Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Valentine's Day Grace Massacre

It was six years ago today. I'm sure I'll never forget it. I was out of town taking care of my dad. Susan drove up to meet me so we could have a nice dinner together on Valentine's Day. Our conversation began over a nice meal and continued for the next five hours. We didn't know what to call it then, but we couldn't stop talking about it. It was crushing and liberating all at the same time. It simultaneously brought us low and raised our spirits. It made Jesus big and us small. It right-sized a sinking boat and rescued both of us from what we had slowly become. We had started to recognize it as something significant months prior, but this was the first chance we'd had to talk about it face to face in all of our busyness.

It was our crash and burn.

Our rescue from performance had officially begun and Valentine's Day 2009 marked its first real milepost. We talked for the first time about what had been going on in our hearts individually over the previous months and years. It was healing and it was hard. The Holy Spirit had led us individually to the same realization and conclusion. We didn't know what to call it then, but we know now. In fact, we knew shortly afterward. It was our brokenness. We were broken people who didn't know we were broken until we hit a wall of performance where we couldn't fake it any more so we crashed and burned. We crashed and burned together. That Valentine's Day dinner six years ago was like sitting in the ashes of what our lives had slowly become, while we confessed our sin and brokenness to each other.

Burdens began to be lifted from our shoulders and our hearts started to find hope as we began for the first time to recognize, openly talk about, and start to remove the plethora of masks we realized we had been wearing for years. It was all the Holy Spirit's doing as the more we talked, he gently showed us more and more of our true selves and Jesus' gentle forgiveness. He was opening our hearts wider to his gentle love and through it all, there was not a whisper of condemnation. The more we talked, the more we recognized how bound we had been for so many years. We had been stuck in performance-based Christianity. The years we had spent in performancism had taken their toll and it came to a head on that Valentine's Day night. While we both felt relieved to finally be talking about it, our responses were completely different. Susan had been flattened by the years of performance to the point of walking away from the faith. Beyond what I'm about to mention below, I'll let her tell you her story when and if she is ready.

The months and years following have been both rewarding and hard to get through. Everything was stripped away from us initially. People got mad at us and long-standing friendships came to an end. Instead of receiving help, we received criticism and were told we were dragging the name of Jesus through the mud. As the drama unfolded and the criticism continued, Susan fell into a severe clinical depression, ended up in the ER more than once with severe chest pains caused by extreme anxiety, and wanted nothing more to do with Christianity or church.

As she was moving away from the faith, I found myself alone, wondering how this was going to end after 36 years together doing life and ministry. I had never dealt with depression like Susan's before. It wasn't theoretical anymore. It came home with me and lived under my own roof. Prior to that, I had a black and white view of depression but when it took up residency, everything changed for me. I didn't know what to do with it, but somehow I knew what not to do with it. I kept harsh people away from Susan (and those with to-do lists) and only allowed near her the few she trusted, who talked to her about a Jesus who loves her apart from her ability to do anything for him. A Jesus who came to rescue the broken, not the self-sufficient. This was a message we had slowly