I was running late, I debated skipping service. I am glad I didn't. On Sunday at church we wrapped up Romans chapter 7. And it started with these questions...
What names do you try to live up to?
What names do you carry around like a weight you can't throw off?
As the sister of an addict I took on a lot of them for a very long time. I was the "older brother" before I really realized what that meant. And I carried it around with me like it was something I had to live up to, like it was something I should live up to; at times even something I felt I should be proud. Growing up with an addict, or even just a sibling who causes trouble a lot, there can be that sibling who feels like they have to be the "good kid". That was me. You feel like you have to make up for all the issues that happen along the way. But it only causes more; more issue for you, more issues for everyone. It causes you to walk in a way that is not only unrealistic, but damaging.
When I was growing up I viewed Christianity in the same way I viewed being the sibling of an addict. I viewed it in a "I need to be better and do better, because that is what you are supposed to do" way. And it left me feeling resentful, it left me without relationship... it left me on the outside of my relationship with Jesus and it left me on the outside of my relationship with my brother. It wasn't until I was older, as I really began to actually pour into and explore my walk with God, that I realized that the weight of what I was asking of myself was not only too heavy, but that it was impossible and served no purpose. God didn't want me to act out of a need to please, God wanted me to simply be. To come to Him as I am, to admit to Him the brokenness that hurt my soul and to ask Him to fill in where I couldn't. He wanted me to adore Him as someone who wanted my trust and love more than he wanted my blind "rule-following."
It doesn't mean that I have really changed my ways. I still ultimately try to do good and make the right choices, but for a different reason. For the same reason that loving someone and being loved in return makes us want to be the best version of ourselves. For the reason that when we know we are so deeply Loved and cherished, we want to show our love in return not only with words but with actions.
When I realized the plight of the "older brother" and how lost he was, I broke. And that moment, though I didn't realize it then, was freeing. I was free to let go of the weight of having to be the "good kid" and I was free to build relationships instead of walls. And as my relationship with Jesus (and understanding of what Grace truly means) grew into a personal one, my relationship with my brother did too. Does that mean it was perfect? Does that mean I didn't struggle and grapple with my anger at the choices he made? No, I still did. All the time. But it did mean forgiveness had room to seep in (me for him and him for me). And it meant that I now have moments to be so thankful for after my brother ultimately had his struggle be one that took him from us here. And it also means that I can be so thankful that his struggle didn't truly win. That even though addiction is a horrible, ugly thing, that kills bodies and splits families wide open, it doesn't have the ultimate victory. It isn't the ultimate victory! My brother, with his brokenness and addiction and also his zest for life and huge heart, believed that Jesus came to save him. And Jesus did come to save him. And because of that, Jesus won! My brother's struggle didn't win. My own struggles won't win.
Today would have been my brother's birthday. Today IS my brother's birthday. I hadn't realized that when I first wrote the majority of this piece after Sunday's church sermon with plans to post it today. But I find it to be so ultimately fitting. Today John Wayne is celebrating with Jesus. Today is he having the best birthday party any of us could ever hope to have. Today he is winning at life!!
The battle won't be easy, it was never promised that it would be.
But you can approach a battle differently when you know it is one that you can NOT lose.
And for that, I am thankful. Thankful beyond measure, beyond name, and beyond any need to be anything other than myself.
|Photo credit from Summit Church; listen to the whole sermon by Zach Van Dyke here.|