different journeys met at a cross point in time where I stood, the footprints of dear people letting all their paths cross in my neck of the woods to say that my life matters and that they are better for having known me. I was undone
It’s not easy being celebrated. I know that sounds like a silly statement but it’s true, for me at least. It was my 40th birthday and my wife planned this amazing party for me yet I found myself at points feeling uncomfortable. I felt so, well, unaccomplished. I wanted to say, out loud “Everyone!! Can I have your attention please? This is great and all and I really appreciate this fine turn out, but could you guys come back in 6 months to a year to give me some time to get my shit together and actually accomplish something and maybe we can have this party then?” I mean, 40 years of life and all the things that I thought would make my life count for something have all slipped from my grasp like fall leafs in the wind. Yet, here I stand, at this intersection of these beautiful muddy footprints of a community of people that love me just because.
I have a lot of those You just wait… kind of thoughts/fantasies. You know what I mean… Your standing there at your 10 year high school reunion looking down at that spare tire that started growing in your first year of marriage or that career that you could never make happen or that book you can never find time to write and you look around at all your seemingly more successful, more in shape friends and you think to yourself – You just wait. I’m going to start watching my carb intake and get in shape, I’m gonna write that book, I’m gonna start that business and come year 11, I’m going to walk in here wearing that suit or dress that I can’t fit into anymore and blow some minds…you just wait. For me, it all comes back to music. I have a lot of regret for all that I didn’t accomplish and fantasize often about finally making that record that blows everyone away. Maybe then we can have a party and I won’t feel so damn uncomfortable.
Yet, as uncomfortable as I felt, that night was like a gentle mountain spring rolling over my dry, parched soul. I stood in the throws of a deep love offered from a community of folks that love me for reasons that are much deeper than I had suspected. They didn’t show up that night to celebrate my accomplishments, they showed up to celebrate me. It was the culmination of something Jesus had been doing in my heart for a long time that started with a question that kept popping up in my head, that I believe, Jesus himself was asking:
What do I believe about myself?
The answers came pretty easy but from day to day, were different:
- I’m only as good as what I can produce
- I’ll never get ahead, I’ll always be behind
- I’m a bad dad/husband
- I’m tolerated, but not really loved
That night at the party my wife leaned into me and whispered “I love doing life with you.” It was there, in that moment, that I began to let down my guard enough to allow myself to receive a love offered to me and what I believed about myself began to change.
It all comes back to love…love has to be our ground zero. And I’m not talking about acts of love. This is important to understand. A love that we haven’t received is not a love that we can truly share with those around us. Thats like telling everyone about how good the new restaurant is in your town without ever having tried the food. It gets us into trouble. This is how love becomes conditional. This is why we become slaves to performance and we project that onto others. This is where the message of the “you gottas” comes from.
Yes, God loves you but you gotta come to church.
Yes, he wants to set you free from sin but you gotta try harder.
Yes, you are his son or daughter but you gotta start acting right.
Does Jesus want you to stop sinning, attend church and have more faith? Of course he does! But not because we are trying to earn something. We have to start with Love and Jesus himself was no different. This is what we see in his baptism. He chose to proclaim publicly that he belongs to the Father and then those words were spoken over him “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” – Mathew 3:17 (the message)
It was a right of passage, an initiation. But when I hear the word “initiation” I think of a young man from some tribe in Africa going out alone to prove himself in the wilderness or completing some kind of fetes of strength. And in our culture we are all about proving ourselves, aren’t we? Stories of the guy that started out in the mail room and worked his way up the corporate ladder stir something in us, make us work harder. Because in our world its all about what you can earn, not about who you are. But these words that came down like a dove from heaven and perched on the shoulder of the Messiah were spoken before he walked on water or fed five thousand with the loafs and the fishes or before he healed anyone. Jesus began with Love and ended the same. As he set out to build a kingdom it was Love that laid the foundation and all along the way he invited us into this Love that changes everything.
