I’ll call her Angel.
Because that’s the last way she would think of herself.
Her face was lined with tears and desperation, with guilt and shame and seemingly endless self-doubt.
“I don’t know if I’m saved. I can’t escape the things I’ve done in my past, not even in my dreams. How do I know I haven’t committed the ‘sin unto death’? I know Hebrews chapter six – that it’s impossible for one who has known Christ and falls away to be brought back to repentance. How do I know that’s not me? I don’t know how to repent. I don’t know how to shed the guilt. I don’t know how to pray. I’ve talked to at least twenty pastors locally. Some tell me that as long as I believe the core doctrines of historic Christianity my salvation is not in doubt. Others tell me I’m obsessing on my guilt and just need to let it all go. Others tell me I’m a mental case and need professional help. I don’t know what to do! Why doesn’t God hear me!? How could he ever hear me?”
All this and more poured out of her through gut-wrenching tears and sobs in a thirty-minute flood of words that went on until she was exhausted.
I told her I had seldom heard such passionate prayer or witnessed such soulful repentance. In my mind, I thought, “Sometimes we just know too much Bible and it screws with us.”
I told her I felt Abba’s heart for her. I felt his heart, his love all over her.
And through my own tears, I prayed with Angel.
And considering how many churches and pastors she had been through, I couldn’t help but yell out in frustration after she left, “Is this the best we can do? Miserable comforters! Impotent pastors! If this is the product of all our programs and preaching and pulpits, please, for God’s sake, let us close the doors!”
Then I felt better. Sort of.
Maybe I’m being too hard on us clergy-types, I thought.
And then, getting past myself again, I saw her.
Then I saw that despised man, that tax-collector, that religious reject, that nobody standing far off from the religious crowd, from the glorious altar and temple, standing in the shadows, beating his chest, weeping out that prayer of despair, “God be merciful to me, the sinner.”
Jesus said he went home with God’s approval, with the Father’s smile, with a huge thumb’s up outshining Noah’s rainbow. But I’m pretty sure all the tax man could see was the clouds.
How many, like Angel, have the sun of God’s love shining off their faces but simply can’t see it?
How many of us beat up and berate ourselves for failing this or that set of internal or external expectations and requirements while Abba is practically screaming over us “I LOVE YOU.” Like Annie in What Dreams May Come, we can’t hear the voice passionately calling out our name, as we burrow ever more deeply into our own loneliness and despair.
We are all Annie. We are Angels, you and I.
If only we could see it.