“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?...” This beginning dissertation of Jesus, from the familiar teaching in Matthew chapter 11, (taken from the Message translation) sounds like an infomercial in the making! He is teaching the people how to have a relationship with God, and trying to show them how to separate it from the weariness of drudge work, that religion had become to them. How to really live, how to rest, how to burn hot without burning out!
I can relate! In looking back over my life I am constantly amazed at what God was able to do with things that were so hard to navigate through. Stunned by how He has gotten me where I needed to be, though I have been very confused about where I thought I was going! I have to come to the same conclusion over and over again, that He really is in control of my life, if I am willing for Him to be. He doesn't take the control of it against my will – I must ask Him to take it. But then He does, always having my best interest at heart, and that never ceases to amaze me!
In the last decade of my life there has been much unpleasantness as I have begun to come out of a fog of post traumatic stress disorder, produced by severe childhood abuse – of all kinds. The memories that had been suppressed, quite efficiently, were tired of laying dormant I guess. The “skeletons” all began rattling, and I discovered quite a few “closets” in my subconscious that needed emptying! Year after year, layer after layer, horrible, disturbing memories poured forth like stopped up sewage. Giving my life an unpleasant aroma, a depressing, dark aura, and making me an object of concern, and another “dysfunctional” to “help”, or to avoid! That did not seem a likely path to bolster a barely existent self-esteem! But I knew who I was in Christ, and I clung to that, believing that God knew what He was doing! And of course He did! So today, I am different. New. No more dysfunctional than the average American! Well, His work is never over, but, thankfully, “forever” is a concept that He can handle!
Along the way though, as I healed of the damages brought about by past abuses of family, there began to emerge an awareness of another subtle abuse that consistently moved though the thread of my life. It was a religious spirit that pervaded most of the “help” I had sought out in church. This is not too surprising to me, nor is it a great tragedy. When one grows up with parents who are alternately abusing, then facilitating the abuse, and then acting as if nothing happened, and as though you are merely crazy – well, let's just say that being disappointed by those whom you trust – not because you want to trust, but because you have no good choices - is really not the big deal it would be to someone else.
Yet, there came a time in my healing process when I sensed that I was finally strong enough, healed enough, to transfer my trust to God. When my understanding of what had happened, was sufficiently clear, when the stains on my soul were cleansed, and the stains on His reputation (in my mind) were gone – I reached out to Him. And as always, something extraordinary happened! He began to lead me away from those I had trusted, and to come between us, much as a mother bear gets between a wolf and her cub! Fiercely defensive, as He tucked me into a hidden culvert for a season and began to clear my vision, my thinking, and my emotions - of the harmful ideologies, and doctrinal deceptions, like a spiritual/ emotional detox, or a deprogramming session. To clarify in my mind what was from Him, or compatible with His Word, and what was foreign, man made or devil twisted – of all the years of teaching I had digested. To rebuild and strengthen the destroyed boundaries that were “me”.
At first it was difficult, a bit confusing, even a bit unsettling. At first everyone thought that I had just “had enough” and was being “rebellious”. The general consensus was that I was wrong. That I was yielding my newly found freedom to the whims of the flesh. And truly, due to the nature of much of the teaching I had received, I wasn't totally sure myself what was transpiring. But I have come to intimately know that still small voice over the years. The only voice that never exploited my dysfunction for its own ends. The only voice that came in comfort, when all others came in criticism. So I wisely followed that voice over all the others, including my own. Thank heavens! Literally.
As I walked in this new territory, shut off from the familiar influences, suddenly, “I” began to emerge! Suddenly, I became visible! Solid! An independent entity. The “me” that I suspected was in there, that religion had rejected, much as my parents had. The “me” that everyone had always subtly disapproved of, that even I had turned against, eventually as everyone convinced me that she was truly sub-par.
You see, this “me” thought too much, she was way too honest for “Lady Religion”, she was too crude for her polished halls, and too simple for her complicated programs. This “me” had the “wrong” sense of humor, she was too loud and direct. She did not play games well – especially not the religious ones - ugh! She loved beauty, and fun (within its proper bounds), and arts of all kind, and music of all description! She also refused being put into a category! A trait that infuriated “”Lady Religion” to no end! She was an “earth-mother”, a “women's libber” (actually I believe that Christ liberated everyone, but that the church forgot to include women in that! Oops), and an intellectual, God forbid! She is an artist and a writer, she believes that we are to reach out to those who are so broken that they are scary and bothersome. She believes that she has as much authority in Christ as the next person ( how dare she!). And that leadership needs correction sometimes too (the gall!). And for all of those traits, which God Himself had placed in there, taking pains to refine them so that they reflected Himself, and not just “me”, I have been pressed down by church leadership, and worked half to death! While being given no real representation, I have been wrongly accused, and verbally whipped into slavery of the worst kind! Me, a daughter of the King, treated like a scullery maid in His own house! Who needs the devil?
So, though I have worked through all the processes of forgiving those who did not know what they were doing, I have decided to revolt against Lady Religion and her constituents. Not rebel. You see, rebellion indicates that one is fighting against a legal authority. But Lady Religion is an impostor. She is whore in saints clothing. She is all pretense and no purity. She is a fraud, and is heartlessly doing harm against the real Kingdom of God. Indeed she has nearly single-handedly nearly destroyed it from the inside! I do not refer to the mere humans caught in her web of deception, but to that spirit that deceives. Of course we all have a responsibility to discern and choose God over religion. And I pray for the misguided ones! But it is the spirit that I revolt against, and against whom I direct the ugly names! God is prepared to deal with her. Her day is coming.
But until then we must know the genuine article if we have any hope of avoiding the counterfeit. We must know that still small voice that will not exploit us. We must hear the Spirit of Christ who is still speaking through His Word, enlivening it to us, as He continues His discourse on the subject: (from Matthew 11:28-30, the Message) “Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.”
And you know what? I have finally got that, so I think I will continue to do just that! Lady Religion can criticize all she pleases. It is still a free country, we are free to disagree! And in the meantime, I will continue to live in the freedom which Christ bought for me, in those unforced rhythms of Grace, singing with others who were formerly oppressed, “Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty I am free at last!”, and while I am at it, I am having a blast! It is called the GOOD News for a reason!
Selah & Shalom!