I still can hardly believe the change that has taken place in my heart, my life and my family - miraculous is the only word that comes close to describing it. My husband and I were discussing the change in me and resulting shift that has taken place in our relationship the other night and he said, "These have been the best weeks of your life, haven't they?" and I realized that he was right!
I don't think I can overstate the difference it makes to know and really believe that God is for me, is on my side, isn't mad at me, doesn't hold me to unattainable expectations - loves me personally, unconditionally, exactly as I am... It sickens me now to think how insidiously these lies about Him invaded the private sanctuary of my heart; and how long I allowed them to remain and fester and grow.
I was just about to write that it wasn't until my shame was lifted and disposed of that I could receive God's love, but upon closer examination of my experience, it was God who made the first move - it's always God first. While I was still all wrapped up in my cloak of shame, God came along side me and began to soften my heart. Almost against my conscious will, He stepped in and tenderly wrapped His arms around me and whispered words of love and acceptance and peace; something in me just seemed to melt. I'd never experienced His presence in that way before - affection, warmth, comfort, intimacy (oh, how I used to hate and fear that word!); no hint of judgement or expectation or evaluation...No, wait - there was evaluation; I felt deep in my soul that I was deemed utterly worthy by the only One whose opinion counts, finally freed to accept the love that He has always wanted to lavish on me.
I often wonder, if it's God who must always make the first move, if it's He who must cause us to "will and to act according to His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13); why He doesn't, in the wise words of the Nike commercials, just do it?! If it was God who needed to soften my heart so that I could accept His love, why didn't He do it years ago? Why not when I was a new Christian at the age of 6? Why not then, before the mantle of shame became so deeply embedded? I can only conclude that God cares more for His glory and my good and my growth than my immediate comfort and convenience. This is true love. What a story I have to share now - and it's not even finished yet!
As I struggle to believe that this amazing change in my life is for real, that it might actually last - I've been drawn to this verse again and again:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves
be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Christ has set me free, there's no denying that, but I can definitely bear witness to the fact that it is far too easy to become burdened again by a yoke of slavery. This verse tells me that, though it's God who does the freeing, I also play a part in my continued freedom. I get to choose what yoke I will wear; I can choose to allow myself to be burdened again - or not! And it's a choice that must be made deliberately, intentionally, daily, sometimes hourly or minute-by-minute...And since I get to choose, I pick this one:
“Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)
And, since many of us have heard these particular words so often that they cease to carry any meaning, I'll leave you with another expression of this beautiful and freedom-giving truth:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)
Ah, to "learn the unforced rhythms of grace"; to "live freely and lightly" - therein lies real joy!