acceptance based on false pretences – is it worth it?

(some more thoughts following on from my earlier rambling)

the desire to feel accepted sometimes leads us to pretence – say there’s a bunch of people who seem to value intelligence, and you want these people to like you, so you might pretend to be smarter than you really are. or say they all like a particular type of music, you might pretend to absolutely love that music just so that you can belong in that group.

and so you end up being accepted but knowing very well that you were accepted based on false pretences, so you are going to be forever waiting in fear of being found out and rejected.

a bit like not daring to tell people you’re gay, pretending to be in a straight relationship and thus gaining temporary acceptance from people around you, and never knowing how many of them will stand by you if the truth comes out – never knowing who your true friends are. because you’ve never given people the opportunity to become your true friends – you haven’t shown them who the real you is.

that’s why when I met the man I’m now married to, I made a point of getting all the skeletons out of my cupboard very early on – if he was going to reject me because of things in my past, I preferred that to happen early on, before I’d invested too much in the relationship. And I did not want to spend my whole married life in fear of what he might one day find out about me – what if we bump into someone who knew me back when…

that’s why I put something clear about my faith in my profile both here and on fb – if one of my relatives sees it and decides they don’t want to know me, fine, let that happen sooner rather than later.

the more honest and open I am about who I am, the more chance I have of forming real friendships of lasting value. the more I hide, the more I will have to fear – being found out is scary only if you have secrets that you don’t want people to know about. in my early army days I was chucked out of a course because of security issues, because they found out that I was bisexual – and the IDF policy is (or at least was) to treat that as a danger to security because, according to their logic, it means someone could blackmail you into providing them with military secrets. The ridiculous irony in my case, as I tried in vain to explain to them, was that the army was the only place where I’d tried to hide it – once they knew, that was it, there was no danger of blackmail…

when I first came to England I went through a pretend marriage in order to get a visa so that I could stay here. I had to keep that going for a year so that I could get a permanent visa – they gave me a one-year visa to start with, and then me and that guy had to go to the Home Office and say we were still married. and so for a year I pretended at work to be married to this guy, and had to keep remembering my intricate web of lies in all sorts of conversations. it was a huge relief to stop playing that game when the year was over.

but most of the time our deceits are less drastic than these. most of the time it’s stuff like pretending to see what the joke is when everyone’s laughing; pretending to think something is rubbish because that’s what everyone else thinks; pretending to absolutely love something because everyone else does; pretending to know more than you do, to impress everyone; pretending to know less than you do, so that the others won’t feel threatened by you; etc etc. small deceptions. all because we long to feel accepted.

the truth is there’s only one place where we can get total unconditional acceptance, and that’s from God – he is the one who knows each of us exactly as we are, he knows even the bits we hide from ourselves, and he still loves us. Psalm 139 says it so well.

The Old Map

Just found something I wrote back in 2002, around the time when I was finally born again after 12 years in the church. (I wrote about that here.)

Imagine this…

You’ve heard of a very beautiful and special town and you’ve decided you want to go there. You ask someone for directions, someone who seems to know about that town. He takes you on a train and, after a few stops, says, ‘OK, this is where we get off.’

You get off the train and begin to settle in in this new place. You find somewhere to live, get a job, and find out where the shops are. There’s an old map you’ve carried with you, a map you found in the library back home – this map had sparked your interest in that special town and made you want to go there. But as you try to use this map to find your way around, you find that the streets don’t correspond to the map! ‘It’s only an old map,’ the people there explain to you, ‘you can’t always rely on it.’ But nevertheless they talk reverently of the old map, as if it’s special. ‘There’s a lot of beauty in the map,’ they say in hushed tones. They can even see some deep symbolism in the street names.

Quietly you wonder to yourself about this odd situation. Why should we use a map if it’s no good as a map? you ask yourself. You hear about people who do believe the map is true, but these people are regarded as imbeciles, to be pitied and not taken too seriously. After all, anyone can see that the map shows streets that are no longer there, and there are many places missing on it.

For twelve years you wonder. Then one blessed day you hear a voice as you look at the map. The voice whispers, ‘Right map. Wrong town.’

