Yesterday during Sunday School we discussed some pretty heavy stuff–the call and necessity of forgiving self. We wanted to be sure that anyone who missed the message could at least read the lesson. Also, if you were there but wanted a refresher, this is for you! Happy Monday, Enjoy!
-ATN Youth Ministries
A Call to Release the Baggage.
I remember the first time I ever went on an international trip with the Centenary College Choir. We were to set off into an unknown country with 50 of our best friends for 3 weeks, and we could bring what we wanted to be prepared for the journey in and out of castles and brick-paved streets, not to mention presenting yourselves well to many boys that would be along for the trip. It was a high calling, and I packed and packed into a GIANT suitcase that I knew was well worth it so that nothing would be left behind.
No one warned me about the time, energy, and utter exhaustion that would be required for such a trek—and so there I was. With a giant suitcase that had barely made the weight limits. (and if we’re being honest—had been marked “heavy” as it went past the judging eyes of the airline…) It was incredibly heavy, I felt incredibly foolish, and I was stuck with that whale of a suitcase for the next 3 weeks—up and down stairs, in and out of rain, through each new hotel we had to move in and out of. It was TERRIBLE. I was embarrassed. I was tired. And when the boys had to carry our suitcases off the buses to prove their chivalry, I was THAT girl. I felt completely weighed down.
When we fail to forgive ourselves, it is more than a simple choice. More than a mind game, more than an attempt to punish ourselves for a past—it is a conscious decision to hold on to the heavy reality that we are not allowing God to replace our crap with renewal, not believing in the power of the Cross, and refusing to trust that God is truly in the business of redeeming us at all. Instead we, like weary travelers, hold on to the “baggage” of our sins, and trudge through life in an effort to remind ourselves that we don’t wanna go there again. We don’t want to make those same poor decisions, harm the people we love the most, or let up our grip on life at all because we fear that if we do—we’ll fall into the same traps. We consciously and voluntarily chain ourselves to the very things that have stolen every drop of joy from our lives—just so we learn our lesson.
But the bags get heavy, right? Sooner or later we become so accustomed to the weight of it all that our pace becomes slow, our feet drag with each weary step, and eventually, we become so tired—so burdened, that we are incapacitated. Unable to move. Unable to release. Unable to set ourselves free from the pain, the selfishness, the pride, the past—we’re too embarrassed to admit we need help. Too prideful to admit we need a Savior. And so we stay there-chained to our past, and refusing the power that could be found in our future.
But choosing not to forgive ourselves is not only harmful to ourselves—it is harmful to those that need to see the power that awaits in our redeemed story. There is a world that desperately needs to see the power of Christ shine through our experience and victory in Christ, and if we remain chained to our sins and refuse that victory—a tremendous beauty is never seen by the world. We can never be so naive to think that the crap we’ve done or the sins we’ve chosen over Christ are only ours. The lie of sin is that you’re the only soul in the world to have struggled with that one thing, and it is a curse that drives us into fear, isolation, and devastating self-loathing if we allow it the time and space and power in our lives. We must release ourselves from the past—both for the sake of ourselves and for the sake of a desperate, hungry, lost world. The world desperately needs your self-forgiveness.
And so we’re called to Christianity, and we’re called to “love our neighbor as ourselves”. And we set out to love our neighbor with incredible vigor and compassion and all the grace in our bones. But if we’re loving our neighbor with such power, and yet we fail to love ourselves with the same grace and tenderness, our service to neighbor will always seem hypocritical, empty, and fake. If we don’t show confidence in Christ’s forgiveness through our neighbor AND ourselves, then we are not really “loving neighbor as self”, are we? We fail to do what Christ asked of us. We’re merely holding up the mirror and ignoring what we see—refusing to recognize the broken things that are a part of our lives, holding two different standards for “deserving” love.
But Christ is in the business of redeeming—He always has been. From the tax collectors to the prostitutes, to the cheating, murdering “man after God’s own heart” that David was—Jesus always went after the failures, because it meant they desperately needed his movement in their lives. So why wouldn’t Christ run after the mess in our lives just as desperately? And why wouldn’t it be just as necessary for us to release ourselves from the sins that tie us down? When Christ met with the woman at the well, he knew the things she was hiding. He knew the men she had foolishly filled her life with, he knew that she was hiding from her past and from anyone that would call it out so much so that she came to grab water during the heat of the day and the unlikeliest of times. He called her out and told her to leave her past. When he spoke to souls like the woman who was being stoned for adultery, he acknowledged their guilt and said things like “Go and sin no more”, not “Now chain yourself to the memory of your sins and become a guilty, depressed mess from now and forevermore. Now everyone, stones!”. No, he called them OUT of the places that were stealing their joy, their forgiveness from self, and their victory in the shadow of the cross.
So what is Christ calling you out from? What do you see when you look in the mirror as you serve your neighbor? If I were to ask you to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, what would that look like? Maybe you would serve them with the doubt you see. Doubting that they’d ever amount to anything—ever be good at anything—ever be worth a dime. Or maybe you’d blame them for the sin you see—for “messing up again”. Choosing the wrong friends again. Dating the wrong guy again. Sleeping around, and going too far and drinking too long. Maybe you’d see them as ugly and imperfect and messy and too short. Too tall, too fat, too skinny, too white, too freckly, too pimply, too loud, too quiet, too this, too that. The list could go on and on, right?
But if we’re really called to live this book out, and I truly believe we are, if we’re really called to love our neighbor “as ourselves”, then the vast majority of us have some serious work to do in appreciating, loving, and seeing ourselves with the beauty that Christ sees us in.
I want you to focus for a minute. And take in the words of this passage. See if you believe them. Claim them as your own, as a personal letter to Christ.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
As we hear that passage it’s hard to believe that we ever settle for less from Christ or ourselves. YOU are fearfully and wonderfully made. And you were made for a purpose. And you were made with great joy and pride. And when we fail to forgive ourselves, we don’t give Christ the power and praise—we give the sin, the situation, the past the power.
So may you be freed from whatever is holding you down and chaining you to the jealous guilt of your past. May you release the chains of your sin and be freed to project the power of your salvation through Christ.
Now grab a sheet of paper, and fill out a letter to yourself that addresses the things that you’ve probably settled on for a while now. Be honest. Be bold. Be encouraged to speak truth into your soul that you haven’t heard in a while. Read some scripture if you want. Fill in the blanks with whatever is needed, and when you’re done, place them at his altar as a reminder that you’re not to pick them up again, not to settle for them again, and not to turn Christ’s power into the same guilt and shame again. “