Compassionate Conviction —
By Kimberly D. Reisman —
One of my regular reads is a substack called The Free Press. It has essays that range from one end of the social and political spectrum to the other and is always a refreshing break from mainstream media. Earlier this month there was an essay by Katherine Boyle on the topic of purpose. She talked about how all kinds of values are on the decline these days – at least in the U.S. – things like religion, community involvement, and even having children.
Boyle describes this decline as replacing “Love thy neighbor” with “Get off my lawn.” She asserts that these diminishing values are creating a void and one of the things she believes is moving to fill that void is a relentless focus on the self that tells us “You are enough.”
You are enough. What a pervasive thought that is these days! Just google the phrase and you’ll get a gazillion memes that are perfect for posting on Facebook. I’ve even texted things like this to my kids when I know they’re having a difficult or stressful time in their lives.
You are enough. You are so enough it is unbelievable how enough you are.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? And from a Christian perspective it’s true. We are enough. God’s love for us is unconditional. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t deserve it. We are enough, and God loves us exactly as we are. Of course God doesn’t leave us that way – but, that’s a talk for another day.
Sadly, though, that’s not the world’s understanding of “you are enough.” The world would have us believe that everything we need can be found within ourselves. We simply need to “trust our feelings.” There is no greater truth than our own truth. There is nothing greater to believe in outside of ourselves. A little self-love and self-care and we’ll be fine.
And yet, we’re not fine. We’re in a thrashing time, a time marked by our breathtaking ability to do violence to each other. We hurt those we love with our words and our deeds. We let others down by the things we do and the things we don’t do. Our lives are marked by anxiety and depression, broken relationships, and damaged hearts.
Did you know that teenage depression began trending upwards in a dramatic way around 2012? Coincidentally (or not) that was the same year Facebook bought Instagram and the word “selfie” entered the popular lexicon.
Did you also know that around that same time, young people’s negative understandings of themselves began to grow in a significant way. More and more began to agree with these kinds of statements:
- I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
- Sometimes I think I am no good at all.
- I feel that I can’t do anything right.
- I feel that my life is not very useful.
Friends, we are currently eleven years into the largest epidemic of adolescent mental illness ever recorded. One in ten adolescents say they have made an attempt to kill themselves.
We aren’t enough. Everything we need cannot be found within our own selves. We need to discover something bigger – something greater – beyond our own selves.
And yet, amidst all this mess, I still find it amazing how God works so tenderly with each one of us – meeting us right where we are.
About 10 years after we graduated from college, a Jewish friend of mine was in the hospital recovering from an illness. He ran out of things to read so he randomly opened a Bible to the Gospel of John. He had never seen a Christian Bible before, and when he was growing up, talking about Jesus had been forbidden in his family. But by the time he finished the book of John, the Holy Spirit had moved him so deeply he accepted Christ right then and there – all alone, in the quiet of his hospital room.
I have other friends who have had much different experiences of the Holy Spirit. Theirs have been powerful, public experiences – in the context of worship or in response to preaching.
I’ve also spoken with people whose experiences were different from either of those. They have been visited by Jesus in dreams and visions and have come to recognize Jesus for who he truly is only through conversation with patient friends.
How amazing it is that God reaches out to us in just the way that we need! Calling to us in exactly the way in which we can hear.
And now we have the Asbury Outpouring that happened just a few months ago. What a wonder! I love how consistent all the descriptions of that incredible time were. Over and over people kept using words like joy and peace and tenderness. My favorite was from Dr. Suzanne Nicholson of Asbury University. She described “a sweet gentleness” that permeated the entire chapel where everyone was gathered.
She talked about young people publicly confessing addictions to porn, anger at God, bitterness of heart, despair because of difficult family situations. And yet, these same students went on to proclaim healing, joy, and a deep love of God like they had never before experienced.
How awesome, that amidst all this thrashing, the Holy Spirit chose to move with a sweet gentleness. In an age of anxiety and violence, depression and deep woundedness, God is reaching out to us with tenderness and peace.
Friends, we follow a God who opened his arms to us while we were yet sinners. While we were still broken. While we were still thrashing. While we were still depressed and anxious and trying to convince ourselves we were enough – God was there.
That’s tremendous news. God loves us first. Before we get our acts together. Before we fully understand how God wants us to live, Before anything and everything else, God loves us first. That’s one of the deepest convictions we hold as people who follow Jesus in the company of the Wesleys. God loves us first.
One of my dearest mentors, Billy Abraham, once told me something that profoundly affected how I came to understand evangelism. He said, “Some things cannot be said until after other things are said.”
As Christians we hold a lot of convictions – and that’s a good thing! But sometimes we think we need to tell people about all those convictions right from the start.
Well, we don’t.
Billy was right. Somethings can’t be said until after other things are said.
And all our other convictions can’t be said until we share this first one: the conviction that God loves first. Before anything and everything else – God loves first. That’s one of our foundational convictions and one of the most important messages our hurting world needs to receive.
So the question is, how are we carrying this deeply held conviction of ours? Are we holding it with open hands so people can see it? Or are we holding our conviction with a closed fist? Gripping so tightly that people confuse it for self-righteousness and anger?
Jesus calls us to live out compassionate conviction so that people can come to understand that yes, they are enough. They are enough because God already loves them more than they could ever imagine.
And no – they aren’t enough. Everything they need cannot be found within themselves. They aren’t enough to carry all their burdens alone; to shoulder all their anxiety and bitterness and anger by themselves.
But! There is one who is greater than they are, greater than all of us. One who knows the weight of our burdens and the depth of our pain. And loves us anyway, offering healing and mercy and grace.
In this thrashing time, our convictions alone will convince the world of very little. Especially when we hold them in a tight fist. But when we hold them lightly, with compassion and grace, in an open hand, that’s when the Holy Spirit moves with the sweet gentleness our world so badly needs.
Kimberly Reisman is Executive Director of World Methodist Evangelism (worldmethodist.org), a ministry that equips the global Wesleyan Methodist family of Christians for the work of evangelism. This article is adapted from her presentation at the “Beyond These Walls” conference held earlier this year. Image: Shutterstock.