Commendation, Condemnation

Picture a courtroom full of strangers. There is a twelve-person jury seated to your right and a stern-faced judge sitting atop a mountain of stained oak panels. You have been called to answer for something that you would rather die than say aloud, let alone confess in the presence of people you’ve never met.

This is the day your secret, the one you’ve protected above all others is going to be brought to the light of day. You’re heart is in your throat. You can barely choke out your own name let alone speak words that address this supposedly shameful truth for which you are about to give an account.

The judge somberly asks if you would tell the court the reason you are before them today. You can’t break the downward gaze that has been your posture since you entered the room. You breathe deeply and exhale the words that you’ve never said aloud in your life.

As you confess you begin to unpack the details, the origins, and the outcome of what you had hoped would never be spoken. You begin to loosen your gaze and lift your head to face what you believe will be the furrowed brow of a judge, the scorn of a jury, and the critical stares of every witness present.

Suddenly, the courtroom erupts in deafening applause. It gets louder as it ricochets from the floors to the plaster ceilings and back into the recesses of the courtroom. It swells like ocean waves and you begin to hear the sound of wood scooting across slate as people are backing out of their chairs and standing to their feet. The judge is beaming as she joins the ovation.

You become overwhelmed with emotion, confusion, and bewilderment.

As the applause dies the judge begins to speak.

“We have been privileged to witness today your first steps into freedom! What you just experienced is called grace. We are not applauding your secret or the dark details that you have hidden from the world. We are applauding your courage because we know that your confession will free you. We are applauding you owning your truth and admitting enough brokenness to seek wisdom from others and forgiveness where appropriate. We are applauding you!”

Every person in that room has had their moment when their secret came to light and every person was equally convinced that they would be shunned, shamed, and shackled for life. Each one experienced that same ovation once they came to the end of themselves and they know that downward gaze firsthand. The joy they experience now with every confession they hear reminds them of their own and fills them with gratitude. In fact, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and they erupt in acclamation.

What if were so keenly aware of our own need for grace that confession by others brought about applause and joy from us? What if the confessions of others reminded us of our own and we were filled with gratitude?

Joy, The Kingdom, and Reality TV In Hell

I can take self-pity to some pretty creative extremes. I can conjure up some elaborate scenarios when I’m feeling ignored, abandoned, and alone. There have been seasons in my life when I sincerely believed that God had hung up on me leaving me to imagine all kinds of episodes playing out in the cosmos with my sorry life and me at center stage.

I was convinced that if hell had a TV my life was playing out on their comedy network as a reality show. One at which all the dark minions of Satan were laughing hysterically – an analogy that my victim shared with me. I can still muster up visions of tiny ogre-like creatures getting up off of the sofa, brimstone smoldering under their feet, cackling aloud and wiping their eyes as they go for more popcorn. I had no idea that confronting my spiritual bankruptcy in adversity was essentially going to be addressing my expectations, my demanding notions, my concepts of prayer, and the impression of myself as an abandoned orphan of God, an impression I had carried for much longer than I had the notion that I was a reality TV star in hell!

I have two friends that received difficult news from their doctors this very week. One friend has since learned that his news is going to be much more easily managed than he had previously feared. My second friend wasn’t so fortunate and she is in for the fight of her life for what her doctor called “a pretty sucky year or so” with chemo, surgery, and radiation. Both of my friends are viewing their situations with open hands and surrender even though I can’t say that either is happy about their news, nor should they be. What is remarkable in both of my friends is their level of anticipation as opposed to setting down a list of expectations for God to accomplish on their behalf. Both are surrounded by a loving Christian community and are experiencing the love of God in the hugs and comfort of those closest to them.

Ongoing suffering, crisis, and grief will either produce a victim or a humble heart that learns to let go of his need for answers and explanations. The victim makes demands. Expectations insist. Humility on the other hand can experience joy even through life’s most confounding journeys because she learns to live with a loose grip.

I fear that much of the time the church produces demanding consumers ready to become pitiful victims with rigid presumptions blaming a God who never promised them what they are insisting upon in the first place. This is why true joy is such an enigma to so many of us. Expectation can never know true joy because it will always be disappointed. It is based in fear and self-protection. It is perpetually discontent. Anticipation has its very roots in joy because it has open hands, looking ahead without an agenda waiting to embrace what God is going to do next. Anticipation can know peace and contentment. Expectation never will.