I sigh and examine my fingernails as my husband talks with the saleswoman. She is unable to answer a single question we have about the tan sofa we are considering on the showroom floor. “I’m sorry,” she stutters, “I don’t usually work in furniture. Adam, the regular sales person in this department, will be back tomorrow. Can I give you his card?” My husband thanks her. I sigh again and cross my arms over my chest.
“Why aren’t we getting the couch?” Rowan asks, flopping onto the ottoman with the dangling $500 price tag.
“Because the lady has absolutely no information, despite the fact that she is supposedly an employee of this store,” I hiss. The saleswoman’s heels click across the tile. I see her glance back at me.
“Michelle!” Brad chides. “Keep your voice down! She can hear you, you know.” My husband is appalled by my rude behavior, but I don’t care. We’ve been looking for a sofa that will fit in our renovated basement for two months. I’ve visited this particular store three times, each time leaving without the information I need. I want to blame someone, and the innocent saleswoman is the target of my frustration.
As we exit through the double doors, I feel the tendrils of regret wrap around my gut. But not for the reasons you might think. I’m suddenly afraid the saleswoman has recognized my face from the newspaper. I don’t want her to know that the woman who writes the monthly religion column is the same rude customer who disdainfully dismissed her and then stomped in a huff out of the store.
By the time Brad pulls the car into the driveway, though, my fear of being “found out” as a sorry excuse for a Christian has morphed into true remorse and shame. I’m embarrassed by my tirade, my rudeness. I regret the terrible example I’ve just presented to my kids, and I can’t even look my husband in the eye. I want to quit this whole Christian thing altogether – clearly I am a complete and utter failure, the kind of person who can’t even treat a minimum-wage, just-out-of-college sales clerk decently, for heaven’s sake. I am in full self-condemnation mode.
I berate myself for days after the furniture store incident. I simply cannot forgive myself; I cannot let it go. The power of my own sin grips me in a suffocating stranglehold, like a metal vise squeezing tight around my chest, constricting my breathing, bruising my ribs.
Until, days later, I finally remember that Jesus does not condemn me for my sin, no matter how wrong or ugly or unchristian or downright despicable I am.
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ,” Paul writes to the Romans. “And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
Look closely at what Paul says: “The power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Being followers of Jesus does not free us from sin itself, but from the strangulating power of sin, the power that threatens to plunge us into the abyss of shame and self-condemnation. The power that urges us to give up, throw in the towel, quit this Christian living once and for all.
It took a few days for the truth of this verse to seep into my hard heart and head. Part of me didn’t truly believe it; truthfully, part of me still doesn’t believe it, because it really does sound too good to be true.
So I keep going back to this verse, reading and rereading it, replacing the berating refrain of “failure” with this balm, this salve, trying to allow the words to sink deep. I tell myself that I will keep on sinning, that I know for sure. But I also tell myself that when I do, I can live free in the knowledge that I am not, and will never be, condemned by Christ.
Anyone else out there experience a total Christian fail like this? How did you forgive yourself?
** So I didn’t write this post with Jennifer Lee’s book in mind, but in rereading it just now, I realized this is the perfect #PreApproved post to go along with Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval – and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes. If you haven’t heard of this book, go right now to Amazon and check it out. My copy is already underlined, dog-eared, wrinkled and worn (and it’s brand-new!) – this is a powerful read, friends. **