As we prepare to remember the birth of Jesus and the gift of salvation, I want to share this reflection I shared 4 years ago about “being saved.” Enjoy!
I used to think I had salvation figured out.
I used to think it was as easy as saying a prayer, or as powerful as experiencing an altar call. I used to think it happened in a moment, and a big one at that. I used to think tears and singing and lifted hands and quitting major addictions were a necessity.
I used to think it was a once in a lifetime thing. Once it happened, you were good to go.
But I also used to think you had to work for it, that it could be lost when you slipped up, when you didn’t do everything right, or when you weren’t perfect. For a time I worried that no matter what I did, I had to be part of a “chosen elect” to be in the safe zone.
I used to think salvation was all about being safe from God. I used to think I had to say the prayers and do the things so that God would like me enough to let his bouncer St. John take down the velvet rope and let me into His club.
And to be entirely honest, a part of me still believes all of this. In the perfection, in the glamour, in the earth-shattering, charismatic revival and even the elitist version of salvation.
But now, it’s becoming something different. It’s becoming something more than this.
Maybe it’s because after having so many “big” experiences, I still felt trapped by so much. Anxiety. Insecurity. Self-doubt. Fear of abandonment. And if I was to believe that salvation was a one-time thing, I was led to wonder if I had ever truly experienced it in the first place.
To me, salvation was being immediately transformed by God so I could be close with Him. In my youth, salvation was simply an affirming feeling, a warm, fuzzy, God-loves-me-all-the-time feeling. But it wasn’t immediate. And I didn’t always feel so close to God. And I was left fearing that I was still so very distant from the God I wanted to love me for who I was.
These questions always lay at the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I actually started to sit with them.
Suddenly, salvation wasn’t as cut-and-dry as I’d always imagined it to be. Suddenly, salvation became bigger and more beautiful than I could have imagined. And suddenly, it wasn’t as easy or simple as I’d hoped it would be.
Suddenly, salvation wasn’t something that just happened, suddenly or not. Instead, I began to see it as a process.
A process of being set free from all the things I allow to hold me back from becoming who I’m meant to be.
A process learning, day by day, that fear, death, pain and hate do not have the last word in this world.
A process of living into the truth that God loves me, that I am a gift, because I am me.
A process of learning to accept myself for who I am, with all my strengths, weaknesses, and quirks, and to fully embrace myself so I can fully give of myself.
I remember when a little book called Love Wins came out a few years ago. I remember it generated a lot of controversy because it dealt with heaven, hell, and salvation. I remember people accusing Rob Bell of being a heretic, a universalist, a “lukewarm” and “lying” Christian who was leading others astray with his words.
And then I read the book after a long season of doubts and questions (which still continues on and off to this day), and I was surprised to find that I identified with the words of this “heretic.” And I don’t believe I enjoyed his words because they made the Gospel look “easy” or “not important.”
In fact, his ideas made the Gospel bigger and all the more challenging to me. And that was because in his book, he dared to ask this big, controversial, and all-together beautiful question:
What if heaven isn’t just a place we try to get to when we die? What if it is here, on earth, in the ever day lives we live?
I can understand why this question alone is controversial. We like to keep things that are “sacred” away from things that are “secular,” or “profane,” or “worldly.”
And I get that. I understand that whenever I hear of murders, sex trafficking, senseless violence, disasters, and other tragedies, it’s hard to imagine heaven in some other dimension, let alone here on earth. I understand that when I look at the way people treat others and how they interact in relationships. it’s hard to imagine God creating us to be “good” and a lot easier to see humanity as “deprived” and evil. More often than not, it’s a lot easier to see Hell on earth than it is to see any glimpse of heaven in it.
But I see so many little glimpses of heaven on earth, of salvation being and happening among us, that I cannot help but believe that heaven is more than a distant kingdom. I see these glimpses when I play Wii baseball with my Little Sister, in the girls I mentor, in the Farmer’s Market vendors who give their extra produce to local pantries, in the arms of those who love me, who tell me that I am perfect as I am and listen to my stories.
And tonight, I saw a heaven shining brightly when two cars stopped in the middle of Route 11 to make sure a mama duck and her babies made it across the road safely.
Seriously. I almost cried when I saw this.
Because now, this is salvation. This is heaven on earth. This is God restoring His Creation, making it new day by day, setting us free from all that prevents us from loving God, ourselves, and others. This is God saving me from myself, saving you from yourself.
Because when one of us hurts, many of us hurt.
And when one of us is healed, many of us are healed.
We are all connected, and we are all bound to and weighed down by so much. All of us need set free, from our own fears, our own pressures, our own anxieties, our own addictions, and our own pasts.
So this salvation has turned out to be a lot more difficult than saying a prayer once in your life. This salvation involves a lot of grace, a lot of dedication, and a lot of work. It involves owning our pains and struggles, owning our faults and sins, and knowing that we are so deeply loved regardless. And it involves hearing the pains, struggles, faults, and sins of others, and telling them that just as we are loved and matter, so do they love and matter.
Because if the Truth shall set us free, and the most beautiful Truth of all is Love, then Love shall set us all free in the end.
In the end, Love is Salvation. And while it’s not always easy, it’s always worth it.