Fake It ‘Till You Make It

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. ~Brennan Manning

Fake it ’till you make is a popular catchphrase in successful sales programs and some good recovery programs. It hasn’t, however, worked well for me as a spiritual practice.

I took a special math test in 7th grade. I scored high enough to be in the small group that were ‘fast-tracked’. That meant skipping 8th grade math and going straight to Algebra. I was a good student. It would have been great except I really didn’t get math.

From Algebra all the way through Calculus, I was completely lost so I faked it. It’s tricky, faking math. There aren’t any subjective Blue Book exams. There was a right answer, period.

Mr Huth, who sang at weddings and taught all of the advanced math classes, had only one struggling student (me) and one solution. I’d ask a question after class (not during because everyone else got it) and he’d send me home with his Teacher’s Guide. We did that same dance for 5 years.

I had the problem. I had the solution. I had no idea how to get from one to the other so I memorized everything. I memorized pages and pages of sample work and applied it well enough to maintain a B. I tried. I listened. I took notes that I didn’t understand and I faked it.

The same+ b = c  happened to me when I was on the spiritual ‘fast track’. I’d have (a) problems and (c) The Answer Book. I tried so hard. I listened. I took notes. I memorized Scripture. Still, I often didn’t (b) know how to make real life equations work.

Everyone else seemed to be getting straight A’s so I faked it. I didn’t fake my faith – that was real. But I substituted what I truly thought and felt for how I thought I should think and feel. I gave all the right answers until I was numb.

We long to know the grace and mercy of God in our lives but we find ourselves tripped up by failure, by temptation, by ambivalence. Fearing disappointing others and the ensuing pep talk (usually a scriptural exhortation) and the have more faith talk. Or worse, that internal voice that says you (and you alone) aren’t getting it right, compelling us to continue to fake it ’til we make it.

The message of grace shatters our fake facade. Grace says:

(aGod loves us as we are  + (b) not as we should be  = (c) because no one is as they should be

Grace frees us to love each other as the Father loves us. We can weep with those who weep because real people weep. We can rejoice with those who rejoice because we’re freed from self-obsession.

No grades, just grace.

Alcatraz

               Pride makes us artificial. Humility makes us real.                           ~ Thomas Merton

I visited Alcatraz a few years ago. It’s a sad and haunted place. Alcatraz was designed to break people. The weight of it all still hangs in the air there.

My first job after college was as a Correctional Worker. It was a job for which I was exceptionally ill-suited. I was 21 and while my Psychology degree qualified me, my personality didn’t. I was inexperienced, naive, easily intimidated and phobicly adverse to confrontation.

Unfortunately, I’ve always interviewed well.

I worked in a residential facility for women that was a stop over between jail and integration into the community. Most residents came to us after serving prison time. The offenses ranged from multiple DUI’s to the killing of a Federal Marshall.

As the newest staff member, I was assigned most of the pat and strip searches. When it was time to do random drug testing, I was the one who watched while the residents used the restroom to make sure they didn’t dilute their UA’s.

Although Corrections was miles outside of my comfort zone, I wanted to make a difference. I know the women I worked with could sense my hesitancy and tentativeness. I was always polite but so uncomfortable. Years away from being broken, I didn’t know anything about humility.

I thought understanding the socioeconomic/environmental/cultural reasons for behavior would enable me to help/fix/cure. More than anything, I was intimidated and embarrassed – reactions which shifted the focus back onto me. Because I was embarrassed, I robbed the residents of yet another portion of their own dignity and worth.  I looked at people without seeing them and missed the opportunity to look into their eyes and pray that they might see some glimmer of God’s grace.

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.
Some days I can still feel pride creeping back up my neck. I’m hurt or fearful or insulted and I begin to rationalize instead of relate. I become insular instead of open. I catch myself putting my fake on.
Pride is its own prison.

New Year’s Resolutions

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet and a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things he will certainly do nothing effective. ~ G.K. Chesterton

Today we begin another new year.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t not make them because I don’t have areas of my life I need to change. I don’t make them but because I can’t afford to.

I’m pulled toward procrastination. I don’t think I procrastinate because I’m lazy. Usually, when I procrastinate, it’s because I don’t want to make a mistake.

If I’m not certain how to approach something, how to do or undo something, I can easily fall into doing nothing. I admire those bold people who don’t mind stepping right in it, knowing they can clean up afterwards. But I’m not one of them. I want to wait until the right moment, when I have just the right words or know the right way to go about something.

That’s why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I know myself well enough to know that I have to take care of things as soon as I’m aware of them, before I have time to work out just the right approach. It doesn’t matter if I want to be a kinder person or become healthier or just coral my thoughts – there’s no magic on January 1st for me.

I have to begin each day before I start each day with a prayer to learn the lessons of grace: to give without expectation, to love without condition, to be gentle when harmed and hopeful when hurt.

In this new year, I’m not making resolutions, I’m praying for a make-over: a new soul and a new nose; new feet and a new backbone, new ears and new eyes – a new heart, today and every day.

You Like Me,You Really Like Me!

