The alternative to affectation and "authenticity"


My friend calls it a fingernail moon, the last lingering slip of crescent as we fade into the new moon. It sets somber white against the cobalt twilight in midwinter. Edging into the long cold night one beautiful moment at a time.


The white bleeds blurred brightness onto film as the stars peek through the velvet and the yellow sunlight whispers secrets to the hilltops picketed with naked trees. Ragged horizon like the frayed yarn of a favorite scarf, worn by the harshness of winter and the fingering blaze of the sun as she winks goodbye to our side of the world each afternoon and begins her ascent into the heavens of someone else's morning.

I look at the world of color, and it's a warm moon and twilight is a blanket I can wrap my shoulders in, a tangible testimony of Creator God. It is close, and real, and spreads fingers of joy out to my fingertips like the seeping warmth from the core after a sip of hottest tea.

In black and white, it's just cold, heart-breaking beauty, like the laws of the Old Testament, rigid sentinels to the ceaselessness of human failure. It's distant, unreachable, untouchable, unknowable. In the twilight, the moon is the beacon that illuminates my fear. My doubts.


I get stuck reading books about doubt and I have to skip chapters because doubt is like a recurring nightmare. The cold night sweats, and the tragic endings, the bile in your throat, and the way you jerk your eyes over with suspicion at your husband as he sleeps, even though he didn't really do what you dreamt he did. You already know the ins and outs of each rabbit hole, and how it will eat away at confidence and bleed into your moods and lay it's fingers on your sacred things. Living with doubt is like living with your shadow. It's there, and you can't deny that. But it is a lesser representation of the beautiful truth of humanity. Like a shadow, doubt doesn't simply exist. It exists in relation to all kinds of variables...who you're talking to at the moment, what your day's been like, whether or not you prayed earlier, who you're trying to impress, how long has it been since you took communion or sang from your soul instead of just your diaphragm? 

I read books about healing and I have to skip parts because who says that silence isn't sometimes the best option? God is the Healer who heals even when we don't lift our chins to look evil in the face, who wraps our fear in the impenetrable blanket of His holiness, and gives us a shield of faith that thwarts the darts of the enemy.

I read a novel and there on the page is teshuvah, a Yiddish word that means return. I look it up and find it is also translated repentance, but more accurately means a return to Malchut (the "exalted humility", or compassionate sovereignty of God) or Shechinah (God's manifestation in this world; His feminine side). Later in the same novel, a priest leaves his parish, and says that "although I had felt adrift without God, I had underestimated how aimless I would feel without my church. What religion did for me went beyond belief - it made me part of a community" (Picoult's Change of Heart, p. 249).

I crack the wrinkled brown spine of H.A. Ironside's Continual Burnt Offering, the same book I edged into in my last deep season of doubt, when I was 18 and trying to figure out how faith fit on me. A section of that old copy falls out into my lap, and I read the page marked July 15 as I huddle under wool in the frigid February:
The searching ministry of John the Baptist was a clarion call to reality. Formalism in religion apart from true heart-exercise is an abomination in the sight of God. He is not served by the work of men's hands or glorified by the declarations of their lips if the inward attitude is not right. All men are called to abase themselves before Him, and take the place of confessed sinfulness, seeking divine grace for deliverance through the Savior He provided. Jesus Himself must be the object of faith. It is He alone whose work could meet the claims of God's righteousness. In Him the Father is fully satisfied, and all men everywhere are called to put their trust in Him
Next comes the poem of one long-forgotten A. M. Hull, who never lived on into Google's halls of posterity.

It is not the tears of repentance nor prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul;
On Him then who shed it, thou mayest at once
Thy weight of iniquities toll.

Then take with rejoicing from Jesus at once
The life everlasting He gives.
And know with assurance thou never canst die
While Jesus thy righteousness lives.

At the heart of doubt, for me at least, is shame and guilt. I can feel the spotlight of Holiness shining into my cobweb filled and filthy heart. It makes me very nervous. Wouldn't it be easier if it just weren't true? If there were no spotlight and it really is just about balancing out the bad with enough good, or leaving a legacy, or something comforting like that? Guilt and shame drive me away from community, too. It hasn't often been my experience that I'm accepted in my totality. When it comes to Christian community, I feel as though I have only two equally unappealing choices: 1) hide my sin and put on my goody-two-shoes face, or 2) face rejection, horror, or condemnation and discipline from people I desperately want to like me.

This week, I heard that God sees good when He looks at me. (Although this probably shouldn't have been a new concept to me at 31, it is definitely something I have not absorbed into my self-image at this stage.) Then I read these words from a woman with a Master's in Divinity, and had another moment of wonderment as I turned it over like an interesting stone:
If you’re stuck on something that has been dredged up from your past, so that you feel disqualified for the present and debilitated by fear of the future, you’re listening to the accuser. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said in his book Spiritual Depression, “Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back at your sins again.” The question isn’t whether we are forgiven by God, it’s whether we are resting in the forgiveness of God. When your forgiven sins are thrown in your face, don’t even start looking for them – they've been on the floor of your forgiven and forgotten past the entire time (Jer. 31:34, Micah 7:19). God already knew, died for and defeated whatever we’re weighed down by when He made us right with Himself on the cross. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Rom. 8:33) ~link provided at the bottom of this post
I discover that what Christ offers me is a third choice. What if, instead of wannabe goodness or condemnation-inviting "authenticity", my face could light up with honest grace, worship, and the reflection of holiness because I am redeemed? What if that's really what He sees when He looks in my face? In Revelation 12:10, He calls Satan the accuser of our brothers...who accuses them day and night before our God. My first reaction is horror that those accusations echo in the very halls of heaven, before the God of the universe. But guess what? God doesn't listen to the accuser; instead, He throws Him down (verse 11). In I Peter 5:8-10, He says that Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you

And so I come full circle, and my face does shine, and I pray the clouds recede before nightfall so I can see that fingernail moon just as it is. A quiet, deep river of beauty communicated straight to my soul by the God who created me, knows me best, and says, Neither do I condemn you. Sin no more. (John 8:11; the story of the adulterous woman about to be stoned at the Mount of Olives)


Excerpted from my Gratitude Journal, numbers 24-56:
33: Owl photo in the procedure room during Amy's laryngoscopy
36: Visual reminders of "it could be worse" walking halls of Mayo Clinic
40: My Mama
42: Alison, dear Alison
44: Hunger
47: Cold. Feeling it, being sent running from it.
49: Farmyards after dark
51: The way it feels when your car starts slipping on snow
55: All-wheel drive


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For an eloquent, Scripture-heavy discussion of doubt, guilt and shame, I would recommend this article by Katie McCoy at Unlocking Femininity