we had permission to assert ourselves?
“Go, go, go, go, go!” My hoarse voice joins a chorus of spectators as we urge a group of runners to cross a finish line littered in fine gold. It is a sky-on-fire kind of morning, the sun so brilliant that I feel it bare my soul.
It isn’t just me. The racers’ faces contort in pain, and I can see their souls too. Desperate, elated, surging, spent. Guts spilled to cross an imaginary line between two orange cones. Bodies collapsed to welcome the sweet relief of victory.
“For thirty minutes I forgot where I was,” recalls one runner once the pain of racing succumbs to a euphoria for finishing. I silently agree with her, as I too had forgotten about the guards and the fence and the flight risk. I can’t give high fives and hugs in this maximum security prison, but I smile and nod to show that I understand what she means. Then, one of the inmates offers to pray and declares her gratitude for the race and our salvation.
I try to make sense of this as I walk to my car after the event. Some of us come awake every morning in a cell. It doesn’t matter if we live behind bars or exclusive gates. Without freedom in Christ, we are all caged creatures held captive to condemnation, excess, compulsion, perversion, anguish, despair. We all fall short, but our sentence has been served, and our pardon endures despite our repeated parole violations.
During the race, it was our shared exertion that elevated the entire group out of imprisonment – their pressing to finish, our pressing to encourage. It is no different “on the outside”. What are we freed sons and daughters doing for those still incarcerated in the pit of hell? Do we understand that we have been chosen and strengthened to assert ourselves for their freedom??
According to Merriam Webster,
assert: “to demonstrate the existence of”;
exert: “to bring to bear especially with sustained effort or lasting effect”;
impose: “to force into the company or on the attention of another”
To truly bear the authority of Christ is to demonstrate to the world the existence of God through a sustained effort of love in order to bring to bear repentance and, so, mercy. The point of asserting ourselves is to love others unto Christ, build fellowship and oppose the darkness that threatens to overwhelm us. (How much of our days are actually spent doing this? How many of our prayers actually claim this?)
Here’s the thing. In a culture of being right and heard and tolerant, it is easy to ignore people or impose our preferences on them which is an awful lot like judgment. We waver in fear or wield ourselves abusively. We seek to establish the right way rather than demonstrate it. There may be some degree of exertion but none of the fruit of love.
Growing up, I didn’t have to be close with anyone. I was the only child in a small, dysfunctional family. I hid a lot. In my bedroom, backyard, plain sight. Now, I live in a family of gregarious, tightly-wound humans whom I love very much but struggle to wrangle. I often flounder between trying to keep up and wanting to run. My mothering and wife-ing rarely seem fruitful and, truthfully, I often cry because it feels so hard though I wish it wasn’t.
This is what I’ve learned.
Where I have set myself against their flaws, where I have resisted their imperfect gestures and interruptions, where I have allowed condemnation to hold me captive, I have established a prison of woundedness from which it is impossible to assert love for anyone. Misgivings and hardheartedness and doubt breed seeds of anxiety rather than strength, as I focus on being misunderstood.
Without knowing, I thwart my own freedom. See, what I have needed more than solitude is fellowship. Their fellowship. Their relentless, pressing love all up in my face, morning breath and all. Slowly, like over years, God has taught me that this practice of being pressed – uncomfortably squeezed in obedience, forgiveness, fellowship and hunger – produces a fragrant generosity that heals the ones it anoints.
We have the authority to loose healing across the globe. We are called to be together pressed in love. Spent, fragrant and overwhelmingly victorious.