Let those who have ears, hear.

New year – new start?

Will you be making any new year’s resolutions tonight? Will you promise yourself that in the new yearย you will get up at 6 every morning and do half an hour’s exercise before going to work? Or that you will eat fresh fruit every day? Maybe you will resolve that this year you will spend more time with your family or friends. If you’re a churchgoer, maybe you’re going to think in terms of getting up earlier each morning to start the day with some good quality prayer time.

But whatever your new year’s resolutions might be, whatever it is that you would like to change about yourself and the way you live, how are you going to make it happen?

Can you make it happen?

Or are we just setting ourselves up for failure when we make these resolutions? I know, it’s very tempting. A new year feels like the right time for a new start, a time for change. But if you’ve lived on this earth for a bit longer than a decade you will know by now that you’ve seen new years come and go and the truth is that not much has changed. The truth is that we make these resolutions with all the best intentions in the world, and if all it took was to have good intentions, we’d all be wonderfully healthy shiny people by now.

Of course I used to do it, I used to make all sorts of decisions, not just at new year. Sometimes it was when I’d been to church and heard an inspiring sermon – it was very easy to go home thinking, oh yes, I really will start praying more often; or, I really will read the Bible every day. Sometimes it was a book that inspired me. There were all sorts of things that would make me think that I could really do with changing some things about my life.

There were the sermons/books/whatever that reminded me that as a Christian I’m supposed to be loving, kind and patient. And oh how I tried!!! I kept trying. Now and again the miracle happened and I succeeded – managed to behave in a loving way towards someone at work who generally wound me up – but more often than not I failed miserably. I particularly remember one day at work when I spent half the afternoon quarrelling with a colleague (by email!) over a pair of scissors. When the boss heard about it he sent us both an email saying: I think you’re both pathetic and you need your heads banged together. And he was right, it was pathetic behaviour. And especially pathetic on my part as I claimed to be a Christian!

The trouble is, I was trying to be a Christian but I was trying to do it in my own strength, and that’s just impossible. Love your neighbour as yourself – does that sound humanly possible? Of course it isn’t. Our human nature is selfish and self-centred – yes, we do have that godly bit inside us that brings out some degree of kindness and charity, because we were made in God’s image after all. But his image in us has been spoiled since the Fall, so kindness doesn’t come so naturally to us. If someone steps on your toe, your instinctive reaction is to express anger in some way, not to forgive.

For years I managed to go to church regularly and still miss the point. Thinking of myself as a Christian and wondering why I found it so hard to live up to that name. Sometimes not even wondering – sometimes not realising that I wasn’t living up to it.

What was the point that I’d missed, you ask? Just this: that it is humanly impossible to live God’s way, that without his help no one can do it, and that’s why Jesus came to die, to pay the penalty that we deserve, because in our own strength we can’t make it okay, no matter how many good deeds we do, no matter how many grannies we help across the road, we just haven’t got it in us to make up for our sinful nature and we haven’t got it in us to change the way we are!

It was on 1 July 2002 that I finally came to the point of surrendering to Jesus, admitting that I can’t get it right, that I need his help, thanking him from the bottom of my heart that he accepted the death penalty instead of me, and asking him to be fully and totally and completely in charge of my life from that moment on.

Up to then, I’d been allowing him into bits of me here and there, so some change had been happening. But the moment that I gave my life over to him completely, that’s when I was really given a new start, a new life, and it’s him who has been changing me from the inside, it’s not my efforts to be a better person.

New year’s resolution? Here’s the only resolution that is really worth making: resolve to give your life over to Jesus now, this moment, repent of your sins (that means not just saying sorry but making a conscious choice to turn away from them, to change your ways, with God’s help), thank him for dying in your place, and accept him as your lord and master. Then you will experience a real new start, a new life.

A not-so-cross-cultural love story

She first met him in a church. She wasn’t sure what she was doing there. “I’m Jewish, you see.”

“So am I,” he said.

“But…”

She’d heard about him, of course she had, but she’d heard of him as the founder of some new foreign religion. She had never heard that he was actually a Jewish rabbi, who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah!

It was love at first sight, but it took her years to begin to understand.