For most of my adult life, I have struggled with understanding the truth of who Jesus is and of His great, unending, unmerited love for me. I believed, or so I would have told you, that works would not cull favor with the Lord. Salvation is not works based. I knew this. And yet I prescribed to a somewhat, shall we say ill-conceived, theology. I call it my “Dishwasher Theology”.
My husband and I have never had, in any of our married years, a physically speaking smooth and easy life. Now, I know, compared to people in other countries we have an easy life. But compared to “Middle Class Americans” we really don’t. Feel free to read here about some of our water issues. But we own a firetruck and that isn’t something a lot of people can say. Someday I’ll blog about the firetruck, but I digress.
We moved into this house ten years ago, a few weeks after the birth of our fifth child. This house, that was the answer to prayers in so many ways including but not limited to moving our family of seven from a 900 sq. ft. house to a 2300 sq. ft. house! But with it began a whole host of troubles that we are still dealing with. One such issue was the dishwasher.
The only problem with the dishwasher in this house was the lack of one. We eventually installed one. And it stopped working. We had two given to us. They stopped working. With all the other issues, we didn’t think we could afford to buy one for a while. So basically for the first few years in this house we had a string of poorly working or non working dishwashers and 5 children 7 years old and under. I was a stressed out momma.
That isn’t a terribly unusual story. I know a lot of people without dishwashers. The real problem wasn’t my faulty dishwasher. It was my faulty theology.
See, I didn’t just “not have a dishwasher”. But rather all attempts to get a dishwasher quickly resulted in the same problem — a broken dishwasher. It felt like punishment. It felt like each step toward a dishwasher was a trip down the slide straight back to no dishwasher. It felt like there was some reason I wasn’t allowed to have a dishwasher. Logic told me that God was punishing me for being a lousy housekeeper (which I truly am). I was convinced that until I learned to keep my dishes clean without a dishwasher, I would never be allowed to have a dishwasher because I needed to learn a lesson. A lesson I was quite incapable of learning.
Somehow, I mixed up in my head the amazing saving grace of a Father God who adores us and wants all good things for us with some idea that if I couldn’t measure up to some humanly derived standard, then I couldn’t have things that would help me measure up to said, humanly derived, standard.
Is that confusing? Good. Because it is confusing.
How can we really believe that God loves us, believe that He wants only good for us, and yet think that He is somehow responsible for the bad things that come our way. Whether we believe He “broke our dishwasher” as punishment or simply that He “Allowed our dishwasher to break as punishment” (because as Christians we are really good and phraseology that shows that we’d never “blame” God), how can we really justify this with our belief in His total Goodness.
Stuff happens. Bad stuff happens. We make choices and we have consequences. This is not God sending us bad things. He tells us that He will make all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). He doesn’t say “I’m gonna break your dishwasher and make you learn a lesson for your own good.” Bad things happen. Dishwashers break (A lot actually, I had no idea…After starting this post and leaving it to sit for a few… weeks, my dishwasher broke again. As I’ve mentioned before, I live an ironic life.)
So I have spent the last several years grappling with this concept. Trying to understand that not every bad thing means God is angry or displeased.
But the opposite is just as true.
I have always served. I have served out of a heart for others and for God. I have served not to gain, but to do what is right. In fact, I have said over and over to my own children and the children that I teach “Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.” (Not “right” in a legalistic way but right as in that which does good, not evil.)
I have always believed this. I have always tried to live this. I have never served to “cull favor” with God.
Now this is where faulty Dishwasher Theology gets really muddy.
Though I have never served in order to cull favor with God or man, though I have never served in an attempt to gain thanks and accolades or attention (and truthfully those things make me super uncomfortable), I have been guilty of feeling like somehow my service should have culled favor. Should have “counted” in some way. My reasons for serving were pure. And yet I have let myself think “God, I do all these things because I should. Because I want to. Because it is right. Why do I not receive in kind? Why do people who don’t give so easily and selflessly receive more abundant blessing? Why does my heart to serve not give me more favor than other people who serve minimally and out of obligation?”
Do you see it?
Do you see the lunacy? The circle of crazy in my brain? Because as I search my heart I fully believe every act of service I have done has been done out of a pure heart with NO hope of using it to leverage favor. And yet, I feel like God should know that and bestow the favor.
Yeah. It’s truly crazy.
I have talked to friends and pastors about these issues, struggling to understand why God allows us to deal with certain struggles, why God seems to bless unequally, why some people seem to walk in abundant favor and others of us seem to walk in just enough favor to get by. I have cried, yelled, written awful things, deleted many of them, wished I had deleted others. I have spent years trying to understand the Grace of a Good, Good God.
Finally, I think I understand it.
Grace is not meant to be understood.
Grace isn’t something we can hope to grasp so that we can finally understand the ways of God.
Grace is meant to be felt and extended. Grace is meant to be lived.
Folks, as long as we spend our lives trying to understand why God and how God and if God and when God, we will continue to miss the Grace of God. God sent us His Son to be Grace. He poured out His Grace on that cross and on our lives every single day. And as long as we focus on how we earn, merit, deserve or any other verb Grace, we miss the point. Our focus is still on us. And when our focus is on us, when my focus is on me, it isn’t on God. And when we stop focusing on God, on His Grace, we miss it.
I’m so grateful as I write this, as I show my human failings and shortcomings. As I open my heart and all it’s failures to people I know to see how shallow I am, that I already have the forgiveness of God, because He and I are all good. He sees my heart and His Grace has more than covered my years of Dishwasher Theology. And when I inevitably slide back into it from time to time, He’ll gently remind me of His Grace. And He’ll remember my sins no more.
I want to say a special thanks to Jami Amerine at Sacred Ground Sticky Floors for her book Stolen Jesus (I get no money for this recommendation, that is not an affiliate link) which was instrumental in helping to cement months of work that God had been doing on my heart helping me begin to grasp the Grace of God.
And to my dear Kristy, who has giggled with me about my Dishwasher Theology for years repeating, “That’s not how this works” and loving my crazy chaotic self through it all.