We must learn.

Now more than ever, I feel that Jesus followers must learn to live in the tension around us. Our generation absolutely cannot afford to get this wrong. We must learn to live in the tension in our neighborhoods, our marriages, our friendships, and especially our roles as mothers. As a living, breathing vessel of God’s presence and love, I have to get to the point where I’m okay with not having all the answers.

There are gay people attending my church, men and women who want to get to know Jesus better without leaving their old lives behind. There are women of color with whom I connect online from all over the country, women who carry a painfully different perspective on community and justice than I do. There are days I swear up and down my husband would be a little more like Jesus if he’d just listen to me, but he doesn’t. And there are days I look at my kids like they are aliens and I can’t figure out why God gave them to me and I wonder if we will all make it out alive.

And that’s just it. That’s the gospel. Jesus gave me his life so that I don’t have to have mine all figured out. Not only that, Jesus gave me his life so that I can tell others that they don’t have to have theirs all figured out either. I can make disciples of people without fixing all of their problems. And that is good news.

So back to this idea of living in tension, the concept that has completely derailed me recently. I am a huge, HUGE fan of the grace versus works tension and I want to hang out here for a minute. I’ve always been a hard worker and I grew up in the church, so naturally I lean towards this idea that idle hands are sinful and we all need to be doing our part all of the time. Recently, I even went so far as to pick a fight with my husband about when I feel it is the appropriate time of day to sit on the couch – after the kids go to bed. And yet, I’m quick to swing hard into the idea of grace and the simplicity of salvation when it applies to my own mess.

I believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead so that I could have life and life abundantly. I believe that he did it because he loved me, that my name was on his lips when he hung on the cross and when he walked out of the tomb. I know that all I have to do is believe with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and confess with my tongue that God raised him from the dead. I believe that I could sit on that truth for the rest of my life and do nothing about it, and that I’d still see him someday in heaven, smiling at me. And therefore, I’m thankful for grace.

But I also believe that faith without works is dead. I believe that the gospel compels. I believe that once we become Jesus followers, we’re left with a task of bringing heaven down to earth. That sounds like a beautifully heavy task, but a very clearly defined command. I believe that my entire life should be about the Great Commission, and going out into all the world to make disciples is an active charge. I believe God created me to be a hard worker, someone who loves moving and achieving and pressing forward. And therefore, I’m thankful for works.

So which is it? Grace or works? Where does this tension leave me? Can I find the sweet spot in the middle? And the answer, I think, is that there doesn’t have to be an answer. There doesn’t have to be a sweet spot. God is still good. He doesn’t need a sweet spot. He is the sweet spot. He is the answer. So I learn to live in the tension. And I can call it good, because He is good.

Shame doesn’t belong to me.

In addition to fear of failure, I’ve also carried a lot of shame around for weird, twisty unknown reasons. I’m one of those annoyingly-quick-to-apologize types, even when something isn’t my fault. I must have asked Jesus to come into my heart forty or so times before I hit puberty. I even dealt with some obsessive-compulsive behaviors in middle school, showering multiple times a day and washing my hands until they bled. My parents almost didn’t know what to do with me. They’d done everything right and kept me safe. Why did I fret like this?

I naturally mellowed out as I grew up, but the painful awareness of sin and the feelings of shame still lingered. It didn’t matter that Jesus had died for me on the cross, apparently, because I lived life like a slave to my emotional baggage. I became obsessed with what people thought of me, in real life and online. I’d chase people down if I thought I’d been misunderstood or given someone a wrong impression. I’d rehash situations and scenarios in my head and in conversation with my people.

But after babies, when all hell broke loose and I hit rock bottom, I learned a little something about shame. I learned that as a follower of Jesus, shame actually doesn’t have to apply to me anymore. My best friend Jessi sent me a text during a particularly rough spell that really got my wheels turning. You can’t be found out. There is nothing that Jesus doesn’t already know about me, nothing that he didn’t already take with him to the cross. There are no skeletons, no dirty laundry. There is nothing that the world can find out about me that changes the fact that I am in Christ. To get to me, they have to come to Jesus. And that’s actually quite exhilarating.

Most people agree on the difference between shame and guilt, and that it’s the shame addresses identity where guilt addresses behavior. So if shame deals with who I am, then who I am is a daughter of the Most High and absolutely nothing can change that. I am free to experience guilt when I do something wrong. Guilt serves a purpose, to remind me of God’s kindness that leads to repentance. But shame? Shame doesn’t belong to me anymore. Because I belong to Jesus.

Freedom in failure.

Some days I blame it on my daddy issues, and some days I blame it on being a firstborn, and every day I blame it on my nature. It is in my nature to work hard and be successful. Not the best, but successful. I will finish, and I will finish strong. It is in my nature to please people and make them proud of me. I will not make them regret choosing me for ____. None of those desires are wrong, but somewhere along the way growing up, I placed them a little too high on my priority list. Like, higher than people and their feelings and my emotional and spiritual well being.

I’ve spent the last couple of decades living in fear of failure, and the last couple of years doing something about it. First things first, I acknowledged it on a counselor’s couch. He’s the one who slid that sheet across the desk and showed me the power I had allowed that fear in my life. Next, I began speaking about it to my husband. I brought it up all of the time, in all of the little examples that flew by without him noticing. This is why I don’t want to work out with you or sing with you. This is why I overreact when dinner is late, or when a homework assignment gets missed. This is why I’m so easily embarrassed when you and the boys pick on me. Being scared of being a bad wife, a bad mom, a bad friend, a bad leader… it paralyzed me. And then it made me bitter.

But over the last year or so, I’ve begun to heal and accept things for what they are. Regardless of the path my life takes, there will be failures along the way. It sounds silly to say that I had to practice acknowledging that, but it’s true. I’ve spent a lot of my life so far compensating, which is quite hilarious when you think about the work that Jesus did for me. Nothing I could ever do would be great enough to earn my way into a “right standing” with Him and the Father. Jesus took care of that on the cross. He paid for my salvation and then he gave it to me freely. So I’m not sure why I’ve tended to lean that way, feeling like I can overcome the negatives with a whole lot of positives. I will let my husband and kids down. I will screw up at work and in friendships. And every single time I do, I get to plead the blood of Jesus. I get to confess, repent, and move on. With this perspective, there is total freedom.

From now on, I want to really learn what it means to walk by the Spirit. I know that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And I know from experience that where freedom is found, there is hope and there is joy. I am free to live a life without fear because I know the truth and the hope and the joy that lies on the other side of failure, thanks to Jesus.