Our Ford Pinto station wagon was filled with personal belongings appropriate to a cross-country trip of our family of four. Far from home and family and continuing ever farther. Two car seats with our sons, ages 2 and 6 months filled the back seat. As we drove across the western slope of the Rocky Mountains the countryside became evermore sparse. Small towns punctuated Highway 40. Craig. Elk Springs. Massadona. Dinosaur. There the road that allowed a turn to the south would lead to Rangely, Colorado – the second point of my newly-assigned dual parish. Onward to Jensen, Naples, and finally to Vernal, Utah, our new home, and Our Savior Lutheran Church – the first point and larger congregation which I would serve.
As the countryside opened to a new and unique beauty – vast and barren – my stomach began to churn. They’re all going to hate me. None of them will be true Lutherans. I’ll have to correct a host of problems, and deal with too many troubles to count. I desperately sought to correct these false, disrespectful and defeatist thought. You shouldn’t feel this way. Don’t you trust God? Do you think you’re the only one who loves Jesus and wants to be true to his word?
You shouldn’t feel this way. That is the double-edged sword of truth without grace. Surely I should not have felt that way. But I did. By the time of my installation service – three days after our arrival I was a nervous wreck. My stomach was in knots. Diane saw how washed out I appeared as only a wife can tell. The anxiety forced me to the bathroom too many times to count.
I made it through the service that warm Sunday afternoon. There were many people there to congratulate me and wish me well. I only now – these 39 years later – wonder if some of them weren’t worried about their church, their youth and their own spiritual wellbeing. They should have worried about those things; not because I would utterly fail them, but because if they pinned their hopes on me there were sure to be disappointed.
Truth without grace is a terrible taskmaster. It leads to fear, self-reliance, self-justification, self-righteousness, and a whole host of other self-things, with the emphasis on self. Truth without grace condemns – for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Truth without grace kills, for the law always accuses and kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). Truth without grace judges, condemns, and divides. Truth without grace destroys hope. It squashes love. It steals joy. It kills the soul.
The truth I was facing in those days was that I was far less confident, prepared, or certain of myself than I let on. Inside I knew it. Thank God I also knew grace, and with that grace and the foundational core of my being and ministry: Jesus’ love, biblical truth, and the blessings of faith. These would need to conspire together with the Holy Spirit to carry me forward. And they did – thanks be to God.
I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time. It’s working title has been, Don’t Feel Bad about Feeling Bad. The major premise is that there are times when it is legitimate to feel bad. Bad things sometimes do happen. The diagnosis does come back malignant. The phone call does bring bad news of a terrible accident. The pink slip can arrive at a time of great financial vulnerability. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters impose their unique destructive forces with no permission, and sometimes without warning. There are times to lament.
To be continued…
In the meantime we rejoice in God’s promises. These are premature to the fuller development of the role of lamentation and the reality of troubles and hardships. But these words are to sustain us in times of trouble. They are the grace we all need as truth’s partner.
I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. Jeremiah 15:20
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1