I’ve been on reading kick lately. Whether it’s because I’ve watched all the episodes of my favorite shows on Netflix (single tear) or because I’ve serendipitously chosen books that have been absolutely fascinating to me, I’ve been spending almost all my free time during naps and before bed reading.
Two of the books I’ve read are Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I found both books to be well-written and page-turners. I finished Love Warrior in less than a week and Present Over Perfect in just two days.
My reasons for choosing each book were different. Several years ago, I was following Glennon’s blog when her and her husband separated due to issues she was not discussing at the time. There was talk of divorce, so I stopped following her blog because it made me uncomfortable. A year or so later, I heard that they had actually not gotten divorced—they were going to counseling and working through things. Which intrigued me because reconciliation seems to be so rare in our culture. I started reading her blog again, which is where I heard about her forthcoming book Love Warrior. I preordered an autographed edition.
This book has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller and was chosen by Oprah for her book club. To that, I say: Of course it did, both seriously and sarcastically. I’ll explain my sarcastic response in a bit, but I seriously think that Glennon is an awesome writer and I truly LOVED her book. She perceives the world in a completely different way than I do, so I’ve always found her writing and perspective refreshing and challenging.
My biggest takeaway from her book (among many) was that if I want to be truly known, I have to LET MYSELF BE KNOWN.
It seems so simple and DUH that as I read her book, I wondered, “Why is it so hard to just tell the truth about who we are, about what we’re thinking and feeling and needing? Why can’t we just let ourselves be known?”
Because we are complex beings and we live in a fallen world.
Because we’ve been told lies by Satan and our culture.
Because we’ve had experiences of people rejecting and misusing what they know about us.
So we hide. We lie. We misdirect. We pretend.
This insight has shed new light on conflict in my marriage. One Saturday, we were down at my dad’s cabin helping him do some yardwork—meaning I was watching the girls while Travis was helping my dad do yardwork. We had decided to buy my old Ford Focus back from Travis’ brother and Travis said he was thinking about driving down to a town halfway between the cabin and the Cities to meet up with Matthew and get the car. He asked me if that was ok, or if I wanted him to do it later.
Inside, I was screaming, “NOOOOO!!!! IT IS NOT OKAY!!!!! I am with the girls ALL ALONE every single day of the week and now you want to leave me all alone AGAIN to go get a stupid car that I don’t even want to buy? YOU CANNOT LEAVE ME HERE!”
But instead of telling the truth, I said in a disgusted tone, “Whatever, do what you want.”
I started walking away and then remembered the truth that if I want to be known, I have to let myself be known. So I turned back and said, “Actually, could you do it later instead of right now?” Travis was totally fine with that, and it actually ended up being better, because Matthew brought the car up to our house on deer hunting weekend instead.
Another similar instance happened more recently, though in my frazzled mommy brain I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. What I do know is, it reinforced that, similar to how Glennon talks about the expectations and lies women have been fed by culture about how we’re supposed to act and be, I had been believing the lie that I am not supposed to be needy, particular, or demanding. I am supposed to go along with whatever. Don’t cause a stir. Don’t be a b!tch.
But because I wasn’t honest, Travis didn’t know how I really felt. Because he didn’t know how I really felt, I was hurt and bitter. How many times have I lied (badly) about my feelings in a certain situation, Travis goes off to do what he thinks I’ve agreed to (though it was a lie), and I get mad at him because I didn’t really want him to do it? By not being honest, I was actually causing more drama and neediness in my marriage than if I had just told the truth at the outset! So this idea of letting myself be known is truly transforming my marriage.
I LOVE it when a book rocks my world.
That’s why I found Present Over Perfect to be just okay. Shauna is a good writer (though I find her essay-style chapters sometimes confusing) but her book echoed many thoughts I’ve already had about being who God created me to be and pursuing a slower pace of life focused on connecting with people, thoughts like: “The crucial journey, then, for me, has been from dependence on external expectations, down into my own self, deeper still into God’s view of me, his love for me that doesn’t change, that will not change, that defines and grounds everything.”
