As it became known that Preston and I were dating, a lot of family and friends were left shocked and utterly confused.
Why? It’s simple, really.
When comparing track records of the four years prior to our relationship, things didn’t quite match up.
I moved to Nashville, attended university, stayed involved in church, and, for the most part, did what was expected of me. Meanwhile, Preston’s life took a little different path.
For people that knew both of our stories, the match-up was puzzling. I knew it would be, and I had already anticipated the questioning and comments I would receive. In fact, before we decided to pursue a relationship, we discussed many of these things.
“What would people say? How would they react? Did it matter what everyone else thought? How will that effect us? How do we respond? Do we have to respond? What’s their business and what isn’t?”
We spent a lot of time in prayer and pursuing a deeper friendship before attempting to navigate a relationship. Ultimately, we decided our relationship was between us and God, and that was enough.
But I won’t lie and say it was easy. Making a decision against the status quo is hard. Really hard. Especially for a gal whose life is rooted in people-pleasing.
But what hurt the most wasn’t defending my choice 400 times or enduring lectures on the potential repercussions of this decision or navigating everyone’s “what if” scenarios or even the damaged relationships.
What hurt the most was seeing the hurt and disappointment in his face every time he looked at me and said “I made stupid choices. A lot of choices I would take back in a heart beat, but I’ve made that right with God and I’m doing my best to do better. Why doesn’t that count for anything?”
“Why doesn’t that count for anything?”
I wanted to scream and shout IT DOES! IT DOES! KEEP GOING! IT MATTERS!
But I knew why it seemed as though it didn’t matter. Regardless of what decisions he made presently, his life was repeatedly painted with the choices of his past by those looking in. And even more, with the tendency of people to subconsciously label sins as “big” or “little”, we also label those who have “bigger” sins as more of a lost cause. For those looking in, they never saw past his “big” sins. (As if one sin is more worthy of punishment than another.)
For a group of people who preach forgiveness, we have a lousy way of showing it.
We forgive in words, but continue to press charges with our actions. We preach grace, but shout the details of their past. We ask them to come, but judge them for how they came.
We say we believe in the changing power of Christ, but do we really?
I can tell you this, most of us don’t live a life claiming the changing power of Christ. We see people who have made bad choices, and all but put a timer on them for when they’ll fall away again. We wait and watch, knowing this change won’t last.
What lousy proclaimers of the Gospel we become when we ignore the power of Christ to change lives. Every life. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
So why do we stand so far away from those who have ugly pasts? I offered him two thoughts.
For one, the temptation to exhibit spiritual pride, just as the Corinthians experienced. Those who haven’t committed those “big sins” feel superior to those who have. Like their white robes are less tainted, more deserving of cleansing, more worthy of the forgiveness of Christ.
And the second, the temptation to live out the life of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. Those who have never wasted time on prodigal living feel like they are more deserving of God’s reward. Even more so, those who have wasted time on prodigal living don’t deserve the same reward. There’s a sense of jealousy and perceived unfairness that goes along with someone who hasn’t been as “obedient” as you receiving the same level of reward. If we truly forgive, and look past the person someone used to be, we have to recognize that they are the same “level” of Christian that we are, and, likewise, they deserve the same eternal reward.
For a lot of people, this is a hard pill to swallow. It certainly was for the older brother of the prodigal son. He didn’t want his father throwing a party for his brother who had come back. Instead, he thought he deserved punishment for his choices. But the father, just as Christ does, ran to meet his son, embraced him for who he was, and celebrated his return home.
He didn’t require him to work in order to make up for the bad choices he had made. He didn’t put him on probation for him to prove he was a changed person. And he didn’t look at him with skepticism, wondering if he was really back for good or not.
He ran to meet him. Threw him a party for coming home. And embraced him as the same son he had always loved.
The lessons we could learn from this parable in regards to embracing sinners who come home are invaluable.
We run to meet them where they are. We celebrate their return home. We love them despite their past choices. And we continue to encourage them, love them, and embrace them in the days to come.
After explaining the thoughts I imagined some of these people might be having, I reminded him of what really matters.
God is a good, good Father. He’s the same Father presented in the parable. He loves you. He ran to meet you when you turned back and came home. He embraced you for who you are and who you are becoming. And he showered you with grace, forgiveness, and mercy.
Even though Christians might be lousy at affirming the forgiveness found in Christ and the changing power of His Word, He provided reassurance for us.
“But HE gives MORE GRACE.” -James 4:6
He gives more grace. Over. And over. And over again.
He gives. More. Grace.
I’m thankful that on our darkest day, Christ meets us in the despair, offers a hand to pull us out, forgiveness to wash our sins away, and grace to try again.