I knew Shelly before she went to jail and stayed in contact with her during the 18 months she was locked up. She never talked much about her spirituality but the one thing she wanted me to bring her when she got arrested was her recovery Bible. When she was finally released, I helped her find housing and hired her to help me at Embrace.
When Shelly proudly showed me her new, very large tattoo of a cross on her forearm with the word “embrace” in scroll curving over the cross, I know it was meant as a profession of faith and a token of gratitude for the relationship we had built over the years. I later learned that as she battled her heroin addiction, she also craved the feeling of the needles piercing her skin. The tattoo parlor became both her new drug of choice and her temporary path to sobriety. The tattoo symbolized her faith in Christ and her continued bondage to the demon of addiction at the same time. She had crossed from the black night of addiction, into the grey morning of early sobriety.
Within six months of this unorthodox profession, she attempted to take her own life. As we rushed her to the emergency room and sat with her as they treated her, I realized just how broken she was. I had prayed countless prayers, shared with her in every way she was open to receiving it, the love of Christ and yet she remained a tortured soul. She was slipping from grey to black, from the early light of morning to the darkness of night.
Upon her exit from the hospital, I took her into my home, welcomed her into my family, and loved her like a sister. I poured myself into her but there was a depth of despair that I could not touch. While she did regain her will to live, the darkness had reclaimed her spirit. When she ultimately slipped back into the dark world of addiction, I felt like a part of me went with her. I felt like I had failed her, not loved her enough, not prayed for her enough. I other words, I had not been able to save her. There is a secular song by The Fray called “How to Save a Life” and every time I hear it, I think of Shelly – the girl who taught me about the grey.
Prior to having Shelly for a friend, I thought the Christian faith was pretty black and white. You either had Jesus in your life or you didn’t. If you did, you automatically had triumph over the forces of darkness because “greater is the one in us.” I had been taught “once saved” always “saved.” Backsliders, I was taught, never fully embraced Jesus and so their profession really did not count. But that was before I walked with Shelly in the grey. Her relationship with Jesus though unorthodox was real, she embraced the light and begged it to overtake the darkness, yet the darkness triumphed.
As Shelly swallowed a bottle of pills seeking to end her life, Charles lay on the floor across town saying to himself, “if I have to live this way, I might as well be dead.” As he contemplated suicide, the spirit of God directed him to The Healing Place, a residential recovery program based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. There Charles met the “god of his understanding” and it was that nameless God that helped him overcome his 33 year drug addiction. The AA big book became the only bible Charles has ever read, the fellowship of AA the only church he will ever be a member of. My traditional church training would tell me that Charles does not know Jesus, but my spirit has told me otherwise. Every morning Charles gets up at 5:30 to read his AA devotional book, greets the God who freed him from the darkness and sustains him in the light. Every day I watch as he is being transformed into the likeness of Jesus by that same God who is daily transforming me.
Shelly and Charles helped me let go of my black and white, in or out, saved or unsaved way of thinking. I think we all exist in the “now” and “not yet” of God’s redemptive grace. Some have never been touched by the light, some have been touched but get drawn back into darkness, others follow a mysterious spirit into the light, while others of us follow the traditional path of being introduced to Jesus as the light. We all exist along a continuum of darkness to pure light with the majority of us existing in various stages of grey. We are both a new person and being transformed at the same time. We are saved from our sin and being saved. We are all under construction and none of us have fully arrived.
When I let go of a dualistic, right or wrong, in or out, black and white way of thinking and began to see the things in varying stages of grey, I was freed of the need to be right, and the need to judge others as wrong. I began to see God at work in unusual places using unorthodox approaches and speaking to me through unexpected people. When I stopped judging or dictating how, when and through whom God could speak, I entered into a mystery where God was the only judge, the only truth, and the pure light. I was free to follow God in ways my former black and white thinking would not have allowed. I was free to love people without judgment in a way my right and wrong thinking would have rejected. I was free to embrace the light of Christ in people, places and situations that my former state of being would not have seen. I have learned to admit that I simply do not have all the answers and this truth has set me free.
This post is part of a synchroblog about some of the things we’ve let go of along the way in our spiritual journeys and what we’re learning in the process.
What have you let go of in your spiritual journey and what have you learned in the process?
Read how others have answered this question:
- John Martinez at Indie Faith – Letting Go of the Holy Me
- Beth Patterson at Finding Ground – What is Passed Over is Not Love
- Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – Help, I’m Lost and Can’t Find Myself
- Ellen Haroutunian – Life Unfurling
- Marta Layton – On Burdens, Blessings, Babies and Bathwater
- Alan Knox at The Assembling of Church – Where Did I Go?
- Crystal Lewis – What Happened When I Let Go
- Pam Hogeweide at How God Messed Up My Religion – Letting Go of a Church-Centered Me
- K.W. Leslie at the Evening of Kent – Legalism, Anti-Legalism, and Anti-Anti-Legalism
- Ryan Harrison at How We Spend Our Days – Scraping the Barnacles
- Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head – Letting God Off the Hook
- Christine Sine at Godspace – Giving Up For God, What Does it Cost?
- Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – What Do You Do When You Are Not Sure
- Dan Brennan at Faith Dance – Letting Go for a Greater Good
- Elaine Hansen – Recovering Control Freak – Let Go?
- Chris at The Amplified Life – Seasons of Life