~ Lindsey Largen
I love Kansas summers. More accurately, I love the dream of Kansas summers. Throughout the year I dream of the numerous outdoor events that our city provides and all the ways that these experiences will make my life awesome. Theater, concerts, swimming, county fairs, festivals…the list goes on. I imagine my little family together, laughing, enjoying one another, building memories and traditions, growing in our appreciation for art, music, play…and free entertainment. In these daydreams, I am smiling and happy, strong and important, more interesting and lovely than my real self.
A few days ago, my family and I went to an outdoor concert. It was a perfect night for such an event. The evening was unseasonably cool at 68 degrees and a gentle breeze wafted through the grassy courtyard, bringing with it tantalizing scents of smoked meats and roasted vegetables. Families, couples, and individuals of all ages filled the open-air venue and the children, mine included, ran everywhere, laughing and playing.
A few yards away, a local band played fiddles and guitars, their sound coming toward us at just the right level so that we could still talk, laugh, and feel the bass of the drums. My husband and I sat perched in our camping chairs while my almost-three-year-old son danced and wiggled to the beat in the wonderfully shameless way that only a toddler can do, his face alight with joy. To complete the setting, my husband had brought along a velvety chocolate stout for us to share: a perfect addition to the chill of the breeze and the dimming summer light.
It seemed my summer daydream was playing out quite perfectly and all was well. I felt happy.
For a little while.
Then my not-quite-three-year-old, exploding with excitement, ran at me, threw his body into my lap, and before I could move or stop him, knocked my cup out of my hands. I gasped as all of that wonderful chocolaty stout came pouring out—every velvety drop of it sliding down my side and under my leg before coming to a rest in a pool beneath my rump. My white-clad rump.
It seemed like something inside of me snapped and instantly I was not well.
Let me say that again.
I. Was. Not. Well.
A few choice expletives (mostly whispered) escaped my tongue as I struggled to free myself from the slopping mess of a chair. My face burned. I could feel my heart throbbing behind my eyes as anger swelled inside of me. I rubbed furiously at my clothes, trying to dry myself, to erase the impossible stain, to rub myself clean. I was sure that everyone around me who, just moments ago seemed friendly and inviting, could see nothing but the huge brown mess now highlighting my rear end. I wanted to scream, run, disappear, dissolve. It wasn’t just my clothes that were stained. I felt stained. Unclean. Ugly.
What a remarkable and disturbing transformation.
In the space of a heartbeat, this stain had shattered my fragile world and equally fragile sense of being ok in this world. Perhaps this all sounds a little…um…dramatic. A stain shattered my world. Really? A stain communicated to me that I am a mess of a person and everyone knows it? A stain had the power to cause me to speculate on my very worth as a human being? Geez. Get a grip.
Well in that moment I couldn’t get a grip. I couldn’t help myself. All I could do was sink back down into my chair, covered in a black stain, and try not to cry. Or scream. Or throw things.
I’ve asked myself “What happened?” numerous times since then and, really, I’m still trying to figure it out. But I think it went something like this…
That stain brought to the surface what I so often feel on the inside: that I am hopelessly stained; lost in my own mess; unable to help myself or to be helped by anyone else. The internal stains whisper to me the same lie that humankind has believed since the beginning of time: God doesn’t really love you. If He did, He would ______ (fill in the blank).
In the park that day I believed the lie that this serene picture—my happy family, me in a cute outfit, my husband and I enjoying a connecting moment, my son acting adorable, my being clean—made me valuable and worthy to take up space in this world. If all was well (.e. my circumstances were suitable), if I was happy, if my child was delightful, and my husband adoring, and my clothes clean, then I was valuable. But, oh! how quickly circumstances can change. A spilled drink, a car wreck, old age and wrinkles, death of a loved one. To live as if my circumstances make me worthy or not worthy, secure or insecure, is terrifying. And I do not want to live that way.
So what now?
I can come back to the truth. Over and over again. I can return to the promise that my worth was proven when the King of the Universe took on my ugly stains and exchanged them for His cleanliness, perfection, holiness. I can stop trying to work so hard to protect my own sense of worth and value and I can rest. Really rest. Internally and eternally rest. I can choose to believe “It is finished” and someday, hopefully, I can walk around with a stain on my backside without a care in the world, because my life rests securely in what Jesus has done for me: declared me truly clean.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18