“He’s getting after me…” my friend said of her dad. “Why?” I asked. “Because there is dog poop on the porch.” she replied. Hmmm… There is? I had never noticed it before. “Little baggies of poop… It bothers him…” she went on. No kidding, I thought. Sure enough, the next time I went over I noticed them. I totally missed them the last time I was there.
There I was, frantically cleaning again. That same old panicky feeling creeping up in my chest while I furiously scrubbed away at the counters. Yelling toward the kids, “Please, just get up and clean things up NOW! She’ll be here any minute!” This pause in my heart and my head occurred as I wondered if one “stop by” visit was worth the emotional damage to my kids for my harshness. Did I love this person more than my own children? I stopped to consider, when was the last time I acted like this? When was the last time I felt the pressure to perform, to look right, to have it together? I literally asked myself out loud, “Why do I feel the need to perform?”
We all have that person in our lives. That aunt who makes suggestions about how you should sign your kids up for a certain activity… The homeschool mom that says “x” curriculum is the best and it would solve all your problems… The dad who thinks that life would be better if you just took his advice… Bloggers make a lot of money on it. “10 ways to organize your life”. “25 days to a better you”. They all promise in return for your service to their plan, your life will be better. Your kids will behave and obey, your husband will be romantic and handy around the house, and your body will be fit and toned. Empty promises… All of them center around trading a part of your worship for a better identity.
I used to believe that as a Christian, it was a part of my spiritual duty to call fellow believers to a higher standard. My friends and I would call each other out on everything we felt was inappropriate. We did it out of sincere love for each other. But that love, was not love at all. In fact, it was bondage. Jen Grice from Fully His said, “A dysfunctional version of ‘love’ keeps people in bondage to each other. Love allows for freedom, for feelings, and has no room for selfishness or cruelty.” I love that quote!!
When I first learned about my identity in Christ and accept that in grace I have been fully made righteous, I started to give up on appearances. Even though my heart had changed, it was such a slow mental change. I had been so trained that appearances matter. And while I deeply desired to be real with people, I had been hurt so badly, that I could not let people see the real me. I had been told that the real me was false. When those lies dropped off and I quit living in performance mode… I got a lot of pressure from my dad to continue performing. We got in heated arguments which usually ended with me hanging up the phone. (A good portion of those fights had something to do with our house or yard maintenance, which was never good enough for my dad’s tastes. Or child rearing, which he always told us we were doing a good job and then made sure we would know exactly how we could make it even better.) The bondage in that relationship was ridiculous. I was not free to be me. He was not free to love me as I am. I couldn’t love him as he was without performing up to his standards. And when I decided to stop meeting his standards, he started enforcing them on my children. My dad was worshiping the stairway of perfection, not realizing it only leads to death.
Living in Community
My best friends are those that have survived abuse. They understand what it looks like to be imperfect, yet perfectly loved. Hmmm, imperfect, yet perfectly loved. Because Christ loved us perfectly by laying down his life for us, it frees me from having to obtain the love I need from my friends, which frees me from needing to look perfect! And because I know that God loved me in the middle of my messy life, with all my mistakes and ugly sin, I can freely love my friends with all their mistakes and ugly sin. Why? Because I’m trusting God for their outcome. He took care of me when my life was in free fall. So no matter how out of control their lives may “look”, I can trust that the Lord is working all things for their good and his glory. My friends might make mistakes. They may have baggies of poop laying around their lives. But that doesn’t diminish God’s love for them. If I’m getting my love for my friends from God, then it doesn’t diminish my love for them either. I’m going to let the poop be. When the time is right, God will make it clean.
Just in case you think this means I’m going to “let love and let go” all the time, that wouldn’t be love either. Love says the difficult things. Sometimes to love someone freely is to tell them the truth, even if you might risk losing the friendship. Prayerfully, I have had to say things a few times that I thought for sure would not go over well. I have come to see though that the outcome of those conversations is not up to me, but up to the Lord. So I speak what he gives me and then shut up. I don’t have to make whatever it is happen. I’m not responsible for someone else’s decision. I’m not the Holy Spirit! It’s amazing to see though, that God never fails. Living in grace frees me from having to make things happen in other people’s lives or even in my own life. It gives me the opportunity to love people without return. To give without needing to take. To receive freely without feeling the need for repayment. To clean or not clean, knowing that I’m loved either way.
And if you’re frantically cleaning before someone shows up because you know your clean house is tied to your value in their mind……. Take a deep breath and ponder if that’s a relationship you really need. Law based relationships breed death. Grace based ones bring life. Search for grace and give it to others. In Christ, be Life.