(From the email-bag archives.)
Hi Brant, I’m Jane.
Just another 16-year-old girl.
And I don’t know if you have time for this, probably not, but I need someone to talk to right now, and some advice. And my friends have their own problems, so I don’t want to bother them with mine, mostly because they can’t really help me, but I felt like I needed to reach out to someone, and you seem like a good guy, so, anyway…
I seem to be growing further and further away from Jesus. Not that I’m doing anything bad or committing any serious sins, but I just can’t seem to get close to him. A while back, I was doing pretty well with it. But it’s always the same old thing. I’ll surrender everything to him and decide that from then on I’ll try my hardest to live how he wants me to live, and be in ‘constant prayer’ or at least talk to him. But that never lasts very long. Pretty soon I’ll never really pray and just kind of neglect him. And then that’ll make me feel guilty and I have to start all over again. And that’s happened so many times that I’ve stopped believing in myself and know I won’t be able to keep that sort of promise to him, because I never have before. And now I’m at the point where I just don’t care. I don’t want to be like that, but I am…
I don’t trust him. I don’t know what to do.
I know you’re busy, but if you could give me some advice, it would be appreciated more than you realize.
Thanks. I love your show, by the way.
I love your question. And I really like you. Not to make light of your situation; I just love it because it’s so honest, and – more honesty, here – few will voice it, though MANY feel it.
I hear you about the cycle of re-commitment, failure, guilt, silence, re-commitment, failure, guilt… MAN, have I been there. And I have an idea for you.
Seriously, I recommend this. It’s scandalous in many Christian circles to say this, but I mean it. You will never, ever, ever, be able to get yourself together enough, morally, to think you’re finally acceptable to God, or that things are finally “okay”, somehow. Ever. Or, if you did somehow think that, you’d be deluding yourself.
You’re being perfectionistic, in the sense that your language reveals that you’re holding out hope to finally be in “constant prayer” and finally keep all your promises. But you won’t ever do that. So it’s a prescription for not only misery and anxiety, but ultimately, becoming a person who can’t love other people, a busy-body, and no fun to be around whatsoever.
Paul writes that when you’ve “put on Christ” the Lord no longer sees your sinfulness, He sees Jesus. And He is very, very pleased with Jesus. This is the scandal of the Gospel itself, and you’ve likely heard it before, but hearing it isn’t the same as really getting it.
You tried the moral thing, you tried making promises, you tried all that, but you keep blowing it, and you always will.
So give up.
P.S. — And, oh, by the way, once you’ve done that, and realized that God hasn’t left you, isn’t angry with you, isn’t wanting to punch you in the mouth, you might actually start to fall in love with Him. Seriously.
So you go a few weeks without really praying. You don’t think DANG IT I’VE BLOWN IT AGAIN! — I WON”T EVEN TALK TO HIM NOW! You’ll think, “I miss Him. God, I miss you. Here’s what’s going on…”
And, when you love Him, He promises He’ll give you the desires of your heart. Bear in mind, those “desires” will change, for the very reason that you now love Him. You’ll find your desires changing. You’ll be more loving, more joyful, more at peace, more patient… Ironically, after giving up the morality/religion game, you’ll become more of a lover of God, and, quite possibly, a better “moral” person. You’ll want different things.
And a person who wants different things is a different person, entirely. Maybe a better moral person.
But make no mistake: The better morality is not the end goal. Knowing God is. Christianity is not a philosophical ethic, a construct, or a system of ideas. Other religions are about the discovery of those systems. Jesus doesn’t point at a system, He points at Himself. He’s it. This is a relationship.
Yes, I grew up in church. But I like God now. He brings actual rest.
…and, from that rest, you’ll be a blessing to people. Check THIS out, from the Bible’s book of Ephesians. NOTHING you can do will save you. And yet – more good news! – God’s got some wonderful work for us to do. Stuff you’re made to do, even. And it becomes joy, knowing where we stand, finally.
Yeah, when He’s got your heart, your behavior will change, most likely, but it’s borne of the fact that you LOVE Him now, and FREELY respond to Him, rather than mire yourself in a life-long, busy-body guilt cycle. You begin to actually trust Him, begin to suspect you’re safe with Him, and then everything else becomes easier to take, including stuff that seemed like the end of the world.
Shoot — seriously — the end of the world gets a little easier to take. Everything becomes kinda funny, even. Heaven will have lots of laughter.
Anyway, I, for one, gave up. And boy, do I feel better.