Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:31-32
You know that feeling you get when you sense over and over that God wants you to blog about the most spectacular failure of your life? Like, tell the Internet all about it and the shattered mess it created? Perhaps you do not know what that feels like, but I can describe it as the opposite of a good feeling. Terrifying, humiliating, intimidating, foreboding. I wonder if it is what Peter felt when, again and again, he confessed to the newborn church that he had betrayed the Messiah in his time of need. I am so thankful for Peter. Peter is my homeboy.
A few days ago, I fell down my stairs (that is not the huge failure). I was wearing slippery flip flops while walking down wooden stairs into my garage carrying a giant cauldron of red beans and rice to take to a friend who had just had a baby. I slipped and fell, like, super hard. I smacked with all of my weight onto my tailbone and my elbows. There was a brutal crack as my body hit the stairs. I was embarrassed and hurt.
That’s how I am. When I fall, I fall hard. Its been a few times now. And a little over three years ago, I plummeted like a long and bloody comet. I was on staff at my church, doing women’s ministry. I loved it. I was good at it. I was preparing for the women’s retreat, where I was speaking and leading the whole weekend. It was the same week that I had my first miscarriage, the week of my wedding anniversary. I lost the baby, then prayed for grace and strength to teach at the retreat three days later. The Lord, O how precious and overflowing He is, gave me what I needed. I remember that intense weekend in the Sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, a mingled collision of my giftedness and my devastating loss.
Also, it was the beginning of my failure.
On the drive to the retreat, my sweet pastor asked me if I had taken care of a certain retreat responsibility. A little one. I certainly would have received grace if I had admitted that I had forgotten it in the midst of such a traumatic week. I have relived that moment a million times, always making the pure and holy decision the second time around.
I lied to her. I told her I had done it. A silly lie, not only because I would have received only love and grace if I had told the truth, but also since it would prove to be hard to cover up, as I later learned.
A little white lie. No big deal, right? I went through the rest of the weekend without thinking about it once to regret or take back, worshipping in Spirit and truth. I was teaching, leading, ministering, grieving, receiving, enjoying. It was a deep and precious weekend.
Then she asked me again. And I lied again, this time to protect my first lie. The web was getting a bit more tangled. I will spare you the details of the next few days. I lied and lied and lied. I tried to cover up my lies. It never occurred to me to take hold of the offer of mercy and acknowledge responsibility for my deception. I did everything I could to avoid getting caught. To my leaders who continued to offer me opportunities to turn back, it was the equivalent of watching me fall down those garage stairs in excruciating slow motion, like that scene of the van falling off of the bridge in Inception. It was an ugly and inevitable plunge.
Of course I got caught. Thank you, Lord, in your depthless mercy you ruined me.
I was released from my position at church. Fired. Public failure. Not because I lied, but because I refused to take responsibility for my lies until I got caught. The elders sent out a letter revealing that I had been released from my position because I had committed “a moral failure of a non-sexual nature.” From that, I learned that the truth is a clean razor that inflicts the kind of pain that heals.
We stayed through it all. Yes, there was fallout, conflict, broken relationship. It was painful and messy and, O so so humiliating. I wrapped myself in a cloak of shame during that season. We certainly could have left and taken a new lie of victimhood somewhere else to fester and cause disease. I can’t really explain why we didn’t, except that somehow, under the shame and fear and self-loathing that I wore like a scarlet letter for a long time, I heard the echoing call of a purifying fire of truth. I had tasted the cleansing water of conviction and consequence and I wanted it to wash me clean. I repented, felt the pain of betraying my God and those who loved me. I confessed and grieved the black cords that had strangled me. I knew that I was not a victim, that I had chosen to fall and it was nobody’s fault but my own. We did not stay at our church because I was strong, but because I was weak. I needed to bear the full weight of my sin in order to see the full glory of grace. I guess I believed that if I could own my sin and endure the season of internal and external judgment, then, I hoped and believed, the Lord could bring something beautiful out of me.
It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. Lamentations 3:26-32
And now, years later, we see it. Strongholds broken, relationships reconciled, wounded places healed, hope and a future on a path to restoration. We see more clearly a God who heals, redeems, rebuilds.
Remember those words I used to describe my feelings about telling the Internet about my failure – terrifying, humiliating, intimidating, foreboding? Yes. Those are still true. But I have discovered words that cover those. Grace. Redemption. Truth. The Lord loved me enough to uncover the strongholds hidden in darkness in my heart. They were laid bare in the Light of His grace. Some have chosen to see me shining in that Light. Some have chosen to look at the former darkness in disgust and judgment.
Grace. Redemption. Truth. Those words still cover all of it.