I’ve had an interesting few weeks lately. It began with me getting into a situation I shouldn’t have, and the result has been a crazy journey through temptation, failure, and God’s amazing grace. I feel like I’m at a point now where I’ve learnt a lot from the whole mess, so I’m writing about it now partly in the interests of honesty and partly so that I have it to return to next time I screw things up!
Let’s get it out there to start with; it’s slightly complicated but, having so far managed to avoid the obvious, I managed to find a whole new way to be unfaithful to my husband. Friends and family – we’re fine, I’ve been backtracking furiously ever since I realised what I was getting into, I think I’ve caught it before any real harm was done, and we’ve talked about it and although I’ve definitely crossed the line of what I think is ok, thankfully he doesn’t see it that way. We’re fine, and I’m an idiot. But it has been a shock to see what I’m actually capable of, that after almost 16 years as a Christian, just when I was beginning to see some progress in other areas I’ve struggled with, I’ve found a whole new way to sin that I hadn’t even anticipated being a problem. And it’s shaken me that I could let it get out of control.
However, I’m beginning to feel the whole experience has actually been good for me. It’s highlighted my weakness. I know myself better, and I also know God’s grace better, and my dependence on it. This last couple of weeks I’ve been working at a Christian festival, mostly on my own, so have had a lot of time to process this through with God, and it’s been a powerful experience of grace.
What I did was not ok, not good for me. Sin is a serious matter – Jesus went so far as to say if your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, and though He was exaggerating, He did it to make a point about how seriously we need to take it. I’m not cutting out the external cause, but I have to cut out the sin. I’ve found the aforementioned ‘siren’ was not the external source of temptation so much as my internal response to it. Sometimes the best response to temptation is to run from it, especially if the source of it is something unhealthy, which in this case it definitely isn’t, but this time I feel I need to stand up to it and face it down – otherwise I know it’ll only pop up elsewhere. The problem is what’s going on in me.
This new awareness of my weakness has caused heartbreak, contrition, repentance, and ultimately a little more salvation; it’s breaking a bit of me down, bringing more humility, saving me. The more I walk with, struggle with, this issue, the more the heartbreak and humility bring me closer to God.
Losing faith in myself is essential to faith. We can’t fully have faith in God whilst we still have faith in ourselves, and sometimes we don’t realise we do have faith in ourselves until something shakes us and causes us to lose it. We cannot know God’s undeserved love and how incredible that is until we’ve grasped how much we don’t deserve it, and sometimes that understanding can only come through our failures.
I’m rejecting giving in to guilt in all this. Guilt lies, and tells us we’re failures and should just give up. Shame on the other hand leads to the contrition and heartbreak that bring us back to grace; we find ourselves a wreck we have no faith in, and find God accepting and loving us even at our lowest point, giving us a second chance even when we feel we’ve just blown our 100th chance and have no hope of changing in our own strength.
The amazing truth is that as far as God is concerned, every single time we come back to God with our mess and ask God’s help, we have a totally new start. Our next mess up is effectively our first ever, it doesn’t add to the pile. We are not condemned. God’s mercy is new each morning. God is with us even whilst we are wading through things that would bring us death.
I find it so hard to get a right perspective on myself. I tend to think of myself as more innocent than I am, and then when I screw up, and God declares me forgiven and innocent, I carry on beating myself up! My challenge is to truly believe both that I am capable of terrible things, worse than I’ve yet fallen into, but simultaneously to believe that I am innocent in God’s eyes and that I genuinely have a new chance at getting it right every single moment, regardless of how many times I’ve in reality got it wrong in the past.
So I think this really has been good for me; I may not have gained any of this perspective or understanding without getting into a mess (though I wish I had!), and being honest about it with my friends, my husband, and most of all with God has actually strengthened my relationships and helped me get my priorities the right way up. Jesus definitely has ways of making good come of bad situations if we let him.
Finally I think I’ve found two ways to break temptation’s power; the first is to be open about it and bring it all out into the light. Keeping this stuff secret allows guilt to creep in and keeps me from being accountable to others, so that the mess can build up in secret until it takes hold. In the open it looks smaller, and others can help me through it. It really deepens relationships when we can be real with one another rather than pretending to have it all sorted. Plus it isn’t going to become a scandal that makes a hypocrite of me. Secondly, God’s total forgiveness and grace breaks temptation’s power like nothing else, we really do have a true clean start and do not have to feel a failure. All our past mistakes are gone; let them go and move on.