There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
The Flagellants were medieval religious sects that walked through the countryside beating themselves with whips in order to atone for their sins.
Even though the church hierarchy tried to suppress these groups, they still carry on to this day. What allows me to say that is that I’m one of them.
I know I’m not alone. For many years I have listened to people pour out their sins and regrets, their shame and guilt, and I can’t tell you how often people said that accepting God’s forgiveness was a whole lot easier than forgiving themselves.
Since Anna’s death, I have had sticks in both hands. I have been dwelling upon all the things I wish I could have done differently. In my twisted logic, I kept thinking that if only I had been a better father, loved her more, or been more consistent with trying to guide and discipline her, she might still be alive.
My life-sucking practice of scolding and chastising myself laid a double burden on my heart. First was the sheer pain and grief of losing this child I loved. The second was my shame and guilt that I had failed Anna as her father. With this double burden, it felt like life and hope, and joy was being squeezed out of me.
I knew that if I was to move forward in my life with Lucy, with Anna’s brother John, and with trying to make some difference for God with the time I have left, I had to drop my sticks of my self-condemnations.
In the depths of this dark time, a couple of people said things that helped me to sometimes drop the sticks of trying to atone for all I had done and not done with my daughter and with my life.
First was a simple reframing of my language. After hearing me condemn myself without mercy for something I had done or not done with Anna, Lucy said, “It might be helpful if instead of asking yourself ‘why you didn’t call her more often,’ you said, ‘I wish I had called her more often.’”
The change in language may seem pretty subtle here, but the impact of softening my words from condemning to longing did help me, over time, to drop some of my self-abuse so that I could give myself more mercy.
Another conversation happened, which was not subtle at all. It was with a man I’ve known for 25 years, and he was calling me from the hospital while he was going through cancer treatment.
Without any preliminaries, he launched into what he wanted to say: “Jim, as I’ve been laying in this hospital bed, I’ve been thinking a lot about you and a lot about your losing Anna. As I have been praying, I’ve been given a word from God to deliver to you.”
He continued, “Before I give you this word, I want you to know that I know you’ve been playing the coulda/woulda/shoulda game. When you play that game, you’re listening to the Dark One, and the way to hell is being paved.”
He continued, “Jim, you’re a good man, and you’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people. But you aren’t perfect—sorry to break this to you, but you aren’t. Nor is anyone else. I know you loved Anna. I also know that you did the very best you knew how to do, and sometimes you may have succeeded, and sometimes you may have fallen short.”
After pausing to catch his breath, he plowed on: “So the word I have been given to give to you from God is this: God loves you. God loves Anna. Anna is at peace, and she wants you to be at peace.”
There are times when someone says they have a word from God for you that makes you want to run, and then there are other times when you know that this person has just spoken a word from God that goes straight to what you most needed to hear.
In today’s scripture, Paul says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What gives Paul this conviction is the cross. Let’s dwell upon the cross for a few moments.
As we consider the two wooden beams that were put together to torture and kill those who were nailed there, as we trust that what led Jesus to that cross was His love for us, as we accept that His sacrifice reconciled us to the Father, Paul wants us to see and accept that Jesus’ mercy and grace cover all we have ever done or not done and all we could ever do or not do.
If we believe, truly believe, that the mercy and grace of the cross trumps all sin, all acting out, all failures, and all messes, then how dare we hold onto the little sticks we use to abuse ourselves. If indeed there is not any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, who are we to condemn ourselves? Do we really want to say that our judgment of ourselves is more important and powerful and substantial than His?
When we see and accept how much we are forgiven and how through being forgiven, there is no more condemnation between us and God, who among us would want to hold onto our paltry sticks of self-condemnation when His mercy is so abundant.
- Do you ever act like the flagellants? If so, why, and when?
- What would it take for you to drop your sticks and let yourself be covered with grace?
- If you truly trusted that in Christ Jesus, there is no more condemnation, how would your life change?