I can’t have been the only one sitting there in the dark room, crying and promising God to go anywhere and do anything. I can’t have been the only one in frenzied conversations in the parking lot at night, the ones where we talked about taking our schools for Christ. I stood in his office, and he told me I was exactly the student every youth leader prays to have. Told me I was doing everything right. I was the archetype of all of us, the teenagers promising everything to God. The millennials somewhere back before smartphones and cynicism…when we were generation Jesus. There was something in us, and maybe it was just pride, but there was something in us that wanted to save the world.
I can’t have been the only one who faltered. Who lost sight of something, who got so tired. I can’t have been the only one who finally did something wrong, and didn’t know where to run. I can’t have been the only one who noticed how the praise quieted and the support vanished when we were no longer the poster kids. When we went to college and struggled, and fought, and we heard the whispers of how our generation was turning away from Christ. I can’t have been the only one who felt everything I’d ever built sweep out from under me.
And here we are, friends. Here we are as an example for a new generation of youth groups. The ones who walked away, who became disenchanted with the church. The ones who got ‘lost’ somewhere in the shuffle and the noise. Here we are, the generation who was supposed to save the world.
We cannot even save ourselves.
I used to talk about grace in the past tense. Do you remember that? I would say that I had been given grace, or that Christ had forgiven me. I would say that He had been my peace that He had seen past my sin. I talked from the other side, like someone who knew she was past the point of needing the grace. Who knew that if she could just follow the rules, feel the fire, abandon the things…she could change the world. The one who just knew that she could do it.
We fell, so many of us. I can’t be the only one who woke up one day and realized that my faith was a thin veneer that couldn’t hide the warped edges of my heart. Who saw, suddenly, that I was putting all my love, effort, and faith into an appearance. Into a show of a good Christian. That I was no more repentant, no more indebted, no more ‘saved’ than an actress playing a saint in an old movie. It was a game. It was an act. And when I broke character I found myself alone and wondering how it all went wrong.
Today my verbiage is different. I talk about how God gives me grace. About how He will do so again. I ask Him to be my peace. Today, tomorrow, all of it. I know, now. I know that I am prone to wander. That I am not the archetype of the good Christian twenty something. I see my bare ring finger, see my chaotic apartment, notice that my job is not in a Kenyan slum. I have produced no babies. While I was supposed to be falling in love with Christ and a Christian boy, I was fending off depression. And suddenly I’m not the shiny face waiting to welcome you to the church I have faithfully attended since birth.
And grace was in the present tense. Grace was in that moment, and was a promise for every moment to follow. It opened my eyes, and it showed me how flimsy the act was. How the failure had been inevitable. How impossible it was for me to do it all on my own. How I could not save the world without first saving myself.
How I could not save myself.
These are the days of grace. These are the days of admitting when I have sinned, the days of confession. These are the days of asking for help, asking for support. These are the days of broadcasting my failures to anyone who will listen, of proclaiming my weaknesses. These are the days of assuring the broken people I meet that if I can be redeemed, hope is never lost. These are the days when the foolish, weak ones like me shame the wisdom and arrogance we once held in awe of our own achievements. These are the days when the incredible work of Christ has left those memories of feeble efforts looking forced and awkward. These are the days in which He is saving me, and in which I am speaking of grace for tomorrow.
I look back on her, and I am almost ashamed. Red faced over the swear word that sneaked out yesterday and the way I cannot love a difficult person. Embarrassed by the way I will never look that way in church. I will never look like the one who will change the world again. I will, seemingly forever, be the one crying because His mercy to me is crushing and overwhelming and unfathomable. I will be the one with mascara on my face. For a moment I am ashamed that I cannot be the symbol I once was, the person that pastor once believed me to be.
We are the lost generation, you and I. I can’t be the only one who has ridden this ride. I can’t be the only one who has been written off. And yet…
…who can tell stories of grace like we can? Who can say, in honest humility, but for the grace of God go I and mean it more than us? Who else will remember our story, will tell it again and again? Who else will see the hypocrite and love them, because that was us not so long ago? How else are we going to save anything?
It is only this, this present and future tense of grace, that can ever redeem anything. I wonder if, maybe, the poster child for the church doesn’t need to have a little warping at the edges, or maybe a few scars. I wonder if we can, remembering how it felt when we were frowned at and sighed over, make it be an infirmary again, instead of a country club.
When I was sixteen I told God I would be a missionary. That I would give up everything and follow Him to the darkest places. And I didn’t know that He would ask for me to leave behind my image, my status, my good girl persona. I didn’t know that it would take openness, and admitting my imperfections to draw close to God, or to anyone else. I didn’t know that He would ask me to break, so that He could finally fill me, finally win me. So that He could finally show me that I needed Him…I didn’t know it would look like this.
But despite it all I love that girl, standing in the dark wanting to save the world. I’d like to fulfill the promise she made. Here, on the other side of it all, I’d like to be filled with that fiery love, this time in thanks for the grace I’ve been given…I’d like to hang on to the way the words sounded, but this time I’d like to mean them. I’d like to walk them out with Him at my side, helping me, hiding me. I love the dreams I had, the things I wanted.
Something in me still wants to save the world. The difference is that today it isn’t me…and I realize it never could have been. It’s Christ, and He is able in my weakness.