Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. – Psalm 36 : 5
Not long ago i had the joy of attending a reunion of some of my friends from high school. Initially i had quite mixed feelings about the event. There were, of course, a few friends who i was very excited to see, knowing that our friendship from school remained (mostly) intact and untainted. Overwhelmingly though i felt a tremendous sense of dread about encountering many of the attendees; i had not left a good impression on many people while in school, and i could only begin to guess at how much this would still be a factor.
The evening was quite pleasant at first, comprised primarily of the standard exchange of updates. Conversation centered around jobs, children, living locations, and other sundry pieces of data about each person’s current situation. It wasn’t long, however, before talk naturally shifted to more nostalgic ground, and tales from our time together 15 years prior began to surface. This, of course, was the part of the evening i had been dreading all along.
i will spare you the details, because some of the stories i heard about myself are truly too embarrassing to pen, but suffice it to say that even i was shocked at the level of callousness, selfishness, and utter depravity that the character Rich Wilson exhibited in some of these stories. With no exaggeration, i can honestly say that i was such a pompous and disgusting ass in high school that i had forgotten some stories that most people would remember with cringing horror. In essence, i had done so many awful things to people that my memory could not contain them all.
Reflecting on this later in the evening, i found myself shaken to no small degree as a result of these encounters. This event revealed two things about my heart, things which i knew to be true but clearly needed to be reminded of. First, it still matters to me a great deal what people think of me, so much that i believe it is somewhat idolatrous. While it is true that i should be concerned with how i come across to other people, i should only have this concern in the context of my identity in Christ. My primary concern should be reflecting Christ’s love to the world, and not what opinion people may have of me. If anything, my self-image issues frequently get in the way of this reflection, and often i find myself less bold about the gospel than i ought to be for fear of seeming crazy or silly. Secondly, i have a tendency to dwell on the mistakes of my past, so much so that sometimes this becomes my identity. My mistakes and inadequacies also have relevance only in the context of the gospel: they display, if i allow them to, how deep is the Father’s love and how powerful is His redemptive might. If He can love even me, He can surely love anyone.
Somewhere between the abject blind selfishness i showed in high school and the co-dependency i exhibit in current relationships lies the proper place for my heart. This place creates a man who is aware of his failures and yet not afraid to show them because in them Christ’s ultimate grace is displayed. This place creates a man who is concerned with how others see Christ, not himself. In this place, my image is of no consequence; in this place, i am not afraid in the least of looking like a fool so long as it is done for the sake of loving God and loving others well.
Outside of this place, there is only worry, guilt, shame, and dark, weary stories from the past. i do not want to forget these stories entirely, because they remind me of who i was, and they remind me of who i would be without Christ. At the same time, i need not fear these stories nor run from them any longer. i may concern myself with how others feel about them for the sake of healing and amends, but i myself can be free to feel nothing about them. That man, praise God, has been and is being put to death each day.
Ultimately, the only opinion of me that matters is God’s. It would be great if these people learned to love me, but if they do not, God has chosen to, and that is not only enough, it is everything. i would be lying if i said i understood it, and even to say such is humbling beyond words, but for purposes of His own He has chosen to see in me His child. i pray that i will learn to see myself in the same light.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. – Lamentations 3 : 22