When I wrote the last post, I sincerely struggled for words to express grief without expressing a human-focused neediness or a desire to be fixed. I didn't even really need people to read it, and I almost didn't publish those words because I knew they may be mis-read. But Emmett and I had always committed to honesty with each other, and when he got cancer, it seemed only appropriate to extend that honesty. In the last few days, I've been humbled by the notes I've received publicly, privately, first-hand, and sometimes even second- or third-handed about people who are struggling finding comfort in the fact that there is at least one other person out there trudging through the mud of life.
A few weeks ago, on a particularly sinful day, I let my sin nature walk right through the gate of my heart and take over. Heck, I practically invited it to stay, fed it a meal, and made it a bed. I ended up saying some downright awful things to a friend and then padding my smug sense of self-righteousness so I wouldn't have to feel the shame of being a grade A jerk. But the prick of the Holy Spirit sent me on the path to reconciliation, and as we talked things through things a few days later, I was humbled and led to worship by the reminder of the sweetness of reconciliation.
I was reading through The Letters of John Newton this week, and yes, I will probably quote this book as obsessively as I did the last one I read. One of his letters was subtitled by the editors as "spiritual blindness," but I think a more appropriate subtitle might be, "The distinguishing mark of a believer." You see, sometimes I get in my head that the distinguishing mark of a believer is a certain level of annoying combination of perkiness and unfailing optimism, usually accompanied by charming good looks, well behaved children, and a casually held coffee cup from Starbucks. But a comparison Newton made keeps resonating with me - that the highest level of human attainment cannot rival the lowest degrees of grace.
The mere desire of salvation with no actual spiritual enlightenment of grace may flourish for a while but will always waste away in the end. But even the lowest degree of grace, as granted through divine enlightenment, will be a continually progressive work no matter how small the steps, how slow the progress, or how feeble and weak the person.
I kind of wanted to dance for joy when I read that, and it occurred to me that the distinguishing mark of a believer is someone who always returns to the sweetness of reconciliation in Christ. I love that when Christ prayed for Peter in the garden, he prayed not that Peter wouldn't sin, but that after he sinned, he would return. In other words, he prayed that sin wouldn't hold dominion over Peter, but that grace would have the final say over his life. The mark of a believer is not the absence of sin, but the continual longing for and returning to a relationship with God through his mercy and by his grace - no matter how ugly or broken or feeble the return appears.
I'm finally grasping what Christ meant when he told the pharisees that the woman washing his feet loved much because she had been forgiven much. When I finally realize the complete worthlessness of my own smug sense of self-importance and seek true reconciliation with Christ, I find myself free to be honest without needing to be fixed, free to love and laugh and dance like Elaine from Seinfeld. But the best part of reconciliation is the sweetness of not needing to be fixed, of being accepted and loved and welcomed as my broken, repugnant self.