I was “saved” when I was 10 years old at a Pentecostal altar. I made the decision to go forward out of the fear of eternal damnation to hell if I forgot to ask for forgiveness for a lie I could have told to my mom before getting into a car accident and dying. It was a genuine move of the spirit, but not the Holy Spirit. It was the spirit of fear and I have spent many years since then overcoming religion.
I have always believed in God but never really knew Him.
I called myself a Christian and avoided sins, but I never truly knew what it meant to walk freely with God. How can you be free and also be good? Doesn’t goodness make you holy and holiness makes God happy? His happiness with you means He will make your life better and bless you with peace? Right?
This is how I interpreted church and religion in my adolescent, people pleasing, perfectionistic brain.
And this is how the enemy used guilt and fear to rule my life for many years.
I am not bashing church or pastors or my parents or religion. I am sharing MY OWN journey on overcoming the Christian religion and becoming a Jesus follower.
Because to me, being a Christian and following Jesus are different.
If you grew up in the 80s/90s of the Christian faith, you just might know what I am talking about.
Don’t do drugs. Don’t drink. Don’t swear. Don’t wear short shorts or skirts. Don’t wear anything tight. Don’t wear a two piece bathing suit. Don’t hold hands. Don’t kiss. Don’t have sex. Don’t watch porn. Don’t look at girls. Don’t look at boys. Don’t have an abortion. Don’t be gay. Don’t touch your own body. Don’t get jealous of others. Don’t want for things you don’t need. Don’t skip church. Don’t join sports or school activities that make you miss church. Don’t put too much effort into your hair or makeup or be vain in other ways. Don’t read non-Christian books. Don’t listen to secular music. Don’t watch rated R movies. Don’t watch tv. Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Don’t disobey your parents. Don’t hang out with anybody who does these things. All of this is sin and the wages of sin is death.
If for some reason you have to hang out with the kinds of people that sin, say you are in a school club that doesn’t interfere with church, make sure you are constantly taking a stand against all of these things and inviting them to church.
If you break these rules God will be so mad and if you don’t ask for forgiveness before you die in a car accident tomorrow, you will go to hell.
God is here to make sure you don’t do those things. He can help you not do any of these things if you really, really love Him, read your bible, listen to Christian music and go to church three times a week. He will save you from hell, but only if you don’t mess up. If your guilt walks you up to this altar, a very holy member of our church who is done messing up in his/her life, will pray for you and help you confess all that you do wrong. Tomorrow when you wake up, if you prayed hard enough, you won’t mess up anymore. (Yes that is sarcasm, but again, teen interpretation here.)
And the next day I woke up…and messed up. So I gave up.
Then somehow after all the mistakes, all the sins, all the running and hiding from God who was so mad at me, I felt like going back to church. But this time it was a little different. This time I heard an updated version of God…love. Maybe it was because I was now an adult and my brain was supposedly done growing.
You are a treasured child of God. You are made to do amazing things. You are here to be loved and to give love to others. Many of the things that are listed above will interfere with your ability to feel God’s true and deep love, but He will never stop pursuing you and He is always near to your heart and will give you strength to overcome any darkness that consumes your life.
But with all the religion in my head it was hard to follow the Jesus in my heart.
As I tried to follow Jesus, religion kept following me. This time it wasn’t a list of “don’ts” it was now a list of “don’t forgets!”
