I had the privilege of meeting Ashley Hales in Portland, where a few of us gathered at Warner Pacific College and discussed faith, writing, and the carpet of cherry blossoms on the WPC parking lot. Ashley is a gem. I can attest. In addition to being an accomplished writer, Ashley holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church. You can find her work at aahales.com, and The Mudroom. She loves to make friends on Twitter.
Welcome Ashley to the Recovery Room. (For more Recovery Room pieces, CLICK HERE).
I do not often believe that God is good. Instead I picture God with a frown in heaven, not quite pleased that I haven’t got my act together yet. For all my Bible answers, all my understanding of a theology of grace, I choose hustle to prove that I am loved and seen. Do you?
When I sat in a little red plastic chair and “prayed the prayer” at a Get-Your-Salvation pop-up tent, I wanted to make the lady manning the booth feel good by sitting down and following Jesus. Even at 4 years old. As an only child, I’d quickly learned that pleasing people not only made both parties happy, but also endeared me to them. I was special as long as I was perfect. And salvation groaned under weight of duty.
I’d check off Bible studies and small groups. I’d travel on mission trips to Mexico and invite my friends to youth group. My love for Jesus and his church was mixed up with my own need to be seen as a model Christian. This was my addiction, my sanitized way to hold off what Brennan Manning calls “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”
Duty is a terrible god. It does not motivate, release, or encourage. There is no freedom, just an obsessive turning-inward, where I’d never do enough to wipe the frown from God’s face.
On the other side of adulthood, the list shifted to parenting choices, political affiliation, what brand of theology you sold. It was easier to sort others into columns of “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” based on their answers. This was easier than the hard journey of love – where truth and grace dance and no one knows exactly how the steps will go.
Rule keeping was easier than believing the children’s song: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. A song I thought I’d outgrown, but one I’m just now learning.
Underneath all the frantic hustle, there are burning questions. What might happen if I lost myself in the love of God? What could happen if I loosened my grip on all the ways I was sure I was right? What might happen if I loved others by sacrificing myself? I feared I would become invisible. I would lose myself.
This recovery is not a neat and tidy story of upward mobility, where the power of people pleasing and rule following fall off like chains and I’m forever free. For as many times as I’m moved towards a love that embraced death for me, I crawl back to my chains. I plan church events and get sucked into all the “doing,” all the fretting about my children’s behavior, and I’m stuck in a world of “me.”
Seth writes, this is not a clean story. It’s true. This is not a story of tabulating performance to land on top. This is not a story of just getting my act together to please a frowning deity. This is a story of a grace that shatters. I’m shattered again and again and lovingly put back together by hands that are not mine.
Most days, honestly, I still prefer a safe, tame God. I resist opening my dry bones to a God whose love is so bent on the object of his desire that it is a consuming fire. I fear I will be burned up. But I’m learning that instead of backing away from the fire, to use borrowed words. I repeat creeds and prayers and “Jesus Loves Me.” I have no shiny words, no jargon or religious activity to make God happy. His eyes have always smiled at me simply because I am his child.
I’m beloved. That is worth getting caught up in.
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at aahales.com, The Mudroom, and loves to make friends onTwitter.
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