Lent 13: God forbid...

Romans 6:1-11

1 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Truth-telling time: as an only child, only grandchild, type A, perfectionistic, more than slightly obsessive compulsive individual, I can be pretty hyper self-critical. Ask any of my friends. When it comes to school, work, or life in general, they usually have to keep me from beating myself to a pulp—physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. When I would hurt a friend or betray their trust growing up, I'd end up being angrier with myself than they usually were, apologizing profusely and asking their forgiveness sometimes for months after the incident took place. God forbid I show myself any grace...

When I was in middle school, there was an older man and his wife at my church who befriended me. In those days, I went to church alone, taking rides from friends whenever I could, walking or riding my bike when no other option was available. Danny was his name (I cannot, for the life of me, recall his last name, much less his wife's name). I was a shy kid back then—at least by standards set for middle school boys. I didn't enjoy being around my peers. I felt awkward. Oddly enough, I was most comfortable with people who was 40 and older. Danny, a gentle man in his 50s, and I clicked almost instantly.

Danny loved the Bible. As far as anyone could tell, he knew it inside and out, able to quote chapter and verse at the drop of a pin. And if there was one thing Danny was passionate about, it was instilling that love for Scripture into others, especially "young people." Given my proficiency for memorization, and given my own love for "the Word," I decided to ask Danny if he would help me become more serious about my own knowledge base of these 66 books. He accepted the challenge with sincere excitement. I had no clue what I was in for.

His first challenge to me just happened to be today's passage. More specifically, Danny charged me with memorizing the whole of Romans 6. He even had a small (and I mean could-fit-int0-the-palm-of-my-hand) sized copy of Romans that he lent me. He'd let me come to him in increments, but my progress would need to be cumulative, resulting in my memorizing the full chapter. My reward: a super-awesome Looney Tunes tie (I loved ties back then... still do really).

Little did I know what impact this endeavor would have on my spiritual and emotional health and wellness. As a pre-teen already aware of my sexual orientation who just happened to hit puberty far earlier than any of my peers, who was already struggling with the dreaded four-letter "L" word, Romans 6 was a repeated proverbial club over the head... a self-induced one at that. I should have asked for a different passage, but there was no way for me to safely and comfortably be that honest and vulnerable with a conservative straight man, certainly not one 40 years my senior.

I pressed on, ultimately memorizing the entire chapter and earning my tie, but at a great cost. It's hard to not read this passage and envision the tone intended by Paul. While the NRSV uses the phrase "By no means," the KJV uses the much harsher language of "God forbid." Even to this day when I'm in a period of struggling with a particular sin, bad habit, or vice, this is the first passage that comes to mind. I even find the voices in my head spouting off "God forbid" in a tone that would make my mother proud, especially on one of her more angry days.

These days I tend to not use this passage to obliterate my self-worth or destroy my hopes and endeavors of being a good man, of being better than I am. Mor often than not, I use it to remind myself of two things.

First, always try. As Thomas Merton prays,

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Second, I'm not alone in this journey. We all make mistakes. We all fall short. Most of the time it feels like we're tripping over one another along the way. But if I give up and if I buy into the lie that I'm truly alone, I do a disservice to myself and to my fellow sojourners.

God forbid I let my mistakes define me. God forbid I stop trying. God forbid I think I'm alone. God forbid...