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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: guilt

Atonement. The End.

jenmichel@me.com

I traveled to Delaware this past weekend to speak at the church where my college friend’s husband serves as pastor. And it was this weekend that I had my first awkward moments as a blogger.

On the night I arrived, after our conversation had stretched close to midnight around their long kitchen table, my friend began giving me instructions for using her Keurig the next morning.

“No, no, hun,” her husband quickly interrupted. “Don’t you remember she likes the French press?”

I was left only momentarily wondering how they knew this little factoid.

And it was the next morning that a tall, pretty young woman introduced herself to me before the tea. She’s shaking my hand and smiling, telling me that she’d been reading my blog and enjoying it.

There are facts she cites to establish the intimacy she has with the mechanics of my life.

I feel awkward. My life is no paragon of virtue.

In fact, in the week leading up to the event, I am conscious of how irritable I’m acting. Hustled by deadlines, I am quick to snap at the kids, quick to wish away my responsibilities as wife and mother, quick to hope for some quiet, permanent corner of the world into which I can withdraw and work without interruption.

And all week long, I sit down with the Bible in the morning. And I feel nothing. And I hear nothing. And sooner rather than later, I bring to an end what feels to be nothing more than a rote exercise – one I’d hardly constitute as faith.

Do you go speak for God when you fail to hear Him speaking?

Do you go claiming to serve God when it’s your family’s needs you’ve been willfully ignoring?

All this incongruence – between the life of my words and the life of my skin – it heaps up like one big heap of accusation.

And that’s why I wake with the pit in my stomach on Saturday morning. It’s early and dark. I lie there sleepily and feel the familiar knot of anxiety tug, churn, and settle deeper.

Isaiah 6.

Somehow, this passage rises to conscious thought, and I’m out of bed, slipping noiselessly into the kitchen to make the coffee. (Yes, French press.)

And I begin reading Isaiah 6, and it’s as if finally, I can hear more than the leaden silence of the past week.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.”

Where am I, Jen?

Seated on a throne. And what would you do or fail to do, what you say or fail to say, that would change my sovereign position of power and authority?

If that were the only reassurance I had had, it would have been enough to calm all the jitters. But I found more, even more.

“Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

And so, Isaiah had his own mirror? And in it, all his own incongruence stared back at him?

Of course.

And what was it that stood between the agony of that reflection and the answer to the call? What makes sinners so daring to believe that they could be commissioned for service?

ATONEMENT.

“One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for.’”

Here was the consoling reminder that God never uses perfect people – or perfectly confident people. It’s not our capacities or confidence that qualify us for ministry.

It’s the blood of Jesus.

I took that with me into the tea. I beat back the torrent of self-doubt with two words.

Jesus’ blood.

And the weekend was so NOT about me coming to share some pithy word with that crowded gymnasium full of women. As is typical with God, there was more goodness to be had than I could ever have imagined, goodness that I’ve since been mulling over, goodness that made me cry all the way from the moment I landed in Toronto, walked down the jetbridge, through the airport terminal, and out to meet a silver van packed with eager kids.

But that story, that goodness, will have to kept for another day.

 

 

Moms on Trial: How Judgment Became Today's Parenting Advice

jenmichel@me.com

It’s not yet 6am, and I am ticking today’s to-dos off the list. I add mayonnaise to the mental grocery list and feel life breathe hot on my neck. These past 11 years, I’ve given birth to five babies. Most days, the responsibilities heap like laundry and sit heavy on my chest while the sun sleeps. Motherhood is hard work. It is a sacred calling as well. So I can appreciate Michelle Obama’s recent remarks at the Democratic Convention. “My most important title is still ‘mom-in-chief,” declared the First Lady. I can also be made to agree with the woman who tweeted post-Convention that she longed “for the day when powerful women don’t need to assure Americans that they’re moms above all else.”

* * * * *

Read more of my post about how Christian women can opt out of joining the public juries facing American moms today. I'm writing at Her.meneutics, Christianity Today's blog for women, and you can read the full-length article here.

Empty Pockets

jenmichel@me.com

Too many of the big religious words go undefined these days. And I'm one for words.

I can sink my teeth for days into a single word or a short phrase. I have little capacity for more. The sheer noise of this household, the demands of our schedules, the insistence of my technological devices,the quiet voice of the Spirit. Everyday I feel battered by the simplest of decisions: to what do I pay attention?

And so it is that simple words and phrases have a way of arresting my attention and capturing my imagination. I knead the words, pulling and stretching and letting them rise, hoping that something permanent will lodge within me and do that mysterious and invisible work of transformation.

At the communion table this past Sunday, our pastor spoke these two words, words that have rattled around in my soul over the last several days.

Infinite obligation.

The context of his words, as you can imagine, was Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross for all humanity. But rather than referring to our guilt as sin, he phrased it like this, as infinite obligation.

Those words pierced me in a new way. A sinner, I know I am. Anger. Pride. Hypocrisy. Fear. In defiance of all my best efforts, they cling to me, lurking in the shadows, publicizing that I am chronically failing God, myself, and the ones I love most fiercely.

But infinite obligation?

The story of the Prodigal Son, to which I referred yesterday, is a story of obligations. Against cultural convention, the younger son demands his share of the inheritance before his father's death. He wants it now.

It's a shameless act. A flagrant kind of slap in the face.

And of course the inheritance buys him his share of fun, but it's only a matter of time until the funds run dry. At his most desperate, he decides to return home.

"I shall get up and go to my father, and I'll say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don't deserve to be called your son any longer. Make me like one of your hired hands.'"

And if you know the story, you remember that it is when the son is still a long way off, barely visible on the horizon, that the father sees him, gathers his robes and runs to him, announcing to that his son, his lost son, is found! Kill the best calf, bring the best robe, we'll throw the kind of party that no one will forget!

Because Jesus is such a masterful storyteller, the parable of the Prodigal Son offers some many layers of meaning, too many to explore here. (I highly recommend the book, Prodigal God, by Tim Keller.)

But one thing the story does do is explain a word that wants to wriggle out of our hands. A word we're convinced is outdated. A word that makes us uncomfortable, but a word that is uniquely biblical and indispensable for describing just what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Repentance.

The son came home with empty pockets. He had no excuses to offer his father.  The damage was irreparable, the obligation infinite.

And the father received him because his love for his son, screw-up that he was, was just that big.

Repentance is an empty-pockets kind of moment and requires just enough faith to come home.

Before we've yet reached the door, the Father's love silences our speeches and receives us, screw-ups that we are.

It's just that big.