There’s a song by Casting Crowns that resonates so deeply with me called “The Altar and the Door.” Growing up in my Pentecostal church, I simply understood God’s grace and love. In those days, on the surface at least, I was so certain that no matter how many times I had to go to the altar, I could leave with confidence out those doors that I was turning a new leaf. This song kind of challenged those preconceived ideas about forgiveness and resurrection, but it still slightly reinforced my idea of God’s love. Now it hits me in the gut more than ever is because I actually understand the narrator’s doubts about his own merit, motives, and strengths. Now, I feel like I’m waiting at the door to go to the altar, but I’m too afraid to go in. Why? Because I know that before I know it, I’ll have to go through this whole process again, more times than I’m willing to admit. You could say I finally understand the song now.
Repetition can be really annoying, especially when it’s concerning my flaws, insecurities, and, dare I say it, sin.
Which brings me to seminary.
On the second day of seminary orientation, we were invited to walk a prayer labyrinth. They made it very clear that it wasn’t a maze, lest we be worried that in the midst of our prayerful walking we had to worry about getting lost. Honestly, though, I think a crazy maze would have been more realistic, as I find myself too frustrated to be prayerful in the every day because I’m staring at a tall hedge, wondering how to find my way out of the dead end and chastising myself over my poor direction skills.
I was the fourth person in my group to start walking the labyrinth, so there were three other people ahead of me on their journey that I had to be conscious of and make room for. There were some paths that were very short and had quick turns, and there were a few longer paths. After a while, I took off my flip flops so I could feel the hard, cool stones and damp grass under my feet. I remembered how as a child at my grandparents’ farm, I used to run around barefoot all the time. Whether it was rain or shine, through freshly mown lawns or cow-pie covered fields, over soothing grass or jagged rocks that ripped my little feet to shreds, the ground of my youth was too holy for sneakers. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed those more innocent days until I removed my shoes on this holy ground.
As I was walking, I reflected on what had brought me to seminary, my life thus far, where I was now in my faith. However, as I drew closer and closer to the center, where I could stand and reflect with God about the journey and enjoy a spectacular view of the Blue Ride mountains, I started to get worried about reaching the final destination. When I finally reached the entrance to the center, I hesitated. I realized that I was scared to enter the center of the labyrinth. Because suddenly it hit me: I’m going to be back here again.
I’ve returned to the altar so many times. I’ll return to that center of the labyrinth just as many times if not more so. And honestly, I’m kind of sick of it. And to be even more honest, I am sick of myself.
I’m sick of always finding myself back in this spot. I’m sick of having to confess that, once again, I’ve failed expectations, that I’ve failed in general, that I’ve let people down and disappointed them. In short, I absolutely hate admitting failure and defeat. I’m sick of admitting that I’ve been acting as human as Peter in his denial and as proud as the sons of Zebedee when they asked if they could be the greatest. I hate having to ask for mercy from Someone who has already seen me this way innumerable times, and the human that I am is only thinking of the times I have left until This One’s patience reaches its limit with me.
Because honestly, I just don’t get it.
How can God keep taking me back? Why does God keep loving me this way? What good does God see in taking me back and giving me the chance to start the day anew? Why does God still have that much hope in me?
On good days, I get it. On good days, when my hope for the world and my spirits for the day are at new heights, God’s grace is immeasurable. It only makes sense to me on those days. On bad days, I just don’t get it. On bad days, I’ve taken God’s place on the throne to issue judgment on the world and myself, because I think God is too damn exhausted with me to deal with my problems at the moment.
Because to be honest, resurrection doesn’t make any sense to me. Resurrection, for the longest time, was a one-time thing. You got saved, and while you stumbled every now and then, things were overall supposed to go pretty well for you. Now, resurrection is a long, exhausting, tedious process, and I honestly don’t see how God can keep throwing the second chances my way for much longer.
I don’t trust God. I don’t trust God to keep loving me, to keep giving me chances, to stick by me through my best or my worst. I don’t trust that my best will be good enough for God, and I definitely don’t trust God to love me at my worst, because my own shortcomings make me cringe. And if I can’t trust God in these ways, how can I trust others? If I can’t trust the Love within me, how can I trust the Love outside of me and throughout the world to not reject me?
Maybe that’s why I like the Psalms and the books of the prophets. They get this fear of a God who gets frustrated with them to the point of packing his bags and leaving us to our own destruction. And they’re a lot more honest and upfront about it than I usually am. But they also, like me, have this flicker of undying hope that maybe, just maybe, this God loves them enough to return and restore them, to give them another chance, to stay by their side in the midst of chaos.
Maybe God really does get that we’re human, that we mess up, that it’s not always OK, but still gives us the grace to die and live again, to be forgiven. Maybe God wants to open the door to forgiveness for us when we insist on locking ourselves inside and have even thrown away the key to our freedom. Maybe God really hates us stewing in the prison of our lack of forgiveness, for ourselves and the world around us, and for some reason wants nothing more than to let us out of it so we can truly live in love.
I still don’t get resurrection. I still am kicking myself for all the returns I’ll have to make to the altar, or the center of the labyrinth, in the future. But I have a few glimmers of hope.
I know that worry will consume me and doubts will plague me. I know that impatience, injustice, anger, and hate will get the better of me. I know I’ll have to come right back to the center, where the God of Love still stands for some crazy reason, and die to it all again.
But then again, joy will overtake me. Love will always be in my midst. Community will support me. Growth will come. Discernment will take place. And maybe, instead of always coming back to lay down all the pain again, maybe I’ll come back and thank God for the fruit of resurrection in my life.
I eventually walked into the center of the labyrinth with some of my peers, my fellow companions on this journey of faith. Some stared into the beauty of the horizon. Some bowed to their knees. Some wiped away tears. I stood there and got a bit snippy with God about all this resurrection stuff, and finally I left in the hope that even though I still don’t understand resurrection or God’s love and grace completely, I can still look forward to coming back to the center of God’s Love, even when I have my doubts that God will still be there.
Every day, I have a choice. With every breath, I have a chance for redemption. For some reason, deep in my bones, I know this.
But I still don’t get it. Not at all.