I’ve been thinking a lot about contracts lately. Probably because I spend my days in the legal field and I work for a company that is built on contracts that spell out the services we provide to our customers. Some are more of a handshake, “you like us a lot so you will pick us to provide services for you when you have the opportunity to do so.” Others are more specific, “you promise to do x, y, and z and because you will do these things (pay us, etc.) we will provide x, y, and z services.” This feels a lot like the relationship I had with God when I was Mormon.
I believed that if I held my callings, attended church, taught my family, read the scriptures, attended the Temple (participating in my own ordinances and those on behalf of others who had passed away) I would one day gain entry into the “highest level of heaven” — the celestial kingdom — where not only would I live in God’s constant presence, but I would be exhalted, and together with my sealed husband, we would become Gods and Goddesses in our own right.
I believed these things whole-heartedly. If I did x, y, and z then I would be granted x, y, and z. I had no doubt God worked this way. And it seemed like a simple transaction, until I breached the contract.
Sometimes I wasn’t super awesome at holding Family Home Evening (an evening with my family where we would share a spiritual message, play games, and have a treat). Sometimes I didn’t read my scriptures, for days or weeks at a time. I wasn’t consistent in my Temple attendance. Sometimes I was just too plain tired or lazy to crawl out of bed on Sunday and get to my church meetings. And one year I was struggling with all of it and started to have doubts about the whole checklist thing and a few other things I had stumbled upon in church materials so I withheld my full 10% tithe — my bishop responded by pulling my Temple Recommend card rather than addressing my concerns. And yes, I know he was a man, my bishop, but he was acting on behalf of God and when you believe that God was once man and you are before someone who represents His will, this was a big blow. Sure I was offered a series of things, of steps I could and should take to go through the repentence process, but then this is an if/then as well — if I begin tithing again and attending my meetings on the regular I would be offered forgiveness and my Temple Recommend would be fully restored – we’ll check back in in three months and see how you’re doing on the road to redemption.
Being a bit of a type A personality, a bit of a perfectionist, this approach took a real toll on me. Striving to “be like Him” meant we were striving for perfection. And when I couldn’t achieve it, or really even come close to it, I felt like a failure, which spoke directly to my self-worth. And when I started feeling less then, I started feeling unworthy, and when I felt unworthy I felt unclean in the eyes of God so I became bashful about going to Him. After years of this pattern I was broken. And in my brokeness I cried out to Him. Literally. In my closet, on my knees, I cried. And the answer I kept receiving was simple. Read my Word. So I did.
I bought a new bible — a bible written in simple language — and I read it. And the more I read, especially in the New Testament, the more I learned of Grace and love. I didn’t find checklists, I didn’t find a bunch of requirements, I found only one. We need only believe to be saved.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
~ Romans 10:9
I can’t begin to express how freeing this was — to understand that faith, not works for our own gain, is what God wants from us — and how it forever changed my relationship with Him.
There are those reading this who will be quick to cite Paul in James 2:26 …Faith without works is dead, but that isn’t the same as saying works = gain. What Paul is actually teaching is quite the opposite. Paul doesn’t talk about what we get for doing good works. He is simply sharing that works is an expression of our faith. And through that expression, through good deeds onto others, their lives will be touched and they may feel God’s love and want to also come onto faith.
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
~ James 2:14
I am so thankful to no longer have a transactional relationship with God. I have no list of “have to’s” to check off to gain anything. Because I have faith and feel His constant love for me I strive to do better in my actions. Not perfectly, just better every day. When I make a choice that might not be the best way to approach a situation, I no longer have a middle-man (a bishop) that I need to go to. I just go directly to God, and I know through loving grace I am granted a do-over, or a do-better at least. And sure, there are consequences for choices, for my actions, because that is how we learn, but it’s not a punishment because I didn’t perform well on the “test”. God’s desire is to bring us closer to Him not keep us away from Him.
One of the ladies in my bible study reminded me last night of how constant God is. He is always there — if we don’t feel His presence, it’s not because He moved, it’s because we did – He is there with arms wide open, all we need to do is run towards them to feel their embrace. When I let go of the checklists that were made by man, not by God, the guilt and shame went with them. By teaching me about His grace, God has also taught me to have grace for myself. A lesson I had never understood through all the if/then scenarios. Today I have shed the transactional nature of my previous understanding of God. By doing so I have gained a true relationship with my Father. And for that, I will be forever grateful.