Monday, September 23, 2013

Freedom and how cars here stay filthy

I come from a land of clean cars. And not simply clean. We're talking polished, perfect. Pretty much every other car in south Orange County is sparkling and shiny and imported.

My dad is one such fan of the flawless, speck-free, black sports car. Growing up, I observed him not only washing his cars every few days, but also using a long-armed duster to daily fluff off any dust that would dare enter the garage and land on a hood.

When we moved here to Montana in April, within a matter of days, I noticed how completely filthy all the cars were. It was still snowing, but infrequently then, which left a layer of slush on the roads, mixed with mud from the thawing earth. And I saw something which I had never seen before. This magical road mixture leaves an awe-inspiring display of frozen mud stalactites along the entire bottom perimeter of every car. In addition, literally within days, my car had a layer of frozen grime all over the surface that I have never experienced. After grocery shopping, I shivered to have to shut the trunk and touch the surface of my filthy car. It was gross.

My first thought was, "Wow, we'll have to get our cars washed a lot." But I was baffled by the lack of car washes here - in fact, I've yet to see a full service one. My second thought was, "Well, wait. The weather doesn't seem to let up long enough to make getting a car wash worth it."

My third thought was exhilarating. "Maybe no one washes their cars all winter. Maybe I can stop having to keep my car clean altogether..." All signs pointed to freedom.

Freedom from having to keep my car sparkling and shiny was a totally new concept. I mean, I've never been great at it to begin with, but I always felt I should be better. I knew I could have been better, and felt pretty regular guilt that I wasn't. But now, it's literally impossible to keep a shiny, clean car. And that freedom feels pretty sweet.

You knew I was going somewhere with this, didn't you? Well, today in church, something synced. The pastor was talking about Luke 5, Jesus in the boat telling Peter, "Throw out your nets." And Peter, a professional fisherman, balks a little at Jesus. He's failed all night long, and is sure the idea of another cast is pointless. Yet he does it, and of course, when they pull them up, the nets are so full, they begin to break from the weight of the fish. Peter's response is what is interesting. He's not grateful or overjoyed. He's so deeply ashamed that he tells Jesus to get away from him because he is just a hot mess.

Peter thought that if Jesus left him alone, He'd have time to clean up. Wash off the grime of his sin. Present himself shiny to Jesus later. Peter really, really wanted to scrub his own slate clean before being with his Lord. I totally get that.

I'm not talking outer appearance. I don't usually struggle with wanting to keep up a good image of myself to others. I struggle more with trying to be my own savior and compulsively tidying my heart before I stand before Jesus. It's all fueled by shame. That's just my bent. If you've been around here long enough, you know that already. I feel like I have to talk myself up with truth and wipe the tears away, sometimes, before I can get to business with the Father. I get so ashamed of my mess. I really want to be shiny and polished first.

Rather, I wanted to be, past tense. God has grown me a lot in this area. I've written about it quite a bit too. I even have a tag on the right called "shame is my game," because it has been, for a long time. And so grace as a remedy has been a continual and hard-wrought lesson, no, theme, in my recent years.

Last week, the temps dropped low enough to sprinkle the mountain tops with snow. I took the picture above trying to capture it. Today, sitting in church, I realized that as I will grow accustomed to rolling a filthy car for the next 8 months or so, I have already grown much more accustomed to rolling a sinful heart without the compulsion to polish up before I come to Him. This is the freedom in which I've been living for a short while now: to come to Jesus in my times with him and say, "Lord, wow, I'm a hot mess right now!" not buckled over in shame as in the past, but with self-acceptance in my heart, remembering the power of grace, and with a hopeful expectation that He will receive me with loving, open arms. I'm so very confident in this now that shame has less room to push me around.

Condemnation's underlying tool is fear, of course. Our hearts need love so very badly that we tremble and quickly embrace the fear that we may not get it. We may not be worthy. We may have missed the mark too many times. We may be unlovable and end up abandoned.

But for me, getting out of the grip of shame and condemnation has been like strengthening a weak muscle. With practice, the muscle gets stronger. Walk out of the grip of shame over and over, and soon it's power over you is broken. Any power shame does have over me is only what I've willingly given it anyway.

And after thirty-plus years of walking with Him, maybe all this means I've finally understood the gospel. It's the simplest thing of all, and I've read it a zillion times: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) Not after Sunday when we cleaned our slates for the week, not because we were disciplined in brushing off all the sin dust every day. He didn't die for us once we proved ourselves worthy by trying hard to clean up our acts. Jesus died for us while we were filthy and had no hope of ever getting clean.

The weather in this world is just too harsh, too dirty to make my clean-up act worth it. Your storms and my storms are too constant. The minute I come up for air from one trial, another one starts, and Lord knows I NEVER deal with them perfectly. I wrestle and battle and only sometimes get it right. I am totally waving the white flag of trying to keep my spirit clean and tidy on my own. Jesus is enough. His life, His death, and His resurrection is more than enough. He washes me with grace. So very much grace, which is the antidote to shame. 

To believe in that grace, to expect it, to walk under it's banner while covered in grime that makes you shiver, well that's freedom.

Just think. All winter long, my filthy car will be a beautiful reminder of the gospel.



  1. Leslie, I loved this post as of course I too came from the land (OC) of shiny and squeaky clean (at least on the outside) to move to Wyoming, another land where you get used to everything being dirty! I loved your analogy and you are absolutely right we can never clean up "enough", but by God's amazing grace He already sees us as clean and righteous. He already washed as white as the freshly fallen snow that is soon to come by the blood of our sweet Jesus!

  2. You need to write a book! I love how you deliver your heart in words. It's a beautiful thing.