(Cover art courtesy of kmerrick.com)
Kicking Butt and Taking Names
Excerpted from “Here Now” by Kate Merrick (Copyright 2019). Used with permission from HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. and Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.
The Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur. The day the Jews fast from eating and come before God in a posture of repentance. The day the Jews anticipate forgiveness, a day to start over. The day to examine the self, to be made aware of where one has gone awry, to make necessary edits. The day is marked by prayer, the singing of psalms, and welcoming the redline slashes through what needs to be let go. The introspection and correction might hurt a bit, but Yom Kippur is the solemn predecessor to a day of great joy, a day of feasting and celebration for the forgiveness of sins and an about-face turn.
Yom Kippur represents a clean slate, a chance to start over. The solemn hush we experienced while we watched it unfold held an undercurrent of joy, of expectation. The holy day invited engagement from these beloved people of God, acceptance of correction and the maturation to put it into practice. It required humility and submission, but it yielded great joy. That day felt surreal to us, as we in our everyday clothes watched this white-clad people, preparing to undergo transformation, pass before our eyes. It wasn’t a thing to be feared, this examination of the heart, but rather a thing to look forward to.
The day of purification is a lot like editing, whether it’s books, life, or relationships. It’s the engagement, the introspection. It’s the humility to see where we have mistakenly bought into what’s taking us in a wrong direction, and then trading that for what gets us back on track. It’s the confidence of a better result after the slashing red. It’s the acceptance, the correction. But mostly it’s the encouragement. We get a do-over; we get the fresh and invigorating feeling of letting go. And we get the anticipation of good things to come.
Letting go is often the hardest part. We can be made aware of what’s holding us back from the fullness of real life, but it’s another thing to pry it out of our stiff little fingers. We don’t want to give up the things we think we can’t live without. The little habits or beliefs or ways of being that we have become addicted to that numb us to reality. The things we have convinced ourselves help us navigate this world, yet in truth handicap us. And letting go of these things takes trusting that we have an Editor who has our best in mind. As believers in Jesus, this glorious atonement lasts all year long. Grace has been lavished on us, so we live in that gorgeous place, the place between the redlines of correction and the gift of revision. We don’t have to wait for Yom Kippur.
Both the peace and purification offered are received from a place of self- examination. Which things am I holding on to because of pride or fear or selfishness? What’s holding me back from pressing into my current circumstances? What attitudes do I have that are keeping me from the deep stuff of today? What is stopping me from loving hard, from working hard, from playing hard? What has become addiction that’s choking out real life? Asking the questions of what needs to go takes humility and submission, but after that comes the part that takes courage: the red slash. The necessary edits.
My guess is that we all have stuff to edit out of our lives, and because there is strength in the “me too,” I’ll go first. I’ve already talked about some of my first-round edits, things I have cut out of my life or that I have to consistently revisit season to season: social media, overcommitment, tech distractions. They’re just a smattering of the most obvious things that get me to tune out of the life in front of me and into a fabricated world of drama and chaos, so they are the first to go.
But just like in writing a book, another round of edits calls for the deeper work of a closer look, and it’s usually not quite as obvious. Sneaking around in my life’s manuscript I’ve found some destructive habits, attitudes, and choices that need slashing: negative self-talk, shoddy self- care, taking offense easily, believing the worst of people, believing the worst of myself, comparison, self-absorption, emotional distance, fear of intimacy, fear of loss, and debilitating what-ifs. I’ve seen these things scattered all through me, littering my manuscript and crowding out what’s good, but they’re surprisingly hard to part with. In a sad, dysfunctional way, I hang on to the negative self-talk as if it can do something for me, as if by pointing out my inner and outer flaws, I can better myself. And I hang on to the what-ifs, dwelling on what’s wrong in the world or what’s wrong in my relationships, feeding fear rather than feeding love. And I let the sickness of comparison worm its way into my thoughts until I loathe my life.
I want these things gone so the good can shine through. I want to throw off what’s hindering me from building a life in which everything is beautiful in its own time.
When I refuse to edit, the thoughts in my head push and jostle and drown out the sweet harmonic voices of grace and love and hope. Yet slashing what crowds out the simple loveliness of real life is always worth the effort. It feels like a loss, but in truth it’s pure gain. And while sometimes when we take our redlined junk to the Lord it can feel like walking down death row, it’s actually more like the holy hush before the atonement. It’s like the people in white, gliding up to the synagogue to meet with the One who loves them: solemn, yet hopeful. And giving up the things that crowd out what’s good, true, and beautiful is a loving act toward those who love you. It’s cleaning what’s smudging our soul windows so that we can better be image bearers of a God of peace and love; it’s submitting to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and receiving beauty in return.
Like Mary of Bethany sitting before Jesus, I am fully present and full of peace when I learn to listen to his voice in the middle of the hustle. And like Mary of Bethany pouring out perfume at his feet, when I hear his voice above the accuser, above the critics whether real or imagined, when I hear words of love and joy, I have discovered the better thing. We were made for this. We were made to receive the peace Jesus offers in the atonement and to offer our stories in return to an Editor who has our best story in mind.
We have the invitation of prayer rather than self- reliance. We have the invitation of the Spirit rather than the flesh. Of forgiveness rather than condemnation. Of intimacy rather than distance, of belief rather than distrust. It’s the best invitation I’ve ever gotten. Let’s do it. Let’s submit to the Lord and be willing to face the redlines. Let’s engage in the process and write notes in the margins, willing to hear some hard things for the good of the story.
What are the deepest, truest, most beautiful things you want out of life? What is God speaking over you? Have you asked for the courage to leave behind the habits and attitudes and choices that draw you away from peace, rather than toward? It’s time to take stock, to listen hard, to make pivotal choices that will mark the rest of your life. It’s a time of moving in a holy hush, seeking God’s best, listening to what he has to say, then walking in it, pure white. Purification, grace-laden and hopeful.
For more on Kate visit kmerrick.com