One of the most amazing things about being a Christian is that you don’t have to be perfect. As Jesus hung on the cross Good Friday hundreds of years ago, he was not alone. His cross was placed between two other men who were being crucified for being thieves. The man we now know as the “good thief” said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus did not hesitate to forgive this man, a man who by his own admission said he deserved to hang there for his deeds, and recognized that Jesus did not. He humbled himself before the Lord and Jesus immediately forgave him. This is our God.
This is our God that loves us more than all of our mistakes. This is our God that sees all of our imperfections and finds us beautiful. This is our God that sent His only begotten Son to die for us so that we could have eternal life with him. This is our God.
It is so easy in this life to forget who claimed us, who saved us from ourselves. What Jesus did for love. In our baptism we are called to remember, we are called to love one another as He loved us. We are called to serve one another as He served us. We are called to forgive as He forgives us. Without hesitation, without condition we are asked to love one another and pardon every trespass. This is how we are called to die to ourselves and rise in Him.
During Lent, as Catholics we are asked every year to look at the things we allow to come in between us and our relationship with God. We are called to push these things or these behaviors aside and commit ourselves more fully to Christ. To let these hindrances die so that we can rise anew in Him. Some of us give up simple things like sweets or fast food and replace them with attending daily mass or reading more scripture. This year I intended to give up sweets, I also attempted to give up alcohol but it seemed trite, and neither spoke to my heart or made me feel closer to God. They actually made me feel foolish like, “Is that the best you can do?” I knew I needed to dig deeper, I knew that if I was going to get to know God better during Lent I had to give up more. What I needed to give up was being hard on myself. What I needed to give up, was beating myself up for all the ways that I think I fall short. What I needed to add to my life this Lent was a new daily practice of loving myself as Jesus loves me.
The most dangerous prayer they say you can pray is, “Lord, make me uncomfortable. Make my life so uncomfortable, Lord, that I become solely dependent on you.” Dangerous indeed. When we are uncomfortable, when we are confronted with overwhelming personal strife or when we face obstacles that we never imagined we would face in this life, we are uncomfortable. In these times, we drop to our knees or we scream at the heavens, “Why? Why me Lord?” But the world is the world and here we are learning to navigate through imperfection and bad choices. Illness and tragedy, all of these are used for His good. So many saints have come before us. So many ordinary people suffer so much more and yet they have the faith to persevere through the storms and still draw closer to God. They find that through their trials, through their experience that they are closest to God, most like Jesus, in their suffering. Everything is stripped away, and in their nakedness and vulnerability they find gratitude. They have gratitude for the eternal salvation that is the legacy of Jesus.
One of my favorite books on following Jesus Christ is called Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. The title refers to the difference in being a fan of Jesus or being a true follower. Being a fan is easy, its like being a fair-weather friend. You buy the bumper sticker, you wear the cross but you don’t let His ways really infiltrate your life. When it’s convenient you are all about Jesus. Being a follower means setting your life aside; it is difficult and requires sacrifice. Being a follower is about complete surrender of all your crap over and over to Him on a daily basis. As a follower, as a believer, you have to admit that you are a hopeless mess most of the time even though you are trying to make it look like you have it all together. Not A Fan confronts the complacency and resignation in our faith and in our worship. To summarize one of my favorite quotes from the book, Idleman writes that Jesus isn’t calling us to perfection, He is calling us to authenticity.
There is more room for God to show up in imperfection than perfection.
The one thing I knew I had to do more of between Ash Wednesday and Easter was write. I knew that this was where God really wanted me to focus my love for Him because He had found a way to clear my calendar during Lent with foot surgery. No more gym or dance fitness for awhile, let alone just walking normally. Nothing tests your love of yourself and God more than an injury or an illness. I am not always a good steward of my gifts. God gave me the gift of creative writing, of imagination and storytelling and often times I do not write because I do not feel worthy of the incredible gift that I have been given. In one way or another I think we all have a gift or gifts that we struggle with in this way. We know it is our gift because it is our light to the world, it is how people see Jesus in us. Through this window of beauty and grace we find our truth in Him, we know who we are and why we are here. I promised myself that I would write one blog article every week during Lent. Well, it’s Good Friday and technically Lent is over and after posting this blog I will owe my commitment two more entries by Sunday. I missed the mark…or did I?
Less might be more. Matthew Kelly an incredible Catholic writer and speaker said, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” I have written more in the past 40 days than I have in a long time. I have listened more closely to God’s voice in my life and I have prayed more fervently than in days past. I know Jesus loves me, no matter how I succeed or fail. I know that He loves me for all my faults and mistakes. I know He understands why I am not always a good steward of my gifts, He can also hear the dark voice in my head that tries to tell me that I am not enough. But His love is stronger.
I know I am forgiven. I also know that I don’t have to fear what lies ahead of me or what I have left behind because He holds it all in His hands, it all belongs to Him. I belong to Him and I want to be proof of His promise. This is the source of my joy. This is the peace I have come to know, and this is how I can smile all the time and be authentically happy. This is why I try to live heaven on earth and be more of a follower than a fan. My redeemer lives.
J. C. Beichner