Last night I finished Anne Lamott’s beautiful book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. There is so much goodness in this short book that I could go on and on about it but there was this one line that arrested me which I needed to get down in writing before the impression it made upon me was forgotten.
Before I share the quote, some context. She is riffing on Saint Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:6ff) affliction, something he could not shake but it helped him learn humility and reliance upon God’s grace. She alludes to this passage in the context of admitting her own character defects, like being judgmental and conceited. These are “thorns” she would rather not have and wrestles against them, sometimes successfully, other times not so much. And then she writes the line which stirred my soul:
We don’t know if Paul was ever healed of his affliction. I do know that being told I could keep my awfulness made holding on to it much less attractive.
I don’t know if Anne meant this the way I took it, but when I read these words what I heard God say to me was,
Chad, you can keep the stuff that is making you miserable if you wish. I am going to love you, anyway.
This is such good news to someone like me, who, historically would hang on to my character defects like Gollum holding onto his precious ring. What’s more, I would cling to them even tighter if I thought that your love for me was conditioned upon me letting them go.
Paradoxically, my disease often led me to cling tighter to the things I suspected were preventing people from loving me well. Maybe this is because I’m super stubborn. Maybe it’s because my disease needed this in order to thrive. If you won’t love me for who I am, it told me, than I’ll just act out.
But upon reading Anne’s line above, the insanity of all of that made sense to me. I heard God say to me that he was going to love me regardless of my “thorn.” God’s love for me isn’t conditioned upon me letting go of my awfulness.
Surrounded by God’s unconditional love makes holding on to my character defects, my disease, my awfulness far less appealing. My addiction has, upon this realization, nothing or no one to rail against or stubbornly defy. It has no one to blame, no one upon whom to justify it’s self-damning cycle of insanity upon.
God says to you and I, hey, you can continue being miserable if you’d like, I’m going to love you, anyway. Somehow that makes hanging on to my junk seem like a colossal waste of time and energy. Would you agree?