Coming to terms with an AWOL husband, trying to assess the state of my marriage, grasping onto life but rapidly losing my grip AND now the possibility of a private investigator trailing my husband…?!
That’s just crazy talk!
Going through my holiday snaps for the purpose of finding different face and body angles of my husband so the private investigator could form a holistic picture of him; Now there’s a task that I never thought I’d be doing!!
Everything I knew was solid was now brought into question.
I knew Mr Ex loved me. I knew Mr Ex would fight for me. I knew Mr Ex would protect me for the rest of my life. I knew nothing could ever separate me from Mr Ex.
What the fuck do I know?
I poured myself another glass of wine and started dissecting my beliefs
Aged 17, sitting in church with Mr Ex, I remember hearing that God has expectations. Standards, if you like. He is also omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent; He sees everything, He knows everything, and He is everywhere! So if you sin, you better watch out! ‘Cos God’ll know! And He’ll be angry! Even, disappointed (that’s worse than angry, right?). That was drilled into everyone.
I was taught that humans are sinful. But that Jesus died to save us from our sins. So, God has these two baskets, labelled ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’. In his primary role as the judging overseer of all the world, God is busy sorting us into these baskets. Either you are in the ‘saved’ basket (i.e. those who believe in God, let Jesus into their heart, do all the right things, make no mistakes, live pure, clean, expletive-free lives, etc. etc.) or the ‘unsaved’ basket (i.e. living in sin, making bad choices, doomed.). …Although, that second basket isn’t so much a basket; it’s a destination involving a lot more heat.
I would be sitting in church with a hat on my head dutifully taking sermon note in my ‘God’s Girl’ notebook, sitting next to my shirt-and-tie-wearing boyfriend, while I had friends who were out watching movies, enjoying Sunday morning breakfasts by the beach, or sleeping off a hangover. So I was pretty sure that I was in the ‘saved’ basket. I mean, I wasn’t entirely clear on why I required saving in the first place and why this stained-glass window figure called Jesus needed to be tortured and executed for me. What on earth have I done that warranted that kind of punishment? But whatever.
But fast-forward to me trying to assess the state of my marriage, grasping onto life but rapidly losing my grip and now the possibility of a private investigator trailing my husband…
Thinking about this God stuff in light of my new ‘un-accepting reality’ mindset, something just wasn’t adding up for me anymore.
I am a caring and loyal friend, I do my bit to recycle, I give to charities and I am kind to animals. Not to mention, I did NOT cheat on my spouse, unlike SOMEONE ELSE I could name.
I’m a Christian. So, I am a good person, right?
HA! WRONG, Ess!
It suddenly dawned on me.
As much as I’d love to bypass my flaws, they were suddenly glaringly obvious to me. Let’s cast our minds back to my relationship with my father-in-law.
Yes, I’m broken.
I’m a crappy, selfish, broken little so-and-so.
As much as I hate to admit it, I can be unwaveringly judgmental, I hold onto grudges like a biting lizard in a jaw-lock, and I don’t like admitting when I am wrong.
But I had this warm, fuzzy feeling that God was still wrapping His loving arms around me.
Because God somehow and rather amazingly loves me – and every one of His creations, for that matter – even though He can see our flaws and our brokenness, God came to earth in human form as Jesus to give us a way out. He slipped into human skin and entered the filth and grime of humanity to show us how to find peace and hope in a broken world. All because He loves us. And, as I was quickly learning, love is a mighty force.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16.
John (in Chapter 8) gives this wonderful account of Jesus.
Here is this woman. An adulterer. She has been literally caught in the act of cheating: imagine smudged lipstick, flimsy clothing, a fully-fledged and undeniable cheater. The religious leaders have literally dragged her through the streets like a feral animal to where Jesus is.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:2-5).
And indeed, they are correct. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to know that ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’ is one of the laws in the Old Testament of the Bible. Along with six-hundred-and-something other laws given by God to Moses, the religious people of Jesus’s time had quite literally a full-time job keeping up with all the laws, ticking boxes of doing good works, avoiding food deemed to be unclean, circumcising males, sacrificing animals, and inflicting the death penalty for witchcraft, homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy, and, well, the list just goes on.
