Once I Was a Pharisee

*I am a recovering Pharisee. I once lived by rules and judgements and fear. I once broke my own heart on the altar of doing. I once followed church rules even when they violated what I knew to be true. I lived that life for a long time and I am still recovering. Like any addict, I live with an awareness of what I once was and could be again.

I am also a recovering sinner. I've sat in some very dark spaces, alone. I understand legalism, friends, but I also understand the kind of sick sorrow that slices like a knife. So, while I wrote this blog post with a little bit of trembling, I also wrote it with a very strong conviction. Jesus is the midline. He is neither here nor there. He's just Jesus. He's his own space.

So, rather than trying to make him fit into our spaces, let's give way to his upside down, inside out, radical saving spaceAre you in? *

Last week a girlfriend sent me a message asking what I did to put Jesus first every day. She was struggling because she kept feeling like she wasn't doing it right. You probably know what she's talking about. I certainly do, and she's not the first one to ask me this. Some of us bury our faith because we don't think we're living up to it. Some of us obsess over every little quiet time, church service and set aside prayer time, afraid that we'll mess it up. I definitely used to be afraid that I would be one of those people who thought they knew Him, only to enter eternity and hear him say that He never knew me. Catch the theme here? We get so afraid, friends. We want to be (or think we should be) the kind of people who read really spiritual books, listen to a podcast every day, wake up early just to read our Bibles and pray, respond to every situation with a "pure heart" and never ever ever ever step even an inch off of the "righteous" way.

Let me tell you where that fear will carry us. We will, very soon, find ourselves in the order of the Pharisees. Our fear, if left to breed, will soon twist our tired thoughts. We'll travel farther and farther from the gospel of grace and deeper and deeper into gross expectations.

When I was younger, and terrified of being a spiritual failure, I genuinely thought that things like listening to non-Christian music was reflective of someone's heart - in a bad way. I judged it. It was stupid, and fearful, and gross,  but I judged people. It's not that I was raised that way - I have strong memories of singing "Let's Hear It For The Boy" with my mom when I was a kid - but somewhere along the way, in an attempt to find myself,  I developed an attitude of fear. I linked my thoughts with a legalistic order of other "godly" people.

Listen, friends. If you've read my playlists or taken a single Holy Yoga class from me, you know I've been delivered. I'm not so afraid anymore. But we're just touching the surface of my old fear. I was religious, people. I was a hot mess - doing everything right, cleaving to the rules and desperately wishing it wasn't rules that would save me. I was convinced that not having sex before I was married would be enough to make me feel cleaned up after someone else's sin stole from me. I lived with a deep certainty that not swearing would make me holier, wearing loose clothing would make me less sinful and holding rules over my friends would make them love Jesus.

Would you believe that it was failure that rescued me? The God Who Wastes Nothing didn't abandon me in my faithless religion. He crawled right into it. Right into the questions I was afraid to ask, the fear that kept me starved for truth, the longing to stop caring about how other people defined me. And yet, somehow, in this mess, I was labeled as "that girl" - the one that couldn't measure up to the spiritual SOMETHING. But no one could tell me what the SOMETHING was. It just wasn't me. You know why? Because fear shows. Because religion isn't faith. Following Pharisee-like rules wasn't freeing me. It made me tired, desperate and terrified.

And then there came this moment when everything caved in. All of my rules crushed me, in an instant. Or in a month that feels like a minute. I spiraled. I gave way to the sorrow, the depression and the lies. I sat on my kitchen floor, all alone, and looked straight into my reflection in the oven door. I took handfuls of pills and waited.

You know what came for me? Not death. Not shame. Not fear. Not sorrow.

He came.

Jesus. He came for me.

When I couldn't feel my limbs, I could feel him, friends. When I couldn't open my eyes, I felt the weight of his hands. One on my head. One on my belly. Steady. Warm.

When I should have died, wanted to die, he came for me. He came for me in a way that defies logic. He came for me in a way that left me without a single physical reminder of my sorrow. He came for me in a way that completely relieved my spiritual bondage. He came for me and I stopped being "that girl". I started being THE girl.

Freedom didn't happen for me in all of those years of waking up early enough to read my Bible. It didn't happen for me in all of the hours I spent serving and attending church. Freedom came for me in my grossest, most humiliating moment. It came for me in my ugly.

He came for me.

I found myself, soul bare, being picked up out of the dirt, guilty as hell. I found myself washing his feet with my tears, and I couldn't hear the outrage anymore. I found myself healed by the sheer force of his gaze. Noticed. Completely known, not an atom of my existence ignored.

And maybe he came for you on a Sunday morning, or in a Bible Study, because that's your story. But, for me, he came on a lonely, desperate day. He came to rescue me from my religion. He came to call me out of my Pharisee life. He came to deliver me from fear. He came, at just the right moment, when the screaming in my head turned into a whisper. He came to show me that he would enter into my ugly. He wasn't ashamed of me, even in my religious faithlessness. He wasn't deterred by my ridiculous judgmental behavior. He was just coming for me. All along.

Hear me, friends. Fear is the kind of thing that doesn't release us gently. It will keep coming for us. It's been eleven years since Jesus called me out of my old self. I have been working out what it means to be fearless since then. Don't think that I don't sometimes revert to my old behavior. Some days I still wake up thinking that I had better not screw this up. There are strong moments of fear for me. Fear that I'll be alone. Fear that I'll work till I'm ashes and still have nothing to show for it. Fear that people will still think I'm a mess. Fear that I'll judge someone too harshly. But never, ever again have I feared that Jesus will tell me I never knew him. Because I know him. I. Know. Him. And He knows me. That's what happened that day, in my failure. He entered in and my fear dissipated.

So, when you wake up early to read your Bible, let it be because you want to. When you read a spiritual book, let it be because it's speaking to you. When you listen to podcasts, and show up for church, let it be because you are filled up and pouring back out. And, when you need to burn out a little, know that Jesus is in our tired ugly too. The cross did more than change the outcome of eternity, friends. It changed the right here, right now. He's in it in a way that never could have happened before. He's not afraid of your yuck. He's not ashamed of your failure. He's not disgusted by your dark corners. He already knows it. All of it. Because he bore it. He lifted it up onto his own shoulders and let it seep into his destroyed body. He's already lived it.

We love him, because He loved us first. We know Him because He knew us first. We're safe with Him because He's already traveled every road to get to us.

Today is a new day. Today is a fearless day. Live it free.

*We can also absolutely find freedom in spiritual disciplines. Come back on Monday. We'll talk about that too.*

*August 2013