About three weeks ago, my aunt had a precious dream in the Lord, the details of which are rather personal and fodder for another post, if I choose to provide them at all. For now, suffice it to say that her dream involved me singing a song unto the Lord. Somehow, I was supposed to sing a song He had put in my heart, and this is what I sang:
Oh, how He loves me and you,
Oh, how He loves me and you…
Oh, how He loves me,
Oh, how He loves me,
Oh, how He loves me and you.
Anyone who is familiar with the song off of which my version is based knows that I have the words “wrong”. In my aunt’s dream, I was singing of God’s love for “me and you”, when the original song describes “how He loves you and me”. Such a minor difference in semantics, but so important to this seeking, Gideon-hearted disciple who sometimes flees like Peter rather than following steadfastly like John.
You see, I have often fallen into the trap of forgetting that Jesus Christ loves me–and, in the worst of cases, not allowing myself to hear it at all, even if I had remembered. In place of love, mercy, or any form of grace was an all-consuming sense of guilt and shame–guilt at my sin, shame at what I somehow never did for the Lord. In short, I suffered from Bad Christian Syndrome. Everything I did caused me to feel stained, regardless of whether my actions were actually sinful. One minor example: At the school at which I trained in order to receive my guide-dog, the instructors instituted a rule that all hot drinks must be covered in order to avoid spillage or, more importantly, injury to others. Somewhere along the way, I determined that failure to follow this guideline would make me a bad witness and hence a bad Christian because, naturally, anyone seeing me with an uncovered beverage might not want to explore a relationship with God.
Oh, where was the room for grace that is so fundamental to any real sense of faith!? If only I had realized that His strength is made perfect in weakness, or remembered that it was my joy and peace rater than my cup-covering skills that would cause others to see the love of God, or called to mind the Scriptures that so clearly indicate God’s power being much greater than our frailty, I might have fared better. If even one of those thoughts had made its way through my mind and into my heart, I wouldn’t have begun shaking the day I couldn’t find a lid for my decaf mocha, wouldn’t have discarded the drink in order to avoid breaking the rule and being a bad witness, wouldn’t… As it was, one of the school’s volunteers teased me about ways he perceived as snobbish: was I above getting my lips dirty or something? In hindsight, I know that I could have been a better witness–not a better Christian overall, but a more joyful one in whom others could see the Holy Spirit–if I had forsaken legalistic tendencies in favor of grace.
But how could I have known that last year? How could I, when I had forgotten myself what it was to know grace? Oh, there was a time–three glorious months in 2005 when I saw the love of God for what it is and comprehended His ability to cover a multitude of sins. At that time, I was suffering from a hemorrhagic ovarian cyst and spent much of my time ether in the hospital or commuting to and from medical appointments. In the same hour, I might scream in indignation and pain at a student lab tech, then repent and five minutes later find myself reading Acts. Oh, it was exquisite! But then, somewhere along the way, I forgot and succumbed again to this theology of perfection. I was still a Christian–one who loved the Lord with all the fervency she could possibly muster–but I was lacking most of my heart’s knowledge of what He had done for me.
Occasionally, I would remember somewhat. During the months when I was in the hospital, I was introduced to Starbucks mochas. To this day, the aroma of Starbucks reminds me of mercy. Fine, clean linen fills me with a knowledge of true righteousness. And how can I forget the moments when kindness would be bestowed on me for no reason whatsoever? Or, especially, those evenings I spent reading John 18-19, contemplating the Lamb of God and His precious gift to us, to me? And yet, so often, the disconnect remained. My mind understood the cross with clarity, but only about ten percent of my heart would absorb that knowledge at any given time. Enough to know I would be forgiven eventually, but not enough to keep me from feeling that I could repent and move forward in the Lord in a single moment. And so, to avoid guilt and shame that I could never carry, I strove for as much perfection as possible–as many good works in the flesh as I could perform. And yet showed He unto me a better way…
I wish I knew how great, freeing miracles take place in my life. I wish I could pinpoint exact moments, or find the words to describe exactly how the Lord’s hand touches my heart. But that shall never be, because God is far too infinite for our minute understandings. I know only this: I had felt so ungraced for so long that I had nearly forgotten that I needed to feel blameless. I had listened to Keith Green’s semi-prophetic song “When I Hear the Praises Start” for so long with so little comfort actually reaching me that I had begun to wonder whether, for reasons known to Him but not to me, this was the way I was to live my life–striving to follow Him, but having to deal with guilt as a thorn in my side.
And then, in the next instant, I did not. Gone were all of the guilt and shame and condemnation. The circumstances weren’t majestic or overwhelming; I was only reading the thoughts of another believing writer. She was writing of trust–literally, the trust of a child. Her subject was one of her own young children as an infant. Whether it was this woman’s description of trust, or the Scriptural promises that had been stored in my heart all day, or another writer’s using the very psalm that has always touched me, I suddenly found all shame completely, unequivocally dissolved. All at once, my stained garments and blemished character were replaced by a robe of righteousness, and I knew that Jesus loved me–just that, just so simple. Not that I was perfect, but that I was treasured and loved simply because He formed me, because He has plans for me, and because His grace is truly far greater than my sin.
And so, now, I know what to do moving forward. If I say something amiss, I can ask forgiveness from the Lord and continue to worship Him, making peace where I can and then allowing God to work. If I make some minor mistake (e.g., leaving bread out overnight when I should have put it away), I can and will recognize that some things are mere moments of forgetfulness, rather than attributing them to iniquity. In short, I have left my great burden of fear and condemnation at the foot of the cross, where His perfect love could cast out all my fear.
Again, I wish there were more magnanimous words for this experience. I wish I could grasp the moment and put it into the heart of every believer who has ever doubted his ability to approach the throne of grace with confidence. I yearn to embellish this with greater detail–where I was, what He spoke to my heart, just how He did it. But how can you truly analyse a gentle, peace-filled love that just seems to wash you? You know what it is to be clean, but have you ever tried to describe it–even in the physical? How much less can you describe spiritual purity! All I knew then, and all I can say now, is that what He did was deeply, joyously, miraculously beautiful.
Oh, and I can say this much: There exists a profound difference between the Then of 2004-2013 and the Now of this new day: I have a new song to sing, and I understand its meaning. “Oh, How He Loves You and Me”–that sentiment will be true for all time. Now, though, it has an entirely different meaning to me. Without doubt or question, I can now sing with confidence, “How He loves me and you…” And that, beloved readers, is the way the song will forever resonate in my heart.