Last night I read a blog post online that I found inspiring. Essentially, this mom had figured out that there are things in this life that she does well, and things that she doesn’t do so well, no matter how much she dreams or wishes or imagines she could. She had found freedom in that realization, and even had a list of “THINGS I DON’T DO”, such as being a “Pinterest-y” mom, being the “homeroom” mom, and such. These just weren’t really up her alley of capabilities, no matter how hard she tried. In writing these things down, there seemed to be some freedom in just letting it go, owning the fact that those things were not meant to be, and then focusing on the things that she DID do well.
Like I said, I was pretty inspired by that. So much so, that I spent a few minutes before bedtime writing out my own list…”THINGS I DON’T DO” and “THINGS I DO DO” (haha – I said “do do”, my 8yo would love it).
The main reason I took the time to do this was because I’ve been going through such a season of discontent lately, on many levels.
- Trying to homeschool but not feeling equipped.
- Gaining weight after going through the “change of life” since having a hysterectomy/oopherectomy and dealing with hormone replacement therapy. (TMI!!!)
- Getting depressed during the winter – “seasonal affective disorder, or “SAD” – it gets worse every year.
- Not feeling good enough, bogged down in the mundane reality of daily life.
- Writer’s block – not being able to get my feelings out, not able to string an entire sentence together sometimes because of menopausal fog!
- And just a general sense of “WHAT THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING?!???!!! WHO AM I ANYMORE, ANYWAY?!?!?!”
So, last night I ended up with twelve pretty good things on each of those lists. And I thought, “if I can just get up each morning and read these lists, and stick my mind to it, then I will become more content in life, with more focus and motivation to get things done! THEN I’ll be worthy enough to write and actually publish what I’m writing – so that it will be inspiring to others, worthy of sharing, etc… THEN I’ll be HAPPY!”
Ah, that elusive goal – happiness, contentment, joy. How do we reach that esoteric state of being – that point in life in which we know we are pleasing God, living life to the fullest, fulfilling our purpose, and therefore, ultimately and finally HAPPY, CONTENT, and JOYFUL?
If only I can stick to my “DO THIS – NOT THAT” lists! Right?
So, today arrives. I get up. I read my lists. I feel a little bit overwhelmed by them. I mean, what was I thinking? I can’t do/not do all those things on my lists, can I?
But I brace myself for the day, set my mind to it, and WILL myself to “stick with it, old gal”!
And then, I turn to my devotions.
Usually, this means I simply pray, go to my Bible, read, write, study some more, cross-reference, read a few commentaries, write some more, pray some more. But today, I got sidetracked by a ding from my email, which led me off into my usual morning “delete the email trash” routine.
I’m subscribed to way to many emails, despite the fact that I regularly unsubscribe to them, almost daily. Some of the emails I get, though, are devotional emails from some pastors, authors, and teachers that I really enjoy. I confess, though, that lately I haven’t taken the time to read any of them, at all. Delete, delete, delete. I just haven’t had the time. Or made the time.
But for some reason, today, I opened one up and started reading it. It was by Chuck Swindoll, one of my favorites. He was continuing a previous devotion he had written on liberty. This one was on legalism, by comparison.
The first few words I read stopped me full in my tracks. I mean WHAMMO – in the face!
“Legalism puts people under bondage…is an attitude, a mentality based on pride. It is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself. A legalist assumes the place of authority and pushes it to unwarranted extremes.
In so many words, legalism says, “I do this or I don’t do that, and therefore I am pleasing to God.” Or, “If only I could do this or not do that, I would be pleasing to God.” Or perhaps, “These things that I’m doing or not doing are the things I perform to win God’s favor.””
Um, uh oh.
How crazy. How crazy is that? I mean, seriously, it’s not that unusual for the Lord to whack me in the face with the obvious after I’ve been all caught up chasing my own tail, looking for answers on my own for a while. So really, how crazy was it that He did it to me again this morning?
It wasn’t really crazy. It was simply God speaking to me, in His own way, and in a way that He knows will totally get my goat.
He knows that legalism is the very thing that threatens the liberty and grace with which He so richly blessed me when He set me free from the sin that kept me down, kept me imprisoned within my own soul.
I grew up in a wonderful Christ-filled household, with amazing Christ-following parents. However, there was a tinge of legalism running throughout my childhood. I always felt like I had to act a certain way, be kind so others would like me, not do wrong things because others would think ill of me, or my parents, or my grandparents. I was always trying to do the “right thing” so God would favor me, bless me, love me.
