Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tell me again...

Amos had a terrible time tending to his business tonight because of his fears. The wind is blowing and all sorts of scary noises kept startling him. My heart breaks to watch him struggle in that way, especially when he becomes so frightened that he leaps from wherever he is in the yard to my shoulders in the blink of an eye. He buries his head in my neck and clings to me as he trembles in fear. I know fear. I understand its burden. Even in a puppy dog it is a terrible thing to watch. Life in a fallen world can be brutal. Is brutal.

Now, that not make sense with what I want to say, but it fits.  I cannot tell Amos again and again and again that he is forgiven.  He is a puppy.  I can hold him. I can gently shove him back out toward the grass to do that which he must do.  I can control my ire at his taking ever so long in the frigid air to find a place and a moment that is safe enough for him to be vulnerable enough to tend to his business.  I can give him praise when he conquers his fear and accomplishes his task.  I can whisper sweet nothings in his ears and twine his curls around my fingertips once we reach the haven of the GREEN chair.  But I cannot give him what he really needs to face fear:  the Word of God.

I have written before that I find it fascinating just how many times the Christian Book of Concord speaks of terrified consciousness and anxious souls.  They are the norm amongst believers, one could think, as opposed to the outliers.  And, as oft repeated in the pure doctrine, they are the very reason for the Gospel, for the comfort of the Gospel.

Real comfort.
Powerful and efficacious comfort.
Not some emotion or illusion.

The other day I posted to the BOC Snippets blog something that I still have yet to really take in:

Christ, in the last chapter of Luke, commands "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name" (24:27). The Gospel convicts all people that they are under sin, that they are subject to eternal wrath and death. It offers, for Christ's sake, forgiveness of sin and justification, which is received through faith. The preaching of repentance (which accuses us) terrifies consciences with true and grave terrors. In these matters, hearts ought to receive consolation again. This happens if they believe Christ's promise, that for His sake we have forgiveness of sins. This faith, encouraging and consoling in these fears, receives forgiveness of sins, justifies, and gives life. For this consolation is a new birth and spiritual life. These things are plain and clear and can be understood by the pious. They also have testimonies of the Church. The adversaries cannot say how the Holy Spirit is given. They imagine that the Sacraments give the Holy Spirit by the outward act (ex opere operato), without a good emotion in the one receiving them, as though, indeed, the gift of the Holy Spirit were a useless manner.

We speak of the kind of faith that is not an idle thought, but that liberates from death and produces a new life in hearts. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. This does not coexist with mortal sin. As long as faith is present, it produces good fruits, as we will explain later. About the conversion of the wicked, or about the way of regeneration, what can be said that is simpler or clearer? Let the Scholastics, from so great a host of writers, produce a single commentary upon the Sentences that speaks about the way of regeneration. When they speak of the habit of love, they imagine that people merit it through works. They do not teach that it is received through the Word. They teach just like the Anabaptists teach at this time. But God cannot be interacted with, God cannot be grasped, except through the Word. So justification happens through the Word, just as Paul says in Romans 1:16. "[The Gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." Likewise, he says in 10:17, "Faith comes from hearing." Proof can be derived even from this: faith justifies because, if justification happens only through the Word, and the Word is understood only by faith, it follows that faith justifies.
~BOC, AP, IV (II), 61-68

  • The preaching of repentance (which accuses us) terrifies consciences with true and grave terrors. 
  • In these matters, hearts ought to receive consolation again.

I really am curious what it is/was that my pastor will be teaching me about how Jesus and John were always saying "Repent and believe."  I think because, from what I have read about repentance in the Confessions, repentance is a gift we receive as much as anything else that we receive.  By that I mean repentance is a work of our triune God, not man.  Specifically, I believe it is the Holy Spirit working the Word in us.

But, in my experience, repentance has not been taught as something that God does for us in faith, nor is it something that is taught will result in terrified consciences.  Maybe that terror is what my pastor is going to talk about with the repent-and-believe bit, with those things being joined together.

I don't know.

What I do know is that the bit about terrified consciences makes sense to me.  "Grave and true terrors" is most apt.

I have been afraid of something.  Okay, obviously I am afraid of lots of things.  But I have a new fear associated with knowing someone close to me is in trouble.  I don't understand the vocation of a neighbor. I want to be a neighbor.  I do.  But I also know my weakness.  I do find it odd that as much as I try to speak of it, write of it, it does not seem as if anyone really takes me seriously.  A friend said that speaking of such can engender a response of thinking the person is strong for doing so. 

I am not.
I am not strong.
I am weak.

Twice, since coming here, I have met people in trouble.  People in trouble who seemed to want my help. I fled from them. I cannot really do that, this time.  I don't really want to do that this time.  But I am afraid of what that means for me.  So, after being up all night being overcome by fear I could no longer control, I emailed my pastor to try out that thing ... that thing of saying bluntly: I am in trouble and I need help.  Why?  Why is that so hard??

I learned today two things:  1) asking for help is survivable and 2) asking for help for someone else can actually end up helping you.

I needed to understand what being a neighbor is and I needed a plan.  My pastor taught me (added to what Mary has tried to teach me) about being a neighbor and he helped me form the words for a plan, as in I took notes again.  But he added to it something that I had not thought about before coming.  He said that I needed to tell the person in trouble that she/he needs a pastor.  By that, he explained, he/she needs a pastor to whom she/he can confess the sin of the trouble and thus hear forgiveness.

