Do not be alarmed.
This is not a drill.
I’m actually writing again.
I have admittedly continued putting off writing in here because I simply haven’t been able to trust myself to talk about the topics that have come to mind without being snarky, offensive, and basically unhelpful in any way (except in starting bicker-fights… and I’m really good at that. Like… deserve a bicker-fight gold medal…. I’ve had some pretty stellar moments on Facebook lately. Not actually very proud of them at this point….)
And I came to a realization the other day… the reason I haven’t been able to trust myself on the topics that have come to mind is because those topics simply haven’t been worth writing about.
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8
If I’m being completely honest, the things I’ve let my mind focus on as of late have been more about being right rather than what is right (and there is such a difference.) I’ve been very good at the “true”, snarky, witty, and sometimes cutting comment. I’ve even been factually or morally “right” when making them.
But I pause when I ask myself if they were also honorable… pure… lovely… and admirable.
Well, I’ve effectively made myself uncomfortable now. Good. Glad to be a part of it.
Looking back on it, I completely understand why I’ve been focused on these things. Naturally, it’s a much deeper issue than I initially wanted to believe. However, I don’t think I’m alone struggling with this issue, so I think this might actually be something honorable, pure, lovely, admirable, and yes… even true and right to talk about.
Have you ever tried to justify something you’ve done? Maybe you acted a certain way, said something you regretted, or just plain blew up. I think we’ve all done that. I don’t know about any of you, but my natural instinct is to immediately try and explain why I acted, said, blew up, etc. I try to justify it.
My dad has a lovely saying. “Excuses are not reasons (and reasons are not excuses).” If I had a quarter for every time I heard it growing up, I wouldn’t have student loan debt now (ba dum CHING!)
If we’re being completely transparent and truthful, most justifications we offer for bad behavior are just excuses, not reasons. We were angry. We were hurt. We were right. Too many Christians use being “right” as an excuse to further wound the wounded… to the point that it’s sadly what American Christians have become known for. Our justification? “But we’re right.”
Maybe so. But are our methods honorable, pure, lovely, and admirable?
There’s a deeper level to justification though, one that we rarely take a good look at. But it’s the root of every other justification we offer.
“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
I was considering finding a cute way to get around to this, but I’m just going to be straightforward about it.
Too many of us are filling our minds with thoughts of trying to justify our own lives.
“What?” you may be asking your computer/phone/electronic device screen right now. “Justify my life? What does that even mean?”
Fair enough. Here’s what I mean. I think in the core of all of us there is the deeply rooted question of “What makes me worthwhile? Why do I exist?” We spend our entire lives trying to justify our own existence. We pour ourselves into different things that we feel make us worthwhile.
“I’m a good spouse.”
“I’m a good parent.”
“I’m a good *insert job title here*.”
“I’m a good *insert political party here*.”
“I’m a good American.”
“I’m a good Christian.”
Are any of those things inherently bad? Of course not! We should try to be good spouses, parents, etc. It’s not the things themselves, but the elevation of them out of their rightful place that turns them from virtue to vice.
When we dedicate our entire existences to being those things because we think we’re somehow earning our lives, we have put those things above God. That’s a little thing we like to call idolatry.
Look back at Ephesians 2. We can’t earn it.
If you are a Christian, then your entire justification rests in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross, not anything you can do or be. Anything else we try to use to justify ourselves has been put in His place. And we know that, of course. We’ll preach it all day every day.
But do you know how to find out if you’re justifying yourself some other way? Let that thing get blown up or threatened… and watch what happens. Make no mistake, anything you can possibly use to justify yourself will get threatened and eventually blown up in some way.
Man… I have had so many self-justifications just absolutely self-destruct in my face. I never realized I was placing so much stock in being those things until I witnessed my own reactions to them being stripped away or damaged.
I’ve justified myself as a good wife.
I’ve justified myself as a good mom.
Ask any mom how long that lasts before you feel like the worst mom ever.
I’ve justified myself as the “good girl”.
Then tried desperately to hide the bad things I’ve done because it might hurt that image.
I’ve justified myself as the “cool, laid back chick.”
I can flip out just as awesomely as the grandest diva.
I’ve justified myself as the tough, independent woman.
And come home every night to self-inflicted and maintained exhaustion and despair.
More recently, I let my job start to sneak up on me. I’m in my eleventh year of teaching now, and I’ve worked hard over the years to build an atmosphere where kids can feel safe, accepted, and free to be themselves. Not a thing in the world wrong with that, right? Except that it’s become a point of pride. I began to justify myself as the wise, accepting teacher the kids could always come to if they needed anything.
Then over the past ten months, I’ve had multiple incidents absolutely demolish this perfect little justification I had started to build in my head. And all of a sudden, I began to despair. I began to flail. I began to get angry. I began desperately searching for something else to justify myself with.
I found my snark, wit, and cutting remarks… all in the name of others being stupid and me being right. Because hey… if my justification has fallen apart, I might as well share the joy with others, right?
It’s a path to bitterness, and I’ve taken too many steps down it.
I’m not confessing this now to have anyone try to talk me out of it or comfort me. I’m not trying to elevate myself as enlightened or whatever. I’m not even trying to clear my conscience. I’m actually starting to feel a lot more at peace with it now.
Because even my pitiful attempts at self-justification can’t remove God’s justification of me.
I am justified through grace. I am made whole by a gift. It has nothing to do with anything I can or will ever do. And doesn’t the pride in me just hate that?
I want to earn it. Because when I earn it, I have control over it. For good or for ill, if I’m justified by my own actions then at least it’s in my hands.
That’s both the struggle and the beauty of Christianity. We both can’t and don’t have to earn it. It’s both a frustration and a relief at the same time.
I encourage you to take a hard look at your life. What things are untouchable? And if they do get touched, what happens? What things have you made idolatrous justifications for your own existence on this lovely little Earth? Righteousness? Patriotism? Career? Political ideals (yep, going there even during election time)? Parenthood? Prestige? Being right?
Back to that first verse. When it comes down to it… what can we possibly think about all the time that is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable? I can think of pretty much one thing:
You can think about God and what He chose to do to bring you back to Him.
You can think about the justification we have been given through Christ.
Let that sink in… and watch the pressure of every other justification fade away. Focus daily on who you are in Christ, and watch how the other good things become just a part of your life instead of who you are.
And then watch how much healthier and happier they settle into your heart.
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” – Romans 5:1-4
It’s time to stop justifying our justifications (Are you tired of that word yet? Too bad! … okay… maybe the snark isn’t all gone yet…. Work in progress.) It’s time to accept that it’s out of our hands. Instead, let’s rest our identity in what Christ did for us.
Maybe that’s when we really see ourselves begin to become like Him.