Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“Bless me, Father?”

Poppy's Final Baptism
Growing up in a parsonage, you saw all kinds. As we've begun the sad, slow process of dismantling the life my parents hoped to have, memories have come seeping back. Back in the day before the world become such a scary place, it wasn't uncommon for total strangers to spend the night with us. They'd show up at the back door with some hard luck story or other. Next thing I knew, we children were being shifted around to free up a bedroom for the stranger at the door.

Often, the folks we met were refugees in one way or another. There was always a sad story. Sometimes, the stories were true and the folks embarrassed by their need. Sometimes, the stories were contrived with perfection. The individual was systematically working all the churches in an area. In more recent years, the tactics became so refined that churches created a network to sort out those in need from those working 'the system'.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
There was the man, recently discharged from jail, who showed up at the back door asking for something to eat. He expected a sandwich handed out the door as he was shooed farther on down the road. What he got was leftover pork chops at the dinner table. As he took his leave on a full belly, he backed away from my father in a deferential, awe-struck way. “Bless me, Father? Bless me, Father?” came the plaintive, desperate request as he backed down the sidewalk. Never mind we weren't Catholic or Episcopal. The man was aware that his soul needed the same kind of blessing his body had just received. His earnest plea has echoed with me thru the years.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The common theme, no matter who they were or why they came, was that of a life bearing stains which no one could expunge. Most often, they would apologetically explain that they did not attend a church. However, came the reassurance, they intended to find one in the future. One day, “they'd get circumstances straightened out, live a better life, and high-tail it to church.” Till then, they were too soiled, too spoiled, to darken the door. Too unclean to soil the atmosphere or people within. They saw themselves as beyond redemption until they had redeemed themselves enough to be worthy of supernatural redemption. 
If you listened closely enough, you knew the unspoken truth. That day of self-redemption would never come. No matter what stain treatment method they chose, stubborn stains would always remain. Theirs was a history that could not be erased or compensated for. My mom or dad would nod with understanding and try to explain that only God could redeem soul stains. Those were the very stains for which he did not need the help of mere mortals. He alone was sufficient.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I understand now, what I did not know then. Some stains are so putrid that the heart will whisper, with conviction, “Even God cannot cleanse YOU sufficiently. You are too broken to repair.” A lifetime of experience compounds the ringing clarity of such a statement when it echoes in a broken heart and soul.

Sometimes, the stain is born of a drug induced desperation which yielded acts too shameful to admit. Sometimes, adultery stares back at you every time you look in the mirror of your children's eyes. You wonder how it all came to that. You ask yourself why you couldn't have seen what was coming and stopped it in time. Maybe the safety and ease of the internet has allowed pornography to warp your mind until you are too entrapped and ashamed to ask for help.

Then again, maybe the face staring back from the mirror reminds you of sins committed against you? Sins that left you feeling damaged and dirty and worthless. Unjust guilt for something you could not control combined with anger at the God who stood back and let it all happen leaves you wary. How could the same God want you now..and more than that...WHY should YOU want HIM?

Courtesy of and in loving memory of Christina Jones Hooker
Oh, the fraidy cat stains are as numerous as the eyes that stumble across these pages. Some much more complex than the 'simple' ones I've enumerated here. We are all broken and stained.

You've convinced yourself that your past nullifies your right to open the door of the church. Even if you got up the courage, you'd expect to be vilified and ostracized because of who you have been or what you have done. Sadly, I fear, the church as an entity often lives down to those sad expectations. 
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I'll tell you a secret. Every soul sitting in every pew is just as broken as you. No one lives a life free of painful stains. No one. Some of us just learn to put on our Sunday-Go-To-Meeting faces and pretend that your pain is more public and more blighted than ours. There are times when I wonder if our pain is more haunting than yours because we hide it rather than letting the light bring healing and wholeness.

No matter who we are, where we've been, or what we've done, we are like that just released prisoner from decades ago. Our heart cries out, “Bless me, Father. Bless me?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
2 Corinthians 5: 17 (Bible in Basic English)
So if any man is in Christ, he is in a new world: the old things have come to an end; they have truly become new.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 



  1. It's this recognition of our common need for grace that the world misses when it looks at Christianity and can't see past "religion."

  2. Awesome...I saw myself in your post. I look back at parts of my life and I don't know who I was or what I was doing...who was that person?? How could she be so blind?? It is hard for some place inside me to fully accept the Lord's forgiveness. In my head I know it is true because I confessed, repented and His word says He forgives me. But this small place within me still feels the sting of my sin. So even for those of us who love God and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, even we may sometimes cry out, "Bless ME, father?? Dirty sinful ME??"

    1. Oh, Beth, I am so thankful that he is watching over us even as we wander and that he calls us to him even in those times.