We know that the Bible is full of dos and don’ts.
But, I wonder how many people are familiar with what happened next in John’s recount.
John says that Jesus “stooped down and wrote in the dust” (John 8:6).
Umm… What now?
The accusers grew impatient with the silent, stooping Jesus. “They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up” (John 8:7).
Then Jesus starts talking.
“‘All right, stone her!'” Jesus says. “‘But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust” (John 8:7-8).
“When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman” (John 8:9).
John doesn’t tell us what Jesus wrote in the dust. But I am wondering if it was something like this:
GRACE. LOVE. MERCY.
Something was beginning to click in my head.
Far from being a rule-enforcing, hell-inflicting punisher, God is love (1 John 4:8).
And God, himself, says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love!” (Jeremiah 31:3).
Have I been lied to? This is not the God I was taught about.
This is not a God who created a set of six-hundred-and-something unattainable standards and legalistic laws for us to live by and then takes delight in punishing us when we fail dismally. This is not a God who inflicts on us a to-do list of morals and life expectations, expecting us to meet them or punishing us with inflicted torment when we don’t.
This is a God who loves us so much that He actually stooped to our level.
“No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for anyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:20,22).
Far from being a punishing, cruel, keeping-a-record-of-our-sins kind of god, our God actually loves us enough to show us undeserved, unmerited, unearned favour. Grace.
Our world is just one big melting pot of bad choices and shit storms. A whole heap of humans with revenge-seeking, self-seeking, darkness-loving hearts.
And I’m definitely a part of that melting pot.
But in Jesus, we have a God who recognised the brokenness of the world and stooped to our level to lovingly rescue us from the graves we dig ourselves.
Far from God having two sorting baskets, there is actually just one basket. It is called Earth. And we are all in it. The label is ‘human’. And God loves us all with an everlasting love.
We cheat on Him, we reject Him, we ignore Him, but He is is constantly wrapping His loving arms around us, breathing life and love back into us.
And yes, even when I am kicking, screaming and running in the opposite direction from Him, He still loves me.
“I loved you at your darkest!” -God. (Romans 5:8)
Like when Jesus stooped into the dirt when defending the cheating woman, Jesus is still constantly stooping down into the broken, painful world to defend us.
That’s exactly what love is.
And I had already gleaned a small glimpse into that window through my own half-dead-kangaroo love for Mr Ex. No matter what Mr Ex was saying to me; even when Mr Ex was running in the opposite direction away from me, I just couldn’t stop loving him.
And since we are made in the image in God (Gen. 1:27), and God himself is love (1 John 4:8), then that points to a mightily, hugely, enormously powerful love that our God has for us.
The only thing more staggeringly incredible than that is that there is literally nothing we little buggers can do to earn or achieve or deserve God’s mercy. It is completely, totally, utterly because of God’s amazing grace, based on the FACT that He loves us and based on the FACT that love never fails (1 Corin. 13:8); not based on anything we can do or give or say.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” -Ephesians 2:8.
It is kind of ironic that Christianity has become a synonym in this world for judgment, dullness, boring and being out of touch with reality.
Because in Jesus, I see a God who loves the unlovable, frees the unworthy, and gives favour to the undeserving.
So maybe the foundation for God’s two-basket sorting system actually stems from our own judgmental and despicably mean spirit, rather than Jesus or even the Bible.
Jesus has never once said to me, “Ess, I died for you so you better follow me, you sinful human, you!”
Far from it, Jesus actually says, “Ess, I see your darkness-loving, judgmental heart, and nothing you could ever do will separate you from my love.”
I still remember the realisation that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate me from God’s love; Not my judgmental crap, not my doubting, not my fears or failures, not my f-bombs and not even a cheating husband and the crumbling of my whole life as I knew it. And, de ja vu! I had read pretty much that many times before, but this time I was reading with new eyes…
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 – 39).
By Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone. As simple as that.
And one of the biggest things I started to learn…
OMG! It’s really not hard to have a relationship with Jesus when you uncover His humble humanity, His awesome personality, and His unfailing love!
I remembered my Christian Studies teacher at school telling us that she hated Christmas cards that depicted the Nativity with a smiling, holy baby in an immaculate white cloth. Why? Baby Jesus was a human baby! So he might’ve been grizzling in his hay-filled manger possibly needing a nappy change in that stinky old stable surrounded by cattle (but definitely no lobsters, despite what my all-time favourite movie Love Actually may suggest! 🙂 ).
My Christian Studies teacher was onto something.
What about the images that we so often see of adult Jesus with a crisp white robe and beautiful blue eyes looking serene and holy? That figure in church stained-glass windows. I started to realise, THAT IS NOT JESUS! Yes, Jesus is divine. Yes, Jesus is God in human form. But, note the word human!!
During His time on earth, Jesus felt pain, loneliness, anguish, betrayal, anger and turmoil. This was a rather exciting revelation. Jesus walked on earth and experienced real emotions. He was overcome with sadness when His dear friend died (John 11), He was turning over tables in the temple out of anger (John 2), on countless occasions He approached the outcasts and misfits of society and even enjoyed meals with them (a single man seen with a promiscuous woman? Jesus had guts!), He was healing on the sabbath (a big no-no at the time), and He was even accused of drinking too much! (Matt. 11).
Jesus is awesome!
Jesus is gutsy!
Heck, Jesus is radical!
And Jesus is God!
Reading the Bible became a new experience for me. I was quickly uncovering Jesus’s charismatic and loving personality. This was the start of something new.
“But he has told me, ‘My grace is all you need, because my power is perfected in weakness.'”-2. Corinthians 12:9.
Years of dutifully attending church with Mr Ex, I’d never encountered Jesus in this way. Years of clean living and clean language, I’d never encountered Jesus in this way. Years of good choices, I’d never encountered Jesus in this way.
The real Ess was hatching out. F-bombs, red wine, questioning, like, EVERYTHING, and falling passionately in love with Jesus.
It felt like Jesus and I were both breaking our stereotypes.
And I felt like we were onto something.
I saw Jesus in the face of the people around me. I felt Jesus in my tears, weeping with me. I heard Jesus in the midst of darkness.
And perhaps that is because no one knows suffering quite like Jesus.
Jesus suffered immensely during His time on earth. As it became clear to Jesus that He would be executed by the very people He was trying to help, He went into the Garden of Gethsemane with some of His friends. He was deeply distressed beyond words. He was sweating blood out of sheer anguish. In the garden, Matthew, a friend of Jesus, writes in Chapter 26:36-46 that Jesus said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
Jesus also pleaded with God three times in the garden to take away His suffering; “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Jesus was no longer a stain-glass window figure of perfection, out of touch with reality and irrelevant to me. He was my best friend. He got me. And He was with me. And I was learning to pray the very powerful prayer, “God, may Your will be done.”
Fill my life, Jesus. Let me see the real you. Let me become more like you.
With hindsight, I think I started to pray less “comfort me” prayers (i.e. God, take away this pain) and I prayed more “conform me” prayers (i.e. God, use this pain for a purpose and make me more like Jesus.).
It’s a gradual thing.
But one thing’s for sure…
My God has stooped to my level and I am quite sure He loves me.
When you hold that belief – having experienced it to be true – it radically changes your life.
Sometimes God doesn’t change your reality. He doesn’t wave a magic wand to instantly eradicate the pain. Instead though, He stoops to our level, He gives us His presence, and He loves us.
He knows suffering. He knows rejection. He knows betrayal. And He is experiencing everything that I am experiencing.
The more I read, the more I prayed, the more I refused to merely accept reality… I could see Jesus carrying his cross saying, “I love you, Ess.”
“I will never leave you or forsake you…” -God. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
And I listened to Owl City’s In Christ Alone over and over again…