While riding around on the back of a golf cart at some Christian music festival I overheard a conversation about a certain Christian rapper and how he said something about being over the whole ‘grace thing’. If memory serves me right, (it was some years ago) he was referencing how some believers had taken Brennan Mannings famously penned book The Ragamuffin Gospel. I was disgusted enough to have spit. Over grace? Who can get over grace?
Mom and I so seldom ride alone in the car together, you think I’d easily recall the circumstances or where we were going, but I don’t. Just the same we got talking a week or so ago about an old friend of my mom’s from college. During the conversation, Mom labeled the person a “grace junkie”. I knew what she meant, but had never heard it said quite like that before. We drove on, jabbering about a million other things, but I’ve not been able to get over the phase: grace junkie
Over cups of coffee, a friend and I recently caught up on life and shared stories about our precocious children, who are all close in age. My friend commented that her oldest child is really having a lot of questions about what is good and what is bad and which people are good and which ones are bad. My friend told me she had emphasized to her child the importance of loving all people and treating all people the way God would, even the bad ones.
I smiled and nodded, but I wondered if she saw me squirming in my seat?
It is not that I disagreed with her.. really. I just couldn’t help but think of a time in the past week when Cohen was in the car with me and we passed a client of mine with her boyfriend, a known dealer in our small town. Cohen pointed out the window, “What is that bad boy doing, Mom?” I told him I didn’t know and he said nothing more about it. That conversation sticks out to me only because I remember feeling deep down a sense of relief that Cohen could pick out a shady character.
Friday morning David and I were drinking coffee at the kitchen table. My brother, Aaron, had commented the night before that he’d checked out our local sex offender registry and happily found no offenders in his immediate neighborhood. So even though we live 2/10 of a mile away from he and Becky, I decided to do the same. There were a few a miles away, but when I expanded the list countywide, but stomach turned.
The number was staggering. I muttered a few angry things at the table and then asked David a rhetorical question: “Why are petty drug users and dealers in prison, when people who hurt children are just out living their lives?!?!” He just looked at me. Had I been sitting with the girls at work, they’d have chimed in and within minutes we’d have a solution for the problem …which may or may not involve a remote island (don’t ask me for details- I won’t implicate my professional cohorts!) But then again, we deal with this everyday. David just looked at me. “Babe, I understand why you are worked up, but you have to remember we are all children of God.”
He misspoke and I knew it, but I couldn’t help but quickly correct him, “No, not children. We’re not all children. We’re all creations of God… sons and daughters is a whole other category.”
So since Friday morning I’ve been thinking about a lot of things. Like, the state of the church here in America, for one. I’ve been thinking about how wishy washy we’ve gotten on matters of sin and how blurry the lines have gotten between right and wrong, good and bad. I have been wondering how it is that grace is freely lapped up without proper regard for the sacrifice that enacted it. Has it been taken from the fine dining experience to the buffet, where the stuffed fill their plates with more and more of it? Have we permitted for an atmosphere of sinfulness and then justified it as so grace increasing?
I have had in my mind a picture for a few days… my mom’s friend at that buffet, compulsively eating and then like a person plagued with bulemia, vomiting up every bite before it could get down in her and build her up; sustain her being. In my mind the Christian rapper was sitting at a table close by, wagging his finger in disgust. —What of it, Lord?
Two thoughts come to mind this morning as I am mulling it all over. One is the story of the prodigal son. The second is of a client I met with yesterday.
She’s young… all of 20 with a tiny baby. She’s been with the father of the baby on and off for over four years. For my small part in her life, I am just beginning to unravel the story of how all of this came to be, all the while doing developmental screenings and teaching her how to interact with her newborn. For her part, she’s just beginning to let me in.
The boyfriend is a drunk and historically abusive. I have referred her to domestic violence counseling. She wafts back and forth but has never gone. So I asked about him. Part of my job is to be nosy like that. She happily reported that they’ve been broken up for a solid month now. “That’s really good for me,” she retorted. I must not have looked impressed enough.
He’s no catch… he’s not attractive. He barely works. He doesn’t pay child support. He does not even have a driver’s license. So why would an attractive girl, going to college want to keep returning to that guy?
She loves the drama.
