Last week I promised a story. It’s a good story. And I really think it illustrates very nicely the principle I outlined last week. To refresh your memory, last week, I talked about the human tendency to pull away from God when we’ve done something we know we shouldn’t have. When we’ve sinned, somehow God begins to look not like the loving, benevolent God we’ve known him as, but as a condemning, angry old man coming after us with lightning bolts and calamity to punish our wrongdoing. Even if he draws near to us only to show us love, we will pull away, as Adam and Eve did. But what if people chose not to pull away? What if we drew nearer instead? Stay with me for a moment, and we will see.
Our story opens on a young woman: beautiful, classy–someone who looks like she has it all together. But unfortunately, her own story is not so together as we would assume. She comes from a broken home. Her once-close family was ripped apart in her early teens when her mother turned to alcohol to wash away the pain and guilt of her many extra-marital affairs, which eventually led to her divorce from our young woman’s father. At the tender age of 11, it was our girl who had to call the police when she found her mother unconscious, as she had over-dosed on prescription sleeping pills in a suicide attempt. The Mother turned to another man, also an alcoholic, who physically abused her, and our girl had no choice but to look on helplessly as he often abused her so terribly that she was forced to go to the emergency room for care. Back and forth, from house to house she went, going to her mom’s when her dad went on long term fishing trips, and back to her dad’s when her step-dad began abusing her mom again. Her siblings’ marriages began falling apart too, every one of them. Their once-happy family was now a tattered remnant of bitterness and pain. No stability, no moral compass, no goodness to aspire to. When she was only 20 years old, she watched her mother die of pneumonia and a broken heart.
In spite of all of this, our young woman had survived the wringer–and with her chin up, to boot.
Fast-forward a few years, and we stumble upon a different kind of scene–a beautiful one. Two gazes meeting for the first time, a beautiful forever just beginning. Our girl meets the man of her dreams: tall, handsome, kind, loving, and best of all, stable and faithful. She knew he would never change, and his love for her would never falter. No more uncertainty, no more instability or pain. And he found her captivating, both for her outer beauty and the inner loveliness of a sweet soul, one not made bitter by her many trials. Needless to say, they fell in love.
Then, the man proposed. They wondered if there was ever a couple so in love, so perfect for each other, as they. And here we find that, because of the lack of moral compass or discipleship, they grew very close emotionally and all too close physically. Nevertheless, from the day they became a couple, the man had taken our girl to church, and in spite of their physical closeness, they continued to draw close to God and kept going to church. If people had known what their struggles were, they might have said that they did not belong there because of their sin. Somehow, the girl had known about God all her life, always knowing that he loved her, that he was always there for her, and she became a Christian–what a beautiful moment! But the turmoil in her heart began. They never stopped going to church, but she cried all the way home after every sermon because she knew there was something wrong, a difference between what God desired for their relationship and what their relationship currently entailed. She knew God never condemned them, however, but she wanted to be baptized and felt that their physical sin was a barrier to her commitment to doing so. The man felt the same way–something needed to change.
And then, they knew what they had to do. They confessed to their Sunday School teachers that they had crossed physical boundaries they knew they shouldn’t yet, and that they wanted to change. She finally got baptized, and her life began to change. As they went through pre-marital counseling, the teachers guided them through the process of repentance and forgiveness. They abstained for the rest of their engagement, asked for forgiveness from God and and each other for crossing the lines, and focused on other parts of their relationship instead. Fast-forward to today, and they’ve been happily married for the 22 years since, still just as in love as from the day they said “I do.”
As you might have guessed, this is the story of my parents. (see picture at left from 1991) It’s a bittersweet tale, I know. But unfortunately, the first part of the story resonates with far too many people in this world. This world is broken, and often, people are not trained up in the right way to live, and they are not nurtured and loved as God meant for them to be. My point in telling this story (and their point in allowing me to) is that they never stopped going to church. They never pulled away from God. Even though they knew something was wrong, they never doubted God’s goodness or acceptance. Because God pursues us and tugs on our hearts with his love, we can only stay in our sinful state for so long. Eventually, we WILL change, if we continue to draw near to him. Today, they are two of the godliest people I’ve ever met, and the best role models and parents I could ever ask for.
That’s my prayer for everyone who may be doubting or who has made choices they aren’t proud of. NEVER pull away from God. He does not condemn you. He wants the best for you, yes, but he wants your fellowship, not your works. He will change you and help you if you draw near to him. And to the Christians around them–don’t judge them! Don’t kick them out or reject them! God is always working in people’s hearts, and redemption comes through love in spite of actions, not because of them. Sometimes, even though it doesn’t look from the surface like God is in them, he is working underneath. Like the picture I chose for this post, all of our hearts are under construction. Pray for them instead. Draw them in with love. Maybe that way, we can save some. It worked for my parents, right?
Stay tuned for next week! I’ll unpack this a little bit more with some perspective from C.S. Lewis on this issue. Thanks for reading! Have a blessed week!
My parents, 22 years later