Friday, March 12, 2010

We Carry Around So Much Emotional Baggage

A lot of us carry around too much emotional baggage. Unhappy encounters or memories, past and present. Disapointments with the way life treats us. Sorrow over lost health, lost loved ones, lost opportunities, too much pain, a seemingly-faulty mind. The burdens we carry are so heavy that some of us can't function as smoothly as God designed us to. He is the "Great Burden Bearer." How can we learn to let go of our hurts? How can we open ourselves to let him heal us?

I've never met Alessa [not her real name] in person. I met her through an internet group, and then we began writing by e-mail. Now and then I check up on her by telephone.

Alessa has had such a troubled life! So many bad things have happened to her! She has a very low opinion of herself. She expects there to be more trouble. But she also yearns for a more "normal" life, and to meet and fellowship with "normal" people, to have a "normal" future.

She wasn't raised in a Christian home. She has almost no background in the faith. She also has difficulty concentrating, or reading very long -- so one can't just hand her books or articles about Christian living and expect her to learn how to walk with Christ.

A while back, she took it on herself to find a church. And to be baptized. Her family didn't encourage her at all in this, but she did it anyway. She accepted the pastor's instruction. And the experience made her feel "clean" again. She hoped, or anticipated, being baptized would wash away the guilt and shame and bad feelings. But she couldn't seem to stop doing the bad things, thinking the unhappy thoughts, that she'd felt before her baptism.

Recently, she asked me if she could have received the wrong baptism. If it was possible for "baptism not to take."

After her baptism, the pastor gave her the cloth with which he wiped her face. (I guess as a remembrance of her baptism ceremony, though she also received a signed paper baptismal certificate.) But the next week, he asked for it back, trading her another one.

“I baptized you with the wrong cloth,” was his comment. (At least, that’s the way she remembers it.)

As Alessa has seen her life fall apart with many troubles, she’s become terrified that she was baptized with the wrong cloth. So maybe her baptism was nullified. And she can’t seem to stop sinning, even though she knows she’s not supposed to do certain things. How could God accept her into heaven someday, when she’s such a sinner? Maybe she’s going to hell?

That pastor is no longer at the church. She can’t ask him questions. And for very different other reasons, she has stopped going to that church – and hasn’t found another church she could get to with her limited transportation and a high discomfort level.

I suggested that the church may have had certain cloths to give to baptismal candidates, and that the pastor simply meant, “oops, I was supposed to give you this item instead of that one.” I couldn’t see why he would have any thought that he “baptized her wrongly”. I assured her that baptism in water is an outward sign to herself and others of an inward act, of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That nothing about the water, the ceremony, the preacher – or the cloth – had any bearing on whether she was “saved”, accepted by Jesus Christ.

I asked her if she still wanted Jesus to be her Lord and Savior. And she said YES! So I could say to her that I believe when she asked to belong to Christ, he accepted her. And he won’t go back on his promise to be her Lord. And when she does things she doesn’t like afterwards, but is truly sorry and asks forgiveness, once Jesus accepted her she would always belong to him. And he would never let go of her hand.

I wept to think she has carried this burden inside for months, maybe a year or more. It (along with many other unthinking or uncaring statements from others) has affected her opinion of herself to the point where she is afraid she’s totally useless and “bad” before God. What a bogeyman we make God out to be! Not the loving caring Heavenly Father, but the Righteous Judge just waiting to crack the whip and condemn us. I do that myself, all too often. How can we learn to lean on the Truth of his promise?

“Long ago before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own, through what Christ has done for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes – without a single fault – we who stand before him covered with his love.” (Eph. 1: 4 TLB)

He sees us covered with Christ. Oh, may he give us the grace and mercy and strength and wisdom to think of ourselves that way!

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