I was 13-years-old and in the “awkward stage”- the nice way of saying puberty had played a cruel joke on me physiologically. I was taller than pretty much everyone else in my class, boys included, and stick-thin in the worst sort of way. The braces on my teeth and glasses perched on the bridge of my suddenly too big nose did little to distract from the acne that assaulted me constantly. I washed and washed and washed my face. My mom took me to a dermatologist who froze my skin, and t
hen placed me under ultraviolet light. Clearasil was my very best friend.
We moved that year from our home in the mountains to the big city. The air was hot. The houses were close together. Everything was strange. My parents asked around about the schools and determined to make a tremendous sacrifice to send me to a small Christian school. They wanted me to be safe and safe I was…physically.
My heart? Not so much.
I was utterly alone there- hated for being new, hated for being “awkward”, hated for being me. To say the kids at that school were cruel would be the understatement of the century, but some of the teachers…well, that was even worse.
I will never forget the day my beautiful English teacher called me to the front of an assembly with fire in her eyes. She had spotted the fact that the slit in my very long skirt didn’t meet the school’s stringent dress code. Already painfully shy, I was forced to stand in front of my sneering classmates as she berated, condemned and shamed me. Each time she demanded an answer from me, I stammered the appropriate “Yes ma’am” or “No ma’am” to the riotous laughter of the other students who mocked my mountain accent every time I spoke.
Legalism… It is so far from the heart of God.
This past weekend, I spoke on forgiveness at the Christ Community Church Women’s Retreat. I told the women that the basis for our forgiveness of others is resting in the grace we have received from Christ.
“I think this is the thing with legalism,” I told them. “We give into the urge to condemn because we first feel condemned. When we fully realized what Christ has done for us, we stop striving. We simply receive the gift with gratitude and then we are ready to pass it on.”
A good friend of mine once told me that our response to shame is very organic. It feels so bad, that eventually we have to cast it away from us onto someone else.
As I taught this lesson, I thought back to the long line voices of legalism in my life and suddenly I found myself heartbroken for them all as I realized they must have been suffering under their own terrible load of condemnation.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
How beautiful is the grace of Christ! It reconciles us to The Father…and to each other. Even to those who have hurt us most.