But then I read this: “It is only when you understand God’s truly unconditional love that you begin to understand the worth of your own soul—not because of anything you’ve done, but because every soul is worthy, every one of us is worthy of love, having been created by and in the image of the God of love.”
Reading that, my jaw dropped.
No. she. didn’t.
As I read the first part of that sentence, I was thinking, “Oh, here it comes—a mention of the gospel, finally. A mention of how God’s unconditional love for us was BOUGHT by Christ’s BLOOD on the CROSS.” And she was leading right into with “not because of anything you’ve done”, a completely perfect place to say “but because of what Jesus has done on your behalf.” But NO, instead she goes into some mumbo jumbo about every soul being worthy. Are you kidding me?!?!
Yes, we have all been created in the image of God, and for that reason, are all equally valuable humans. But without Christ, we’re all also equally going to hell, regardless of how worthy we see our souls. Maybe I had too high of expectations for Shauna’s book, or maybe I expected more out of her since she’s Bill Hybels’ daughter and her book was published by Zondervan. But I’m sorry… just. NO.
I have the same beef with Glennon’s book, but at least with her, I already knew that her beliefs are liberal to the point of maybe not being completely biblical, so I filter everything she says anyway. This was one of my favorite quotes: “Our only hope to be fully human together is to first insist upon our right to be fully human before God. And it will only be the acceptance that I am already loved perfectly by God that will let me forgive Craig and those women for loving so imperfectly.” But even that quote is not without issues.
The problem I have with these sentences, and the ideas they’re communicating, and the books they are from in general, is the same that I have with a lot of Christian thoughts and sermons these days: it’s not they’re wrong or unbiblical per se; it’s that they don’t go far enough. We have to go all the way to the cross, to the historical event that single-handedly procured our acceptance by God and intimate relationship with Him. Without the cross, we are cut off from God. Without the cross, it is not a good thing to be fully human before God. Because our fallen humanity is JUDGED by God, and our sin demands payment—an eternity in hell. Ephesians 2:1-9 says that before we were believers in Christ, we were by nature children of wrath. Whose wrath? GOD’S WRATH.
And THAT, ladies and gentleman, is why these books are so appealing to people across the board, Christians and non-Christians alike. We’d prefer to not hear about hell, sin, blood, crucifixion. We want God’s unconditional love, because we were created to want it, thrive in it, be transformed by it. But we want it without the messiness of Jesus, without the implications of our sinfulness that come from Jesus’ hands and feet being pierced with nails. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
God’s unconditional love is not good news because it allows us to look at ourselves and say, “I’m worthy. I’m lovable.” It’s good news because it allows us to honestly look at ourselves and say, “I’m not worthy of God’s love. I’m not lovable a lot of the time. BUT GOD LOVES ME ANYWAY. And He proved it, and procured it, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.”
Which love is greater: loving someone who is lovable and always lovely to you, or loving someone who is unlovely and shuns you? God’s love is greater. He loves the UNLOVABLE. He loves the UNWORTHY. The Unlovable and the Unworthy are YOU and ME. This is the GOOD NEWS! He takes the NOTHING we have to offer and turns it into ENOUGH in His infinite measure of sufficiency.
First Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The power of God is the word of the cross. Strip Christianity of the cross of Christ and the power of God goes with it. True Christianity is not moralism. It is not just a better way to live life on this earth. It is not just loving those around us. It is “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Christianity begins and ends at the Cross. God’s unconditional love for us is true ONLY BECAUSE Jesus died on the cross and rose again. Not because our souls are worthy, but because HE is worthy.
And that is why we can let ourselves be known, even in this harsh and cruel world: because we are already fully known by God and fully approved by Him. But let us not forget that that approval is only the result of our being clothed in Christ’s righteousness. He gets the glory; we get the joy.