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?