John 15:9 (the Message) “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.”
But still we struggle with this. We can’t seem to wrap our heads around this most crucial part of this great Gospel that we say we believe. We preach about it, sing about it, hand out tracks about it, give our money to send people to distant lands in the name of it – but yet we look in the mirror and hate what we see. We berate ourselves for not being moral enough for sins we can’t control, we, like the pharisees, project an impossible moral code on people that are crushed under the weight of it. We praise ourselves when we resist some temptation but curse ourselves when we fail. Few of us are ever really transformed. All we really accomplish without Love is some kind of moral superiority where by we beat our flesh into submission enough that we keep our shit hidden from the rest of the world. And then we chase those accomplishments and use them as a covering over our true selves.
Yet, in the soft glow of a sunset and the cool breeze of a mountain peak the kingdom of God calls to us to bring our weak and heavy laden hearts and choose to be swept away by the complete, unreasonable, reckless love of Jesus, and choose to live in the upside down kingdom where the homeless guy that you ignore everyday on the way to the office is first and your boss that you kiss ass to at all the meetings is last. When we choose to step into the Kingdom of God we enter a different kind of paradigm with a different economy:
- Where presence is more powerful than performance
- Where we are less interested in proving ourselves and more interested in offering ourselves
- Where we give not so that we can get, but because we have been given to
- Where strength is found in vulnerability
I meet a lot of folks in ministry that all say the same thing. I wish I could be more _______ fill in the blank. Truth is, we long for transformation and we should because that is what Jesus has been up to all this time. But we don’t get transformation by trying harder and white knuckling our way to being better people. You not cursing at the driver that cuts you off in traffic is not necessarily a sign that you’ve been transformed. The question we need to ask ourselves is – Do we know how deeply we are loved by Jesus?
So, after a year of learning about receiving love I have noticed some changes in myself.
- Sin is less appealing . Now, hold on. I’m not saying that I don’t sin anymore. I can still misbehave with the best of them. But the things that I used to run to have begun to loose their luster for me. One of the most helpful definitions of sin that I have ever heard came from John Eldredge – sin is a search for life apart from God. I’m learning to find life in Jesus but when I do go back to old habits it’s not such a crushing blow. Which brings me to the next thing..
- I’m learning to have Grace for myself. I’m still struggling with this. Folks, I beat myself up a lot but I’m learning to take a step back and a deep breath and take comfort in knowing that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 NIV.) I am his and nothing I could do will change that. Jesus goal for me is not for me to stop sinning, its unity and restoration.
- Joy has become a necessity, not just a neat idea. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11 (NIV) “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NIV) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2 (NIV) . If you notice, most of the time in the scriptures Joy is mentioned in relation to affliction. That’s not because Jesus wants us to be happy about shitty times. Its because Joy is a vital arrow that we should carry in our quiver. I need joy! You need joy! And when Love is central, joy will come with it.
- Ministry comes more natural. I have been in ministry for 20 years in one way or another and for a lot of those years I found myself faking it a lot. These days are different. For one, Jesus has led me to trim away faucets of ministry that I don’t need to be doing, and two, because I’m not ministering to earn something from him, I can operate from a place of love rather than duty.
- I’m ok not being in the spot light. In years past if I didn’t have a place where I was seen and heard I felt useless. These days, I am just as comfortable behind the curtain as I am in front of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking the stage and playing a song or speaking, but its not a necessity.
- I give better hugs! Not trying to brag, but I give the best hugs around!
I’ll leave you with some more words of Jesus that help us recover more of who he was and what he was after:
Mathew 11:28-30 (the Message) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I love this version of this text. “Watch how I do it. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” What a beautiful promise! Folks, we make this whole christian thing so damn difficult! Its really not much to it! Just stop trying to earn what has already been given and let yourself enjoy the love that is yours for the taking!
So, back to those footprints. I’d like to thank all the jerks that tracked all through my house! Your the best group of jerks a guy could ask for!