“You take His breath away.” Years later, those words still echo around in my head. It was my Fall Retreat and I was a college freshman with CRU. I remember that at that moment I was intently studying the wood grain on the dusty, camp floor so as not to cry. The speaker was teaching from the book of Romans… and his words started me on a journey that has changed everything. "You take His breath away." It was a concept that had never occurred to me before. Never once had it crossed my mind that Almighty God might delight in me. That because I was clothed in Christ, He looked upon me with adoration. Wow. It was unreal to me. Too good to be true.
Up to that point, mine was a life of scrambling, people pleasing, earning favor, hiding my messes, and hoping that what I might have to offer would be good enough. I had my resume of achievements and my sorority and my good girl status and all of that. For pity's sake, I was a college student who tithed. Certainly that was pretty impressive, wasn't it?
Oh yes, I had been working hard to impress God…. (Well, except for that brief lapse in high school of course. But, in typical Shannon-fashion, I had pretty much swept that whole thing under the rug as soon as I could. Hidden it away in the place where I kept my failures.)
That’s what I had learned to do. My early church days were laced with instructions about how to live: “do this” and “don’t do that”, “listen to this music, not that music”, “God will be happy if you do this” and all of that. To be honest, that was fine with me because it suited my oldest child personality. I could do achievement. I was comfortable with it. Don’t get me wrong, that's not all that was happening. I knew that Jesus was truly changing my family. I was 10-years-old when my parents decided to follow Him. I saw the transformation. Sensed it in the very fiber of our home where I would find my Dad’s Bible beside his arm chair nearly every morning. Experienced it in the way my Mom tried to shepherd my tween heart. There was no question He was changing us. I gave my own life to Him shortly after they did and am sure it was a genuine fledgling faith.
But, in all those years in that little church on the edge of town I never once remember hearing that God delighted in me. Maybe I just wasn’t listening or maybe they never told me. I’m not sure. But I know I had no concept for it. No sense that my worth and significance were all wrapped up in what Jesus had ALREADY done for me. That nothing I did added to or subtracted from my status as HIS. His daughter. Period. And He wanted it that way.
Could it really be that He didn’t just love me through gritted teeth… as One secretly disappointed in His choice to adopt me? Really? He actually delighted in me?
I still can't get over this reality. This grace that pursues me and loves me - not because I deserve it but exactly because I don't. He is relentless about it too. It has opened a floodgate of emotion and tenderness in me that I can't shut down. And pushed me into a kind of vulnerability that still terrifies me. Left to my own tendancies, I'd much rather hide and scheme. I totally "get" Jacob (the Poser) of ancient Israel.
It's been more than 20 years since that Fall Retreat. During my college years I couldn't get enough of it... devouring books of the Bible and soaking in Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians.
But, I'll be honest, I still wrestle in the deepest places of my heart with the concept. The people-pleasing, scrambling Hider still fights for her place in my life. Some days it exhausts me. Some days she'll come out and spew condemnation to my kids. Or heap stress on my shoulders, affecting the whole tone of our home.
So, please don't stop telling me about how I'm wrapped up in Jesus. And how that makes me so beautiful that it takes God's breath away.
It seems downright risky to preach grace like that. To push people toward freedom instead of controlling them with law. But, it's what I have devoted myself to. It's the reason I ministered on the college campus for 15 years. It's what I most want my children to catch. And, it's the reason I blog, teach women's Bible studies and am willing to drive hours away to teach at a retreat on the weekend. It's the reason God is not a compartment in my life but the be-all and end-all and everything in between. Because being lavished with grace upon grace will do that to you.
Most days, I feel like a kid caught in a downpour. The kind of torrent that makes it hard to catch your breath. I want to revel in that overwhelming torrent of grace.
Little by little I do go there - transformed from Hider to Reveler. And, THAT, takes His breath away.
Grace and peace,