Today I want to deviate from our normal reflection on scripture, don’t worry, we’ll pick back up with Thomas tomorrow. Today is April 16, and for those who have known me for years, you know that is an important day in my life each year. First, this is my Mama’s birthday. Mama turns 91 today. I wish I could go and see her today, but in light of where we find ourselves, it’s probably best if we continue to practice good social distancing.
Today is also the day 22 years ago when my Mama Sarah was murdered by my biological father. My Mama is actually my maternal grandmother; Mama Sarah is “mom.” I was just about to turn two myself; those who know me know that this is often a difficult day for me.
But something interesting has happened this year. I think the Lord enlightened me to understand something and helped me really come to grips with the pain and reality of this tragedy that has shaped so much of my life.
For years, my wife has wanted me to watch a movie that she loved entitled “The Secret Life of Bees.” It’s a very powerful movie; it touches on issues of race, family, and so many things. But for me, the thing that struck home was a powerful scene where Lily, a young girl who accidentally shot and killed her mother, now sees her friend in danger because of actions she believed that she had taken, she falls into grief. She feels that she is unworthy of love because of what she feels like she has done. It is her fault. Because of her actions (in her mind) she was irredeemable, she was unworthy of being loved.
When we watched this movie, I started crying. That resonated with me so deeply. I think that touched upon something I had felt, deep in my heart, for all of my life. My Mama Sarah was killed because of me. She did not want to be trapped in an abusive relationship; she did not want to raise me in such a manner, so she left. And it was her leaving that brought forth her murder.
In my mind, in my subconscious, it was then my fault. My existence caused this thing to happen.
That has led me in many ways to feel unworthy. Like I don’t measure up. Like I’m not good enough. Like something bad will always happen, it is always around the corner. Now, it produced some good things, things that Jesus has redeemed, a good work ethic, confidence that He will always work things out, somehow, a comfort in times of tragedy (good for a pastor!), and the foundational concept of grace and forgiveness.
But for so much of my life, I did not feel like I measured up or that I was good enough. I never had the confidence that we have instilled within our children, that they are enough, that they can do it, that they are worthy of love.
I come to realize that I did not have because I blamed myself for the tragedy. Now I know I would never say that, but deep down somewhere, this was my fault, and I was due whatever punishment that was coming. I know, I know. I know it sounds crazy, but it is true. It wasn’t until this year that I truly realized my Mama Sarah’s murder was not my fault. It wasn’t. I’m not at fault for that.
I spent a lot of my life learning through discipline to be graceful and kind to other people. I give grace freely and generously to others, often too much. I know I probably can drive colleagues a little crazy with my graciousness; I need more of a spine. But, the one person I have never, ever, ever been gracious with is myself. I’ve never (in my mind) preached a good sermon, or done a particularly good job, and am always quick to take the blame for mistakes, whether they are mine or not because I deserve that blame when someone leaves the church – my fault. Attendance down – my fault. Anything bad happens – my fault. I had come to believe that like that I was unworthy of grace. But it just that. A lie.
I have come to realize that I am worthy of grace myself. I am. For the first time in my life, on April 16, I don’t in some way hate myself. I don’t feel unworthy. I don’t feel like a failure. I feel like a loved child of God. I feel worthy of His grace.
And guess what. You are too. We find ourselves in an unprecedented place. We don’t know what tomorrow may look like. There is so much uncertainty. So much, we don’t know. Some much we don’t understand. You may feel alone, afraid, overwhelmed like you don’t know what to do. You may feel like a failure. You may be working full time, teaching your kids, balancing your checkbook, and feel exhausted. You may have made some major mistakes in your life. You may have blown in it some way. You may feel like you don’t measure up. You may struggle with the same sin, the same addiction, the same whatever.
You find yourself where I found myself for many, many years. You may feel unworthy of love.
See that for what it is—a lie. You are worthy. You are. Not for anything you’ve done or for anything you’ve gotten right. You are worthy because you are made in the image of God. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of grace. You are worthy of all this.
It has taken me many years to stop believing that lie that told me I was unworthy. But I am. And so are you. Know that. Know that deep in your heart today. You are worthy of that love, from God, from others, and even from yourself. Today know that truth.