Escaping Rabbit Trails

The gray clouds, heavy with rain, should have been my first indication of the day that lay ahead of me. Just days before my surgery to remove a tumor that damaged nerves in my foot, I was barely keeping it together. Jeff, my husband, had left early that morning for work, and already there had been several disasters before 8:15. It was an awful morning after a horrible day following a miserable week.

Despite these disasters, I made it to a women’s Bible study at my church. Ironically, the discussion was about living devotionally, with a constant awareness of God’s goodness and presence. The author of our study book, The Good and Beautiful Life, shared ways he tried this in his own life, which some people  in our group felt read a bit like a giant spiritual “to do” list (despite the author’s stated hope it wouldn’t be interpreted as such).

The different ways people responded to the reading caught my attention. Some tended toward a “main idea” approach to the chapter (seeing devotional living as  an invitation to joy through awareness of God’s presence and action in our daily, moment-to-moment lives). Others saw a “details” approach (heaping guilt, shame, and frustration on top of other tasks on an already overloaded spiritual checklist).

Our varied responses to the chapter reminded me of my time teaching writing to 3rd graders. The delicate balance between communicating a main idea while breathing life into the story with supporting details is a tall order for students. Many fall victim to the siren’s call of the dreaded “rabbit trail,” derailing a story and casting the main idea aside  in hot pursuit of more interesting details. The scope of the story is lost completely when the focus is on detail alone, becoming a shallow, incomplete representation of the original greater truth.

I was struck by the parallel between the main idea/details paradigm from 3rd- grade writing and my own life. That very morning, I focused on the details of  feeling alone, hurt, and “not enough” rather than the main idea: that God loves and cares for, heals, sustains, and never abandons me

More often than I’d like to admit, I get caught up in the “to dos” on my list instead of focusing on my primary mission to be fully present with my kids (a more challenging task than you might expect). I’ve allowed difficult circumstances to overshadow my awareness of God’s goodness. My focus seems prone to wander in a land of details rather than to hold fast to the main idea.

This led me to think about the places that we might get caught in the same trap as followers of Christ.  Places where our focus somehow shifts from the main idea of radical, unmerited, redeeming grace and rests instead on shame, guilt, or judgment. Have we lost track of our own desperate need for (and receipt of) mercy and instead settled on judgment and condemnation rather than the joy, freedom and welcome we’ve experienced through Jesus?

Like teaching “main idea” in 3rd grade, it’s a tall order to figure out.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect action plan, air-tight theology, or tried-and-true answers. (I suspect that none of us do, though we might portray otherwise.) I wonder if our wrestling through these questions, as a community, might be the first step in drawing closer to the truth.

What about you?  What is your understanding of the ‘main idea’ of Jesus?  How do you work to firmly anchor yourself in that truth?

One step further: how can we faithfully share the ‘main idea’ of Jesus with our gay neighbors?

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10 thoughts on “Escaping Rabbit Trails

  1. So excited you are writing publicly. I always lean forward with expectation when you stand and speak during open worship at church. Your examples, word pictures and personal experiences speak deeply to me and I’m sure to others too. Thanks for taking the risk, Kim. We’re here with you, ready to converse and wonder about how God really wants us to live here.

    • Thank you, Barb! I’m excited to see you here, as you’ve been a big part of the group of people who have willingly wrestled with me about how faith and challenging things do/don’t intersect. Can’t wait to hear more of your perspective!

  2. What is your understanding of the ‘main idea’ of Jesus?

    G. K. Chesterton said, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved…” One of the great distinctives of Christian theology is the doctrine of Original Sin, or – politically incorrect in the most hideous way to many 21st century westerners – the “total depravity of man.” Humans are not inherently good; they cannot earn, buy, or merit goodness. All people in every walk and station of life are evil – “fallen” is churchy term for it. The human race has totally hosed its relationship with God and we can do nothing to make it right. The main idea of Jesus is that he is my savior. Somebody had to pay for all that evil. By surrendering himself to death on cross, and then rising from the dead, Jesus paid my debt, saved me from my own depravity and sin, and made me whole (and holy) before God.

    How do you work to firmly anchor yourself in that truth?

    I don’t need to work to be anchored in this truth. My sin mires me in it. Jesus lifts me out of it.

    One step further: how can we faithfully share the ‘main idea’ of Jesus with our gay neighbors?