Don’t forget to tithe. Don’t forget to volunteer at church. Don’t forget to do the Dave Ramsey plan to get out of debt. Don’t forget to pray continuously for your spouse and children. Don’t forget to pray with your spouse and children. Don’t forget to be a submissive wife who is also a domestic goddess. Don’t forget to do devotionals with your children each night. Don’t forget to do a devotional with your spouse. Don’t forget to invite people to your home for fellowship. Don’t forget to adopt and support foster families. Don’t forget to give to missions. Don’t forget to go on a mission trip. Don’t forget to help the hungry and homeless. Don’t forget to only buy what you need. Don’t forget to love your enemies. Don’t forget to join a bible study. Don’t forget to always be reading a new faith based book to stay spiritually focused. Don’t forget to go to the women’s retreat. Don’t forget to put Christ in Christmas instead of Santa. Don’t forget to be a lovely, perfect wife who always puts her hubby and home first all while holding down a full time job. Don’t forget to somehow figure out how to become a holy stay-at-home mom so you can actually be that kind of wife. Don’t forget to always forgive. Don’t forget to have the fruits of the spirit. Don’t forget to find your calling. And if you don’t know your calling yet, don’t forget to pray harder and maybe try fasting until you hear God loud and clear as to what it is. (I’m sure there is an equally pressured filled message for men. But I am sharing my personal experience.)
And if you do these things, God will be pleased, you will feel closer to Him and if you die in a car accident tomorrow you will be met in heaven and your crown will have many jewels for all of the lovely things you remembered to do on earth in the name of our Lord.
I think you know where I am going with all of this.
Old fashioned fear based religion or new fashioned serve to there is nothing left of you religion. Neither way is freedom. Neither way is Jesus. So if freedom is found in Jesus, how do I walk without the cloud of guilt, freely in love?
Each trial and success I have faced in my adult journey is a step in overcoming the religion ingrained in me and revealing the space between old and new.
The space of grace.
Somewhere in between don’t sin and don’t forget to be holy, there has been real human life happening.
Real mistakes and consequences that refine or break us.
Real circumstances beyond our control that wear us down.
Real hurts and pains and brokenness that no amount of “don’t do this” and “don’t forgets” will fix.
The real story that overcomes religion is just plain, old fashioned love. True, unconditional love is freedom.
So here are the steps to overcoming religion in your life…
Love and accept yourself and the journey you are on.
Each new moment is a gift that provides an opportunity to do the next right thing. There is no freedom in self-rejection only bondage in the every-day celebrity saturated, keep up with Jonses, Pinterest pursuit of identity. When we choose to love ourselves, respect ourselves, protect ourselves, and care for ourselves, we are the strongest version of ourselves and available to truly love our neighbor as ourselves.
Love and accept others for the journey they are on.
We don’t know the pits people have climbed out of to be in the exact moment they are in. We don’t know how hard a journey has been to bring a person to the exact moment you or I get to interact with them. Our snap judgements divide us and Jesus came to bring us together for eternity under His love. I truly believe most people are bringing the best they have to each moment they are in. As a follower of Jesus, it is my responsibility to refrain from judging others…even those I have a close relationship with.
No one has ever changed his heart because someone beat him over the head with scripture, whining, threats, criticism, rejection, accusations, and judgement (even if they deserve it.) People’s hearts change when they are filled with forgiveness and the security of knowing that their human condition in the moment they are in is enough to be loved and cared for. The social media slander that I see from Christians spreading “truth” is hard for me to swallow. If the hurt and broken turn to Christians and we turn back with anything other than the open arms of Jesus’ love, our message is nothing more than the clanging of a cymbal.
Maybe, like me, you feel stuck. You have been hurt by religion, rejected by religion, hated by religion, confused by religion, disgusted by religion. Maybe it’s your time for grace. Maybe it’s your time for love.
This isn’t a message to ignore the cautions of the darkness that sin can bring to your life and the lives of those around you. There is a way out.
This isn’t a message to stop doing all the good that God asks of us either. There is always something we can give and do for others.
It is simply a message to give your life space for grace and especially allow space for others. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory.
If you are on your journey and you need to let go of some heavy baggage of sin weighing you down, then do it.
If you need to pause on your journey to put on your own oxygen mask before you continue helping, then do it
Quit a religion of rules and start a relationship of love.
Then just keep doing the next right thing. This is how we grow. This is how we become free.
Hurt people, hurt people. Loved people, love people. Freed people, free people.
Life is good. Love is great. Bring love, life, and freedom into your home.
High five for home.