Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Don’t Flinch – Part 2

In the last post I retold the story of the Woman at the Well from my perspective. As I said, I love this story because I know it all too well.

Once upon a time, I was well versed in the faith of my family and culture. I knew the proper forms of worship, the hope of the return of the Messiah, and I thought I knew all the right Bible answers. But once upon a time, I got married to a man who renounced his faith shortly after the ceremony and our marriage crumbled into a game of survivor. One I had to win if I was going to save my children and myself. I got out and tried to make a life for me and my girls, but it was a rough go.

Many people could not grasp how a good Christian girl could get a divorce or how I could wind up married to such a man that would make divorce the only option. I must not have prayed enough or I wasn’t submissive enough. There was sin in my life or I didn’t have enough faith. Not many were brave enough to speak these words aloud, but they didn’t have to. It was there in their eyes, in their offers to pray with me, and in the quiet way they would ignore the ugly facts of my existence.

I learned you don’t go to the well in the morning. Everyone was there ready with that pitying but condemning look. The whispers were low, but not low enough. So I learned to avoid the crowds, draw into myself, take comfort where I could find it, even in a few relationships that were less than holy.

When I would meet a new Christian, someone who did not know my story, I learned to tell it with a note of defiance and an unspoken dare to condemn if they must, but get it over with. I learned to accept the fact I was too far gone to be of any use to God or his people. Like the Samaritan woman I had too many strikes against me.

Worship was hard, my faith seemed as stagnant and dead as the water in that seep of a well but it was all I had. So I learned to make do. Fake it. Act like it was enough, all the while I was dying.

I hated the Holy Flinch, that involuntary reaction that good Christian people have when they are in the presence of sinners. The one we are taught is a gauge of our holiness. Oh, we are taught to hate the sin but love the sinner, but too often we fail to recognize there is no sin separate apart from the person. So often the sin has become the definition of who they are – as in, “Oh, you mean the divorced woman who sits in the back at church.” We begin to shy away from that person, as if their sin was going to rub off on us, like God wouldn’t like it if we came home smelling of divorce. Our kindness is marked with that boundary of “I will give you this, but don’t come any closer.” In the end, that type of kindness is crippling to the receiver.

My perception of God began to shift over time. I mean, if his people flinched then surely he flinched. And if he flinched, it had to mean one of two things, my sin was that great or he was that small. Either way, it meant there was no hope for me. I was lost, endlessly and miserably lost, and there was not a God who loved me enough or was great enough to save me from my reality. My façade was crumbling and my faith was a tattered rag too full of holes and too worn to be warm in the coldness of life.

But then came the day, when I went to the well and stared into its depths and wondered why even bother to lower the bucket. I would just be thirsty again, why prolong the inevitable? So I sat waiting my demise, wondering how long it would take to kill off those last vestiges of faith, and he showed up. I didn’t believe him at first. My ability to hope, to dream of great things for myself and my girls was dead, but somewhere in the deepest part of who I was I knew that when the Messiah came he would explain everything. And when he sat beside me on the edge of that well, that is exactly what he did.

He explained how there is plan and purpose for us all. He told me how there is not one moment of my heartache and pain that would be wasted. He told me he was big enough and great enough to redeem it all to his glory. He said his holiness could never be sullied by my sin and shame. He shared how his heart’s desire was to resurrect all this world had killed within me, and called me back to life. He shared a drink with a disreputable woman who had given up hope, until he saw me and didn’t flinch.

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