And that was a hard, tough, disappointing, frustrating, and enslaving way to live. And it was all of my own doing, my own misguided, immature beliefs….and maybe a little bit of wrong teaching/discipleship along the way.
Until one day, in my married, adult life, many years down the road, I found myself in a place from which I thought there was no return. I had believed some things (lies), said some things (based on lies), and done some things (really bad things) that had me in a place where I was believing that God could never forgive me, never understand why I had sinned against Him and others, and never love me again.
But I was wrong. God showed me how wrong, finally, when I hit rock bottom, the very depths of that pit I had dug myself. I was sure it was going to be nothing but emptiness and eternal grief left for me down there.
Instead, I found Him there. He had been waiting for me all that time, at the bottom of that pit…waiting to lift me out of it, out of bondage, out of self-imposed imprisonment, and by His GRACE deliver me from that bondage into liberty, freedom – in Christ.
The answer to the bondage of legalism is liberty in Christ. It is freedom. It is GRACE. And it is a gift, free and clear. All we have to do is reach up to Him and accept it.
But how do you get to that place of bondage in your life? I’ll tell you how. Wrong beliefs. Believing lies. Satan is the “father of all lies”, and he will trip us up with them throughout our lives if we aren’t on our guard. And then he’ll lie some more and tell us that God isn’t really there to help us, to free us, to love us. And one of the biggest lies that ensnared me growing up was the lie of legalism.
As Chuck Swindoll said regarding legalistic beliefs:
“They aren’t spelled out in Scripture, you understand. They’ve been passed down or they have been dictated to the legalist and have become an obsession to him or her. Legalism is rigid, grim, exacting, and law-like in nature. Pride, which is at the heart of legalism, works in sync with other motivating factors. Like guilt. And fear. And shame. It leads to an emphasis on what one should not be and what one should not do. It flourishes in a drab context of negativism.”
Remember, he was saying that legalism puts people under bondage – or, as in my case, back in bondage – time and time again. It is negativism. It is captivity. It is NOT the kind of life I’m looking to live!
So, my lists from last night.
Are those lists putting me back under bondage again?
I have been set free – free to live an abundant life, full of grace, and joy, and freedom to live as God created me to be. He forgave me of my sins, my disgraceful, hurtful, life-destroying, enslaving sin, and set me free – NOT so I could simply exchange those chains for another set of enslaving chains – but so that I can live a life of FREEDOM IN CHRIST.
“There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Prisoners in misery and chains,
Because they had rebelled against the words of God
And spurned the counsel of the Most High.
Therefore He humbled their heart with labor;
They stumbled and there was none to help.
Then they scried out to the Lord in their trouble;
He saved them out of their distresses.
He brought them out of darkness
and the shadow of death
And broke their bands apart.” (Psalm 107:10-14)
I don’t have to live up to the expectations of others to be “worthy”. I don’t even have to live up to my own self-imposed expectations to be worthy or loved. I don’t have to labor and stumble and fall into the pit again and again – because the Lord has broken my chains. He tells me I don’t have to live up to any other standard other than FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, MY LORD IN SAVIOR!
So, back to those lists.
Are they wrong? That’s a tough question. I can’t answer it for everyone.
Swindoll said this:
“How many Christians do you know who exercise the joy and freedom to be a person full of life, living on tiptoe, enjoying spontaneous living – as opposed to the numberless hundreds of thousands who take their cues from the legalists and live life accordingly? Isn’t it surprising to anyone who has been set free that anybody would ever want to return to bondage? Surely, that must grieve our God.”
So for me, yes, I believe the lists are the wrong tactic.
It’s not that I shouldn’t have goals. It’s not that I shouldn’t employ discipline and standards. It’s not that I’m free to do anything my flesh desires – no, I’m free to live for Christ, who offers me life, abundant life, and that is TRULY freedom!
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
For me, these lists are sure to lead me back into the ensnaring tangle, the chains, of legalism and bondage.
So, maybe I’m not “homeroom mom” material, either, or in my case, maybe I’m not cut out to be the best homeschool mom out there – but that’s not going to stop me from trying, or from giving it my best when I’m called to do so. I’m not going to impose wimpy little rules upon myself in order to fit some societal mode of accomplishment or as a mode of comparison to others.
I will take the leap of faith. I will risk failure and ridicule and disappointment.
I will be FREE to give it my all, my best, and accept the outcome without worry of what others think.
I will not live under the bondage of legalism, of desiring the acceptance and praise of others.
I will do my best, and commit the rest to God, and I have faith that He will fill in the gaps of my inadequacies and weaknesses.
And I will rest in that. I have peace in that.
I’m throwing away my lists.
Free at last.