When I look back at some of the years I called myself a Christian, I look like a real tool.
Granted, if I’m to be like Christ, then the word Christian should indicate that I’m living like Jesus did, bringing hope and love and advocating for the Truth, calling out injustice.
But what did I do? I thought that somehow I was superior to others…those who thought differently, lived differently, who didn’t fit into my set of Recognizable Rules.
By Rules, I mean the rules that we humans like to make up to feel better about ourselves. Things we can tick off a list.
Understand this: I thought I was a giving, loving person. Even gracious. Forgiving. I thought I was a good example of who Jesus was when He walked His local footpaths. And I probably was…to other people just like me. If you were my server at the restaurant, or clerk at the store, I was Kind. I smiled. I was pleasant. Even if you scared me a little with your rocker hair or facial piercings, I was Brave and showed you You Are Okay! You can be in My World and I Will Greet You Kindly.
One day, shortly out of my #marriagefromheck, I had a realization: I was treating people who were different than me as Less-Than–JUST LIKE I HAD BEEN TREATED IN MY MARRIAGE. And I had hated being treated as though I would always be a little slower, on a lower stair, the subservient one, the one with less knowledge, less power. All this time I had been seeing people who had different spiritual beliefs or sexual orientation as somehow Lesser, not equal, to me. Even though we were all simply humans sharing a planet. Humans made of blood and bone and flesh.
I remember the conversation with my therapist:
“I was horrified when I realized that I’ve thought of people who are different than me as Other, as Less-Than!” My voice shook, my heart raced as I confessed this.
“Horrified…that sounds about right,” she said calmly.
No “oh but you try to be a good person so you deserve points for effort.” Simply calm acceptance of my epiphany. I needed to feel horrified, I needed to see how wrong I’d gotten it.
Humanity is a shared experience–we all have hearts that beat. We want to be loved, and to love, to be accepted. But there are differences–skin color, sexuality, spirituality. We are not stamped out of a factory, we are lovingly fashioned by a Creator.
I don’t know about you, but I have loved me some rules. I believed I was doing my own thinking, but truthfully, if I can just follow a list of rules and feel confident that I’m ticking the boxes, I’m in. And that’s what happened for me as a Christian. I belonged. I believed the same things as those around me. I knew what I thought were the Rules, and I could follow them.
Here are some rules I was good at:
- Teach your children no sex before marriage, allowing them to feel vaguely ashamed about their bodies.
- “Jesus, Others, You” (Everybody else comes first, selfcare is selfish).
- Show up every week at church.
- Love (but
judge–um, be discerning about!) those who are not like us.
Rules made me feel Safe. As someone who has searched for a feeling of safety since my chaotic childhood, Rules made a good fence around my life. They kept me from any encroaching weedy Differences I didn’t understand–those belonged over there, not in my tidy little garden.
But what did the Rules make me forget? The Humanity. The shared experience. The desire to love and be loved, to be accepted for who we are.
And guess what? Turns out I love at least one gay person. And a Trans person. I loved them before I knew they were gay or Trans. I loved them already for the lovely humans they are–for their humor and their heart, their silliness and their sass.
The son-in-law I live with is becoming my first daughter-in-law. Hearing their struggles from early childhood to make peace with a body that didn’t fit who they knew they were inside–a child who prayed for God to please let them wake up a girl–broke my heart. Luis is becoming Luna, something my old Rules would never have understood.
Being Trans is not something one picks because they’re bored on a Sunday afternoon. Trans people get beaten, they get killed. The likelihood of hate crimes against them is high, and for Luna more so, because she also lives in a brown body. We are a cruel people, bullying and hurting those who are different from us. Those who live differently, love differently, wear different clothes or have different skin.
I confess: I’m a person in process–incomplete, healing, learning. I realize I have loved with a “But” attached. “I love you but I have this–you don’t.” I took the How-Tos of what I read in the Bible and made them fit what made me feel Safe and secure behind my garden fence. I forgot our common humanity on this planet.
I confess: For decades I tried hard to gain acceptance from my parents, from my ex and his family. I worked to be Lovable, to be Acceptable. I failed miserably. If someone doesn’t want to accept you, there’s nothing you can do about it. When someone sees you as Less-Than, you are outside their gate with no chance of entrance.
But God: The Passion Translation says:
This is love: He loved us long before we loved him. It was his love, not ours. He proved it by sending his Son to be the pleasing sacrificial offering to take away our sins.1 John 4: 10 TPT
But God: God loved me, accepted me, long before I did anything to make Him love me. I didn’t do it, it was * His * love. No amount of rule following or box checking could convince Him, because He’d already decided to love me. He loved me “long before.”
God loves me for my humanity, in my humanity, faults and frailties and all.
I confess: I’m learning that the kind of love I receive from God, from Jesus, is the love I feel when I stop worrying about guarding my Safety, my Sameness. It’s accepting someone’s value simply for being on the same planet. When I let go of my fears and hear someone’s heart, listen to their struggles, I can love Before.
And that, I’m learning, is the love of Jesus.