    Jesus took his lessons – “parables” for the churchy among us – from real life. He worked all but the last three years of his life as a carpenter. Likely taken from his own experience, Jesus had some practical advice about sharing with our neighbors, “Don’t fuss about the wood chip in your neighbor’s eye until you deal with that big hurkin’ log-sized splinter in your own eye socket.” The main idea about Jesus I want to share with anybody – gay or straight, male or female, young or old, black, brown, white, or polka-dotted – is the awe I still experience when I consider what he did on that cross for me. If my story makes you rub your eye (which is really none of my damn business) that’s between you and him.

    • Thank you for sharing so vulnerably! As you know, I love to play the “sum it up in one word” game. At first read I might have though “self-depravity” would be the word you’d pick for the ‘main idea’ of the gospel, but on second read I wonder if that’s more packaging around a different word: “redemption”. I’m curious which word you would connect with– if pressed to select only 1 word that sums up the gospel, what would you pick?

      • “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” (Thomas Jefferson)

        Sum up the gospel in one word? Who could *possibly* decline an invitation to be so presumptuous? I’m gonna go with “restoration.”

        But then there’s, “Never be so brief as to become obscure.” (Hosea Ballou

        For the record your first question was, “What is the ‘main idea’ of Jesus?” My one word answer to that was “Savior.” Your new question is, “What one word sums up the gospel?” “Restoration” is my proffer.

        Different questions; different answers.

        I also spoke of awe.

        I believe there is a universal conviction of inadequacy and doubt; a conviction of our own sin – that “self-depravity” you noted. We all experience it and we all struggle with it. The main point of Jesus as savior is that his death and resurrection erased any possibility for penalty for those shortcomings. That’s called mercy and it is the beginning of awesome.

        But it gets better. If the self-recognition of sin is an acknowledgment of the futility of trying to obey the law; Jesus – his life, his ministry, his death, his resurrection – is the fulfillment of the purpose of the law. The intended purpose of the law and the accomplished purpose of the gospel is the restoration of our relationship with God.

        God loved (and I’ll personalize this part) me so much that he came looking for me. He made me in his own image, knew me before I was “knit together in my mother’s womb”, and was willing to pay any price… any… price… to restore my relationship with him.

        I’m that valuable to the creator of the universe? I’m that cherished? I’m that loved?

        That’s called grace, and that is awesome.

      • AMEN! Nearly got whiplash from nodding my head up and down as I read your comments, Old Marine. 😉

        “That’s called mercy and it is the beginning of awesome.” That’s called grace, and that is awesome.” It is, indeed!

  3. Thanks for writing this, Kim. I feel like I’m in the process of learning what the main idea of Jesus is, even though I’ve been a Christian since forever. It seems like Christians often focus on Jesus’ death, and all the judgement that comes with that focus (Jesus died for me because I am a piece of crap), instead of focusing on Jesus’ life and ministry, and all the grace and freedom that can come from discovering that Jesus taught us how we can be free. But I don’t really get it all, am continuing to look for clues to understanding what Jesus’ life and death really means, apart from the indoctrination I’ve been fed from the church.

    • “I feel like I’m in the process of learning what the main idea of Jesus is, even though I’ve been a Christian since forever.”

      Melanie, you took the words right out of my heart! The past few years have been marked by my exploring my understanding of Jesus, and what has shaped those beliefs. Many of my beliefs came from Scripture and my personal experience of Christ, while others were shaped by misunderstood narratives from the church, culture, or rough scaffolding I cobbled together to try to understand pain and loss in life.

      Thanks for sharing so honestly your experience, and for raising the thought that where we focus our faith matters.

  4. My “main idea” about God is that God is love. In my heart of hearts, that is what I believe. He loves us so deeply that you think it’d be easy to live a care free life knowing we are loved beyond measure, but it’s a daily battle against Satan. I surround myself with God’s truth and attempt to bring glory to His name. Satan lurks around every corner and pounces at every chance he gets. It’s a daily battle but God is bigger and stronger and He is mighty to save.

    And my gay neighbors? Well shoot. Who gives anyone the right to judge someone else?

    • “He loves us so deeply that you think it’d be easy to live a care free life knowing we are loved beyond measure, but it’s a daily battle…” SO true! I hope to steep myself in this truth every day. I wonder if it’s only then that we’re able to overflow love to others?

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