On the Other Side: Grace and Goodness

I am overwhelmed by the amount of response for my last post. I thank each person who read and each person who commented, whether it was on the blog, on facebook, or in a private message/email. There were such a variety of responses and I think the post struck a chord (sometimes a good chord; other times a bad chord) with everyone.

One of the first responses I received was from a Nazarene friend, and he said, “Thank you.” Do you know how I responded? “I cringe to think that you read this, and I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.” (See how I can’t seem to get away from guilt?) But then he said, “I’m a recovering legalist who hates narrowness and loves wideness and compassion.” That brought tears to my eyes. It still does.

For those of you who felt it I was going too far in blaming an entire denomination for my guilt, maybe you’re right. After all, I’m the quintessential firstborn child: I want to do everything well, and I want to please people. And if I don’t succeed at either of those, I feel bad. There was a conversation going in the comments about things that influence us; I’m sure there are a variety of things that have influenced my guilt, the church only being one of them.

I want to say two things:

1. Guilt is not the only thing I think of when I think of my upbringing in the Nazarene Church. There were also times of joy, friendship, and love. I talk about losing Dr. Greathouse here and I talk about missing the COTN here and what I think my parents did right here and how hard it was to say goodbye to my Thai Nazarene friends here.  My last post was addressing one issue I’m dealing with as an adult and trying to sort out.

2. Guilt is not why I left the Nazarene Church. I left because I was struggling with things like a high emphasis on emotionalism and the church becoming uber user-friendly and looking just like the world. I left because I would get a spiritual high every Sunday but then struggle with experiencing God in my day-to-day life. I left because I had been introduced to liturgy and wanted to know what it was. Maybe the expectations I felt like people had for me played a part in it, too; if so, I didn’t realize it at the time. But I have never felt like I left because of guilt.

I spent some time talking to my dad about all of it today, and I realized how difficult that post was for him to read. You know, my dad has struggled with guilt, too, but he has come through many dark days and come out on the other side and found healing. “One of the things I love about the theology of the Nazarene Church,” he said, “is it’s focus on God’s grace for us.” My dad is a man who’s been utterly overwhelmed by God’s incomprehensible and amazing grace.

And I fell into my father’s arms and cried and said, “I’m sorry for disappointing you.”

And do you know what he said? “That’s the thing, Karissa. You never have.”

And suddenly I remembered that my name, Karis, means grace, and that no matter how hard I rail against this or that, or try to speak my truth, or try to find an answer to all my questions, I can’t forget this: It is only because of God’s grace that I am here and that there is any good in me.

Orthodox Christians don’t believe in the total depravity of humans. If God made us in his image, and he is good and love, then we can’t be totally depraved. God put good in us.  To me, that is an amazing and freeing thought. We do believe that our relationship with God was broken, and that Jesus came to heal it.  Even when we screw up, God still makes good in us.

I saw that good in your comments, and I saw that good in my dad’s eyes today, and I see it in my mom’s eyes, and I see it in my home every day in my husband and children.

Dad, you gave me my faith. No matter what church I go to or what struggles I have, that seems like a pretty big thing.

4 comments

  1. A. Brent Cobb says:

    Karissa, I love this article. I know what it is to struggle with feelings of guilt, even when I know it’s false guilt.

    There’s no greater reality in my life than Christ’s unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Yet, as much as I long to be totally grace-based, I have a deeply-engrained impulse to try to earn God’s favor.

    Daily, and sometimes many times a day, I must deliberately choose grace over its enemy, which is the false notion that one must ‘earn one’s way.’ I do desire to serve my Lord, but because I love Him and not because I fear Him.

    I like the meaning of your name, coming from Greek: Karis, grace. And I join you in concluding that “It is only because of God’s grace that I am here and that there is any good in me.”

  2. Steve Walsh says:

    Great post. I appreciate you and your parents and brother so much. I remember when I stayed at your home in Bangkok decades ago. They exemplified grace. Thanks for your posts. You are gifted (charis, grace) by name and nature. Thanks.

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