So, there I was, admitting my fear, struggling with thoughts of being a failure as a neighbor, trying to take notes, struggling to understand, battling all the bloody lies my foe still has running about my head, when something ... amazing ... happened.

There my pastor was explaining that the person in trouble needed spiritual care so that she/he could hear that he/she is forgiven for what she/he has done to himself/herself, when he stopped.  My pastor stopped.  My pastor stopped speaking about the need of forgiveness for the other person and said, "Myrtle, you are forgiven for what you have done to yourself."

Yes, I collapsed in tears.
Those words are what I long to hear.
Those words are too much for me to bear.

How?  How could Jesus forgive me that?  I mean, all the sudden it hit me that, with the exception of recent past, I have spent my whole life hurting myself in the times when others were not hurting me.   I except the recent past because I am not being hurt anymore (for the most part) ... but I still hurt myself.

Being hurt is what I know, is what is most familiar to me.  There is so much shame in that.  Too much shame for a soul to bear.  A counselor would say that I didn't let others hurt me, but I cannot accept that. If nothing else, I think of all the things my last boss made me do ... all of the things I did to placate her ... all of the things I have never even admitted to my best friend ... and shame consumes me. I berate and castigate myself, judge and persecute.  And that is just about three years of the 43 I had lived up until the moment I left there.

A counselor would say that I was too young to protect myself or that, when I was older, I did not know how to protect myself.  But I think of how the mark of my life is to shut up, be still, and wait until it is over and shame consumes me.  I berate and castigate myself, judge and persecute. 

Heck, a lot of punishing has been going on in this house ever since I flooded the kitchen and basement.

So, for my pastor to suddenly stop talking about someone else, and start talking to me ... well, that is why I believe in the Holy Spirit.  I do.  Even as I doubt that I can, actually, be forgiven for the hurt I have piled upon myself.  Captain Ahab has nothing on me.

In his speaking those words, I found the courage to admit something else that plagues me.  Last night, whilst I was struggling with fear and longing for sleep, I Googled when Easter is.  It is not until April 20th!  That's like a whole month away.  I cannot take another month of Lent, another month of staying away from church because of my overwhelming fear of heavy doses of soul-crushing Law.  It's already been two weeks.  And I'm not having the Lord's Supper.

When I saw that date, I had to race to the bathroom so that I did not spew vomit over my bed or the floor or the hallway.  

No, I did not admit to my pastor that fear of such long time of waiting made me vomit.  But I was sort of frantic in telling him that Easter is not until April 20th (as if he didn't already know that).  He asked me if the sermons at my church ever scared me.  They haven't.  So he asked me why I thought Lent ones would.  Because the ones I've heard in the past did.  Only I haven't heard Lent sermons at my church.  Two years of terror as a Lutheran was enough to teach me to avoid Lent.  To avoid hearing about being better at praying and giving and discipline and such, better at being faithful, better at being a child of Christ.  I. Cannot. Make. Myself. Better.

Since he was basically getting nowhere with that very reasonable line of logic (pointing out my knowing that the sermons I've heard at church are all properly divided and rich in Gospel), my pastor searched the recesses of his mind to pull up the lectionary in there and told me what the next two passages were (this Sunday and the one after).  One I knew, the other I didn't, until he told me the story again.  The first, about the question of the blind man's sin, is, indeed, very Gospelly.  No confusion in that one.  The other my pastor assured me is just as rich.  Two weeks, at least, he said it would be okay for me to come.

Then he reminded me that I have catechesis again this coming Monday.  I had forgotten.  The 31st seemed years away.  Now, it is nearly here.  In the lesson, I will surely hear the Word of God.  So, Easter might be a long time coming, but I can take a break in waiting out my fear.

And he read me a psalm:

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for Thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me,
Therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan,
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at he sound of Thy waterfalls;
All Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindess in the day time;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my rock, “Why hast Thou forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance, and my God.

~Psalm 42 (NASB 1977)

The Living Word is perfect.  It is absolutely, utterly, completely perfect.  The Psalter is perfect.  Psalm 42 is perfect.  Penned thousands of years ago for all of mankind and yet, given here, now, for me.

Tell me again that I am forgiven.

In facing the brokenness and illness of another, in battling all my fear, I find myself, again, being consumed with longing to hear that I am forgiven over and over and over again.  But, in listening to the other person, I am beginning to think that I am not the only person who needs to actually hear the words of forgiveness over and over and over again.  Maybe the truth is—whether others will admit it or not—that living life in this vale of tears necessitates the hearing of the Gospel repeatedly, unceasingly.  Even if you shout at the top of your lungs that you already know it.  For you might know it, but you also need to hear it.

There is a book I read long ago: Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon.  Today, it popped into my head.  A story rather dear to me long, long, long forgotten.  It is a story of fearful, broken people who come together to create a haven against the world that had hurt them so terribly.

Is that not what the church really is?  No matter how much pretending there might be going on about being pious and godly and strong in faith?  Is the church really just a gathering of fearful, broken folk who have come together to seek refuge in a haven against against the devil, the world, and their very flesh that have hurt them so terribly?

Tell me that You love me, Jesus Christ.
Tell me that I am forgiven.
Tell me again.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

1 comment:

Mary Jack said...

Yes, the church is a group of very, very broken people.

I'll hope to talk with you soon. :)

You are forgiven!