In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller claims there are two basic ways in which people try to find happiness, “the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery” (p.29). Both of these ways are modeled in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), with the younger son following a path of self-discovery and the elder brother seeking happiness through moral conformity.
I have ventured down both of these paths. First was the path of moral conformity. I was a “good” girl. I did all the “right” things. I went to church a lot. I did my best to please my parents. I went to a Christian university. My life was the poster for “right” living. I experimented with some things (i.e. drinking, boys, etc.) but for the most part they were very brief phases and I would quickly return to my self-righteous ways. This way of living continued through my mid-20′s. I had gotten married, finished college, bought a house, started my career, found a church to support my self-righteous ways. I was on the “path”. But I wasn’t happy. In fact I was miserable. My marriage was falling apart. My career was unsatisfying. My church was unloving unwilling to work through the struggles I was facing. So I did what anyone in that situation would do. I turned tail and sprinted in the opposite direction.
My path of self-discovery was not much different. I was convinced that there was absolutely nothing of value left in my marriage, so I ended it. I was turned off by the unloving nature of “church people” so I distanced myself from everything church related. I quit teaching and started law school. I was living life for myself and absolutely no one else. I was “making up” for all those lost years of being a goodie-goodie. And boy was I doing everything I could to shed that image. And the whole time, I convinced myself that I was finally happy. I was living life on my terms. Only I wasn’t happy. I was miserable. I was lonely. I was masking my hurt with every substance possible, alcohol, drugs, sex. Only the hurt wasn’t going anywhere, and if anything it was getting more unbearable every day. But in my stubbornness I refused to acknowledge the real problem. I thought that if I found the right job, the right city, the right partner, the right friends, everything would be better. I absolutely refused to give in to what I knew to be true. The ONLY way my life would be different would be through the transforming power of God.
Fast-forward to November. My life was completely falling apart. I was not doing well in school. I was a prisoner of fear in my own home. I hated my job and everything about it. I had absolutely nothing to look forward to. On Saturday, November 13, I was sitting on my sofa and just started crying. I was at “the end of [my]self”. I remembered my friend/former boss posting something on FB about this new church he was a part of. I had looked into it, but it was church. And I wasn’t going to give in to church. But that Saturday, Ron was the first person I thought of contacting. He knew enough about my prior experiences with church that I knew he would have some good suggestions. I told him I was looking for a church. I even wrote, “I’m not ready to jump head first back into the whole church thing, but I’m at least looking for a place to get my feet wet again.” Just so happened that the new church he’d been talking about was having a preview service that Sunday at the Botanical Gardens. How could I not go? The timing was too coincidental to ignore. And besides, I was just going to ease my conscience and make myself feel better.
I have never been more anxious than I was that Sunday. What if they found out all the things that I’ve been up to for the last 6 years? What if they realize I’m divorced? What if I’m not dressed “cool” enough? What if they find out I curse worse than a sailor on leave in Thailand? These were all things I was worried about, but they didn’t come close to the question that was the real source of my anxiety: What if this is the real thing? Because I knew that if this was the “real thing” then my life as I knew it would change. And let’s face it, I’m one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing. I hate to be wrong. I hate to admit defeat. And as miserable as I had been, I was not ready to admit that it wasn’t working my way.
I remember standing during the first few worship songs in absolute defiance. My arms were crossed. I wasn’t looking at anyone, talking to anyone, and I certainly wasn’t going to sing. I was finding that I was mad that I was even there. “I’m such a sucker. I had one bad day and here I am back at the one place I said I would never be again. Whatever happens, do NOT get sucked back into the holy roller lifestyle!” Then Jim got up to preach. It wasn’t a sermon about hate or how terrible we all are because we drink alcohol or say an occasional cuss word. It was a sermon about love and grace. And how, as a church, The Paradox was seeking to be an example of God’s love and grace in the city of Fort Worth. In just a few minutes, Jim had countered every single argument I had made about why I didn’t want to associate with church and Christians. It was a God-slap in every possible sense. In an instant my heart changed from an attitude of defiance and stubbornness to one of repentance, openness and absolute joy. I took communion, and for the first time was struck with the beauty of this symbol. I was absolutely floored by the sacrifice it represented and that I was the reason that sacrifice had to happen.
There is absolutely nothing about me that is worthy of God’s grace and love, and yet, he gives it anyway. There is absolutely nothing I could ever do that would “earn” God’s favor, he gives it freely. There is absolutely nothing to me apart from God, and so I am running towards him. I am “one step freer from the bondage of the creation, and one step closer to the freedom of worshiping the Creator.”
“God is continuing his work of transformation in this woman’s heart and life. He has brought her to the end of herself, revealing the fruit of her choices and behavior. He is in the process of revealing her heart. His goal is that she would be conformed to the image of his Son, one step freer from her bondage to the creation, and one step closer to the freedom of worshiping the Creator. His goal is that he would consistently rule her thoughts and motives; that increasingly, her identity would be rooted in him rather than in the arid soil of personal achievement or the acceptance of others. Timidity and cynicism would give way to courage and hope rooted in his presence, power, love, and grace. God’s goal is deeper than emotional and situational change. It is nothing less than personal transformation.” — p. 125, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp
No words I could write would better explain what has happened in my life over the last 3 months/31 years.
For his glory.
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