I shared these words back in February in a post titled Religious Masquerade:
Behind closed doors, I was falling apart. I knew I was a total phony. I knew I wasn’t living up to the requirements. The guilt and shame were debilitating. My perception, though, was that if I didn’t present a certain image to the world that I would “ruin my witness”, cause others to stumble, my daughter and I would get kicked out of the place that was going to make me better if I could just try harder, and that eventually I would lose all the friends I made there.
You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. Luke 12:2 MSG
But God, in his grace and mercy, started pulling the masks off. It may seem cruel to those who haven’t experienced it, but I see it as the greatest gift – God handed me a special mirror. He showed me that what I believed about myself as a little girl was true – I wasn’t “making the grade”. I mess up every day in a thousand different ways. I hurt people. I lie. I cheat. I don’t love like I should. I don’t work as if God is my boss. Not a single day on this earth have I lived up to the covenant. My sin did make Jesus volunteer to go to the cross. Yes, it was excruciatingly painful to see my heart through that special mirror, but absolutely essential.
The God who used to meet me in the dark of the night as a little girl got me all alone in my dark night of the soul. He shut out all the other voices. He coaxed me into his lap. He told me the truth about the cross. The cross is his love letter to me. He’s not the angry mob boss. He is a loving Father. I am his beloved daughter. He lovingly showed me that I have been adding exhausting burdens to his finished work (Matthew 11:28). He reminded me that Jesus rose again. He is ALIVE!! Death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55). IT IS FINISHED!!! (John 19:30) He has set this captive free (Luke 4:18).
I have a confession:
I quickly developed Gospel amnesia. Even before I shared that post I had already returned to the masquerade ball. It hit me hard a few weeks ago as I listened to several podcasts by my friend Marci. Marci shares in a talk titled How the Publican Became a Pharisee about the struggles she had to seek the acceptance and approval of Christians after she was awakened to the Gospel. A merciful ton of bricks hit me through her story.
Reality set in…
I didn’t throw my masks away. I had tucked them away in a dark corner of my closet. They were tattered and torn, but a little super-glue and a few embellishments and I could face my church family again. I didn’t slowly traipse back to the ball after my season of darkness…I ran back full-throttle.
The same behaviors that catapulted me into the deepest, darkest pit of suicidal depression 3 years ago were the very things I returned to after I was sure God had miraculously spared my life. I rushed back to the cage of Christian duty and fear-based obligation. I too readily listened to the voices that had taken root in my head after years of living with a performance-based Christianity…the voices that said “You’re getting healed up, now it’s time to get busy for Jesus.” “How are you going to use what you learned in that depression to help others?” “C’mon, now…you can’t just sit around writing your little stories…you have to have an active faith.” “You can’t be still, you have to stay busy and not isolate or you’ll think too much and end up right back where you were.” “The best way to get out of your pity-party (depression is not a pity-party, by the way) is to serve others.” These are real thoughts that weave through my mind.
Do those sound like the words of Jesus? NO, they sound like the words of the accuser echoing the legalism I had entrenched myself in for years.
It was so easy, too easy, to run back to the ball. I wanted those in my Christian circle to know that God had saved ME – the woman who the accuser convinced in that dark night of the soul had nothing to offer the world anymore.
I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News. Galatians 1:6 NLT
To be continued…