I wish I could tell you its more complicated than that, but its just not. She loves the highs and the lows. She loves the fighting and those intense moments when everything is on the line and she loves to make up. She knows as well as I do that he’s not the right guy and when everything is calm, she knows she doesn’t even want to be with him. She could name his unhealthy traits in alphabetical order at this point. But that’s not the crux of the matter. It’s really not about him– its about the emotional high, the attention, the drama that she gets from the roller coaster ride they’re on.
Ever known a professing believer who has the same kind of thing going with Jesus? Not that Jesus is a bad catch, but that He gets treated like one. He gets chased down with great passion, sure but somewhere along the line it has become less and less about Him and more and more about getting high on the emotion of being on the receiving end of grace. Rather than being sustained by His flesh, there is continual binging and purging at the Lord’s table, as if the meal were cheap enough to keep regurgitating. Like a dog returning to his vomit or a girl returning to the boy who beats her, this person returns again and again to a lifestyle of living apart from Jesus; a lifestyle of sin; a lifestyle of destruction; a lifestyle of being about the things God hates.
The girl gets swept away with flowers and candies and empty promises. She’s high on the emotional fumes. In a strikingly similar way the Grace Junkie, is high on the coming back. Not for love of the One he’s returning to anymore than the girl returns because she believes abuser. No, he’s high on the coming back itself…
What if the story of the prodigal son read like this instead:
Once there was a rich man who had two sons. The younger son was greedy and asked for his share of the inheritance. The father gave it to him and he ran off and blew all the money on gambling and prostitutes and drugs. When his money was gone, he was living on the streets, getting out of garbage cans. One day, it occurs to him that even the lowest worker on his dad’s totem pole has enough money to buy a house and a car. So he goes home to ask for a job. While walking up the drive, his dad sees him and runs to him. He throws a party for his son and invites the neighbors. And rather than getting a job, the son gets to be reunited and reconciled with his father.
For about six months, all goes well. The son is more helpful and kind and humble than he’s ever been. The father notices though that this begins to wane ever so so slightly. The son seems bored at home. He starts to remember how exciting his time away was. So the son keeps up the act (as best he can) but he starts to go out with his old friends (just now and then). And he occasionally has “recreational” fun with some old substances (he does work hard after all- work hard/play hard, right?) And before you know it, the younger son is living the same lifestyle he had been living before- only he’s doing it in the shadows now. He’s sneaking around. Rather than taking a lump sum from his dad, he’s taking his (second) inheritance in $10’s and $20’s.
Eventually he gets caught and upon being caught, he says how sorry he is and asks for help. He begs for mercy again. The father pays for the help and the son is again taken back. This time, perhaps not with a party and all the neighbors (for which the son is of course resentful and angry).
And the cycle repeats and repeats. The son loves the coming back, the emotion from his dad, the chance to reinvent himself. He loves living on the line, dabbling in the dangerous without having to pick through the trash for food.
He’s not taken with the love of his dad.
He does not love his dad enough to stop hurting him.
He’s not unraveled and undone at the feet of his father.
He has not come to hate the taste of the vomit.
No, its a game. A roller coaster. Manipulation. He thinks he’s found a loop hole- a way to have his cake and eat it too.
So what if the story did read that way? What would you think of the son? and the Father? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t believe the son. I am a softy on these matters- I want to see people change for real- but I think even I would get suspicious of the younger son once it happened a time or two more. And the Father? Well rather than a gracious, loving man that makes my heart yearn to emulate, I might start to see him as a doormat; an enabler.
So this morning I am down to a really long blog and perhaps more questions than answers..
-If Jesus took the stance of “go and sin no more” as the sidekick to His great compassion, then why does the church often act as though the second prodigal story is what is in the Bible rather than the first?
-What does it mean to “perfect as I am perfect”? Is there a difference between making a mistake and living a lifestyle of sin?
-How do we not take take grace lightly? trample under foot the son of God?
And how do we love people the way that God does? And teach our children to do the same? Do we even know what that means anymore?
I am realizing this post is really the first post in a series. So you can expect at least three more posts on the matter, exploring different aspects and implications in our lives. One, on how we can avoid this pitfall ourselves, one on on how to deal with grace junkies in our lives and church communities, and lastly – and very importantly- how to influence our children to love God and others more than the “high” of yo-yo-ing back and forth.
Looking forward to delving into this with all of you…