(Who am I? Rhonda. Slightly blurry girl who curls her hair even when camping. Saved by grace.)
I asked my boy the other day what it means to be a christian. Sadly, he rattled off everything that I didn’t want him to say. He said things like, someone who goes to church and someone who reads the bible and does all the things that God tells us to do. He said that it’s someone who is loving and kind and who learns memory verses.
How do you explain that while those are things that we may do as a result of being a christian, these are not the things that make us a christian.
For a long time I wouldn’t call myself a photographer but rather just someone who likes to take pictures. People would stare at me in confusion, tilt their head slightly to one side as they tried to figure out the riddle. But there was no coy answer or smart comeback on my part. I just didn’t identify with being a photographer, which in my head was someone who has taken classes and honed the art and knew what every f-stop would do precisely. And that wasn’t me. I just liked to take pictures.
My boy has simply taken his cues from me. It’s not his fault. He’s heard me say that I’m not a photographer because I don’t know all the things and I didn’t study under the greats and I’ve never been in National Geographic and ….and….and….
So clearly it only makes sense in his mind that in order to be a christian there must be a list of things that we need to check off, to accomplish, to achieve before we can hail ourselves with the title. Church? check. Bible study? check. Memory verses filed somewhere back there in our mind? check. Kind to someone today? check.
Except that’s not it at all.
Those things no more make me a christian than one has to be published to call yourself a photographer. Those aren’t the things that make you one. They’re the things that may come as a result of you being one. Do you see the difference?
In this season of my life, this theme of identity has been swirling around like the autumn leaves caught up in the wind. Caught in the cyclic rhythm of do this, don’t do this, no – he is enough. do this, don’t do this, no – he is enough.
At first it was all the things I should be doing and the guilt and shame that come with not having them in my life. I’m not part of an organized bible study. I should do that. check! I need to adopt babies because that’s what the scripture says. Go! Social justice, that’s what I’m lacking. Find an organization helping the underprivileged and do that. Big fat gold star!
Slowly and painfully, for our hearts don’t change easily and our hearts don’t mend quickly and our grasp on our ways is much too tight, these things started being pulled from my grasping fingers. The bible study had to go with changing schedules. The adoption didn’t pan out and the foster parent papers didn’t even get the dignity of a return phone call.
One by one God has plucked all these ‘need to’s’ from my hands. He’s left me standing before Him empty. No social justice notch on my belt. No rescued baby in my arms. He’s left me in this place of crying out, “What then? If not these what? What should I do? What am I to be? Aren’t I suppose to…?”
Time and time again He’s beckoned my heart, weary from all the trying, back to simply Him and said, “Just me. Only me. I am enough.”
It makes the tears come even to think that I get so wrapped up, so busy, so do-goodery, that I forget that He is enough. It cracks open the crevices of my heart that want to make it about me and look at this and see what I’m doing and brings me to my knees in repentance knowing that it’s not our works that He desires but our hearts. It’s not all the things we can do or give, for truly what can we give the one who made it all? How can we repay a debt that can never be repaid? So easily the heart slips into the law and penance and even some weird version of karma when these aren’t the things He says we ought to be.
So it’s not the going to church or the bible study or eating organic or purchasing from socially responsible organizations that He wants. It’s not the hybrid car or the feeding the poor or the youth group perfect attendance award that will earn us a spot in heaven.
It is always and only by grace. Not earned. Never earned. It is free and unmerited. It is a gift, and not the weird kind where you’ve been given something great so you must panic and pace the mall and search the online stores in order to return the favour.
It’s the kind of gift that is so far above anything you could give or anything you could earn that the only response to it is to humbly utter thank-you’s. We can never, on our own, be what is required or do all that we ought to earn favour and the beauty is that’s not what he wants. In fact, he calls those works filthy rags in comparison to what he’s done.
He wants our hearts not our chores. He wants our worship not our work. He wants us to know that He is all we need and everything else pales in comparison.
So, I’m not a regular bible study attender or a mama to many or an advocate to the poor just now, maybe I never will be.
But my identity is found in Him and not in those things. My position is redeemed by His blood, not by the work of my hands. My title is not adoptive parent or volunteer or teacher or anything but saved by grace. It’s in this position I find all that I need and my struggling heart finds rest.