When I was younger, I used to believe that the older a Christian got in their faith, the more black and white, right and wrong, righteous or sinful things would all of a sudden become. Much of this belief came through the example set by my paternal grandma. An entire series of blogposts could be written on the influence of Grandpa and Grandma Alexander in my life - the relationship was very complex and took different forms as we grew up. I'm pretty sure that my first "confession of faith" occurred while watching a children's' evangelical program at their home (and was repeated each Saturday morning when we'd watch it again). However, much of my Christian faith was very skewed by my exposure to them as well.
I am so happy to know they are both celebrating together in God's presence in Heaven right now - there is no question about that. But, because of the criticisms they had over every church they visited, they never ended up settling on a church to fellowship in - and therefore what we gained spiritually from them was purely from their teachings, and what we overheard them listening to on Sunday morning radio programs. It was very limiting. It was scary. It was full of rules to follow - and worry constantly that you'd failed at.
It wasn't until we were in college and exposed to a campus ministry program, Campus Crusade for Christ, that Michele and I, together (isn't that a glorious concept...that even in this, we got to journey alongside each other?!) that we were once and for all exposed to the truth; that acceptance into Heaven isn't a result of do's or don'ts - or confessing every sin before you died (oh, the fear I had of getting hit by a bus before confessing everything bad I'd ever done - without even being sure I even knew what I did was wrong or not!). Instead, during one amazing campus retreat, it was explained to us that Jesus took care of it all on the cross and all we needed to do was give our heart to Him by recognizing our own inadequacies to ever be perfect and then let Him guide our direction from that point on. GRACE. It was a profound concept and one that changed my view forever about who God was and how very much He loves each one of us.
But, still, I held on to that "Christian stereotype" that the older you got as a Christian, the more "right" you became, and therefore, the more you "judged" others that weren't as far along as you. Older people in the faith scared me, as I was certain they were noticing every little failing I made, from child rearing to personal convictions.
But, now, I'm what some people would consider "older". At 40, I'm sure I'm "over the hill" in the eyes of the college students I spend time with - at the very least, old enough to be considered an "elder". (Though I hope not yet, "elderly"!). And I realize how very wrong I was to myself judge older Christians.
Because, the older I get, it's not how much closer I believe I'm getting to doing or knowing what's right or wrong, but rather, loving others amidst these dividers that Satan would desire to use to tear us apart. Things I used to see as either black or white have melded into a whole lot of gray for me. Of course, there are things that the Bible explicitly outlines as sin - but, even in saying that, I'm a whole lot more aware these days of just how much I falter vs. looking at others to highlight their failings.
I'm recognizing that growing more mature in your Christian faith is NOT becoming like one of the "pious righteous Pharisees" that Jesus despised in his time, but rather seeking to become more like Jesus himself - who healed the blind, took company with the "least of these" - the tax collectors and prostitutes, and made it clear through His stories that His love is for everyone....the one missing sheep out of a flock of 100 or the prodigal son who'd squandered his father's inheritance and had done absolutely nothing to earn the loving acceptance of his father when he returned.
Some of these realizations have recently been brought to my heart as I realize just how much judging I've done on my own in an attempt to protect my heart from the judging of others, or to justify my own sin. I've campaigned against "gray areas" that I don't believe God has given me permission to cast my scorn against. Instead of heaping piles of guilt upon my heart, though, I feel like, instead, He's just opened my eyes to my own insecurities - and replaced a lot of them with a contentment and confidence that I am complete only as I trust my heart, mind, and direction to Him. It's also helped to be exposed to story after story of brokenness and redemption of the people that fill my life. Each of one of them, as they share their intimate details of shame - and rescue from the Savior, has added another layer of light and wisdom to my perspective - and, I believe, helped me to take one step closer to Him. I can't even express how thankful I am to these friends, family members, and acquaintances for being brave enough to share with me, and in doing so, teaching me so much. I'm humbled completely after each encounter.
I've also found myself back in familiar old territory lately as our family is in the midst of making a decision regarding the future of our family that some would perceive to fall into the "gray area of choices". Well, let's be fair, we are well aware that some believe it to be a "black choice". We believe, though, after lots of prayer, petitions of wisdom, interviews of those that have made the same choice, etc - that is a decision God has given us liberty to pursue. We make this decision based on the unique needs of our family - and honestly, never expected to follow this path. (Two years ago, it would been something fitting into the category of what I dealt with in the paragraph above).
It's hard now, though, because no matter what choice we've made, there will be disappointment in us and our decision by someone...probably a lot of someones. So, that leads us again to God and making the determination of Who we are really seeking to please. Is it a choice God is giving us? Do we believe it is the wisest choice in our circumstances? If so, then we need to follow the course of action we believe we've been led to follow and do our best to navigate through those outspoken against the choice. This is not an easy venture for me, as I really do want to win arguments, and when I'm feeling judged I want to retaliate with words that tear down so it makes the other person feel like I'm feeling. I also have a great deal of empathy for the other side too -
So, here we go - another opportunity to "grow up as a Christian". To love those around me even when we aren't in agreement, without tearing them down or building myself up in the process (which is not a part of love). How thankful I am to not be alone right now - to have John at my side to walk through this together with, to wrestle over in both of our hearts - and to have two kids mature enough to see all sides. Growing up (in Christ) might expose you to a whole more truth, but it sure doesn't mean you are immune to the growing pains...
As a little postscript, I want to reiterate that this is a post written about my own "coming to terms" of life and how I'm starting to look at it different, despite being raised in such a way to believe that things were supposed to be more black and white as time goes on. I got a Facebook message today from a friend who's about a decade ahead of me and this is how she described it:
I think "getting older" has broadened my outlook rather than narrowed it
to black and white. It's given me the ability to see past a decision
to maybe what got the person there...or at least the desire to try. And
it's given me the desire to see it all through God's eyes, not my own,
which requires staying very close to Him!!!