We started reading through Matthew, and I thought it was all very interesting, you know. And I found Jesus very disturbing, very straightforward. He wasn’t diplomatic, and yet I felt like if I met Him, He would really like me… I can’t explain how freeing that was, to realize that if I met Jesus, He would like me. I never felt like that about some of the Christians on the radio. I always thought if I met those people they would yell at me but it wasn’t like that with Jesus.  ~ Donald Miller

We’ve all heard parodies of Sally Field’s second Oscar acceptance speech: I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me! It was so uncool to let on that being liked mattered.

We’re supposed to pretend that it isn’t important. Just like yourself. That’s all that counts. That’s what we’re told. But it’s not true. Being liked does matter.

The new convert in Miller’s story was drawn to God because she felt that if she met Him, He would really like her. She didn’t say I thought God would love me. She said I felt like if I met Him, He would really like me. Liking matters.

Sometimes I find myself thinking of God like a family member who has to love me because we’re related but may not like me all that much. Maybe that’s because there are days I’m not my greatest fan and I only see through the mirror dimly while God knows every dark part of my heart. If I know He loves me, does it matter if He likes me?

This is what I’ve always thought about liking and loving: There are people who I like but don’t know well enough to love. And there are people who I love that I know too well to like. That’s what I’ve told myself when I base love on relationship and commitment and like on actions and attitudes.

I don’t know if you’re this way, but when I sense someone doesn’t like me, even if they profess to love me, my walls go up. There’s something so compelling about being genuinely liked. Loving is a cake walk compared to liking. Liking requires listening and giving and a huge dedication to understanding. If we have any hope of being a light, we’d better learn to do the heavy lifting of liking because liking does matter.

Weighing in on Legalism

The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them and told them to get lost. Those are strong words, but I don’t mess with legalism anymore. I used to kowtow to legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers. They’ll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith.  ~ Chuck Swindoll

I’ve been on a diet for a while now. I don’t mean a messing around, hit and miss kind of diet. I’m mean an old-fashioned, calorie counting, keeping record of everything I eat kind of diet.

I found a good free on-line program that does all the calculations for me.* I’ve had a good bit of success. I’ve done it by being completely legalistic. Except for vacation, when I had no intention of dieting, I’ve never exceeded the recommended caloric intake (and it’s pretty low). Not once since April 1st. I have 5 pounds left to lose to meet my goal.

For many, many years I was the same way with my faith. I tried to pray enough, share enough, memorize Scripture enough to meet my goal of being A Practically Perfect Christian. I kept track of sin, mine and sometimes others, weighing the significance of each action on my own made up sin scale.

Being legalistic in my eating helped me reach a goal. So did spiritual legalism. The problem was the goal. It wasn’t the Westminster Shorter Catechism goal: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. It was the Army goal: Be All You Can Be. I was out to continually improve myself (and others).

One hard legalistic lesson learned is that success in all of life lies in the heart not in a discipline. I knew how to lose weight. It’s not complicated. Use more calories than you eat. I was legalistic because I was afraid to give myself any leeway. What if 30 extra calories today led to 50 tomorrow? I was afraid to trust myself.

It’s much the same with spiritual legalism. Legalism isn’t just being careful, it’s being lazy. I was afraid to not know the answer about everything for everyone. So instead of depending on the Holy Spirit, I chose the path labeled: Show No Mercy. Swindoll’s words are a timely reminder  I used to kowtow to legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers.

*If you’re interested in the diet I’ve written about it in The Dreaded D Word on my other blog.

Bactine and Band-Aids

God does not comfort us to make us comfortable only, but to make us comforters. ~ John Henry Jowett

The house I grew up in had a big wrap around porch. I loved that porch. I loved the big swing, I loved the secret side escape route. I especially loved the front steps. There were only 3 but they were deep and wide.

The summer just before I turned 4, I was determined to jump up the steps. Jumping down was easy. A baby could do that. I wanted to go the other direction. I tried over and over and over. I didn’t want to jump 1…2…3.          I wanted to jump all 3 at once. I always fell.

If the scrapes were especially deep, my Mom would get out the dreaded Iodine. She would apply it to my wounds and blow softly until the sting went away.

But most of the time, my knees and elbows, which were in constant flux between scabbing and bleeding, could be patched up with Bactine and Band-Aids. I can’t remember if I finally conquered the steps that summer or if I lost interest or if I grew taller. What I do remember is the smell of Bactine and my mother’s tender care.

I don’t think she ever said: Debbie Lynn, how many times are you going to do that before you learn your lesson? She just held me and comforted me and doctored my hurting parts. I caused my own pain, yet she was unfailingly compassionate.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to jump up the steps. When I fall now, it’s my Father that I run to. He tenderly cleans me up and comforts me. Just like my Mom, He’s never withheld His compassion because I’ve caused my own problems or because I keep making the same mistakes.

How often have I heard or even thought:Well, he brought it on himself. Probably true. Does that matter? How often have I refused to forgive myself what God has already forgiven because it was my own fault?

There’s a whole lot of pain in this world. Some of it happens to us, but much we cause ourselves. God comforts me with His mercy and patches me up with His grace, regardless. As I accept that, not only am I comforted, but I become a much more compassionate comforter.