The other day, I let my daughter know that For-The-Hundreth-Time-No-You-Can’t-Change-Your-Outfit-At-The-Restaurant with a bit more frustration in my voice than I had intended.
That’s when she hit me.
I wish I could tell you that I responded with the love of Christ, that I was the most compassionate father in the world, that I said with great kindness, “Ouch! I see that you’re upset right now, but hitting hurts daddy’s body. Be gentle.”
Sadly, that’s not what happened. I put on my “serious face” and lowered my voice to make sure she understood as I growled: “DON’T. HIT.”
Due to my unloving, impatient, unChrist-like response, my daughter failed to learn that hitting is wrong. Instead, she stated the real lesson she learned: “You’re a mean daddy.”
To be fair, I did act unkindly. The world is pretty black-and-white to my young daughter, so for her, I am either a nice daddy or a mean daddy. In this case, I was a “mean daddy.” But while this either-or way of thinking may be age-appropriate, as we grow, it comes time to put childish things behind us (1 Cor. 13:11).
We must learn that we, and the world generally, exist in a tension: not “either-or” but instead “both-and.”
Otherwise, I may be tempted to leave that interaction with my daughter feeling deeply ashamed, convinced that I am indeed a “mean daddy.” I believe the lie that the evil one whispers to me: “You did something bad, therefore you are bad.” But if I approach the interaction with the “both-and” way of thinking, I can leave on a more sober and productive note, “I am both a loving father and acted poorly. I will try harder next time.”
Either-or, black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking about ourselves causes deep shame, keeping us in emotional and personal gridlock. It transforms every misstep into a damning indictment. As Brené Brown writes, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.” Repentance becomes an impossibility if one believes, “I’m bad to my core. Why bother?”
As Christians, we can see how shame and “either-or” thinking can be crippling to the spiritual life.
On the other hand, living in the tension of “both-and” helps us accepts the reality of trial and failure without despair, thus allowing us to take the risks necessary to change. It says, “That thing I did was bad. That doesn’t mean I’m bad. I’ll try harder.”
Last week I wrote about feeling like a bad Christian while Christ comes to us, crippled by shame. He does so freely, without being asked, and tells us, “Take heart! Your sins are forgiven.” But if we are stuck in “either-or” thinking (either I’m a good Christian or a bad Christian), we may not hear His words of healing, nor will we hear the call to follow Him.
After all, why would Christ call a mean daddy like me?
No, as we learn to put on “both-and” thinking, we can hear what Christ has to say to us this Sunday, and we can see it as the perfect counterpart to Christ’s message to us last week. First, He heals our paralysis, and now He wants us to do something with our newfound ability to walk:
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)
Does Christ come to us and meet us where we are, offering unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance? Absolutely. After all, Christ joins Himself to us completely in the frailty of being human.
But does Christ also call us to do our part? You bet.
God totally and unconditionally loves us as we are. And He invites us to join Him in totally and unconditionally loving those around us.
Christ is the Light in our darkness that says, “Take heart.”
No matter how lonely the night may be, there is hope because, “Though this present darkness is thick, a New Day is coming, and it is Christ Himself who is the morning star” (Rev. 22:16).
As Christ Himself shines in our lives, we are challenged to let that Light shine into the lives of others.
Yet to let that Light shine is, according to the world, absurd.
The world buys into the broken “either-or” model that feeds shame and spiritual paralysis. This world often tells us that we’re only acceptable and lovable if we’re rich enough, thin enough, or smart enough.
Sadly, it seems we never are good enough.
In the face of this, Christ’s unconditional love and acceptance is almost impossible to comprehend. I mean, could you imagine what it would be like to be fully and unconditionally accepted?
Yet isn’t that exactly what we all need?
So what if, instead of judging the man on the side of the road, we listened to his story? What if, instead of seeing a shipwrecked life, we saw the image of Christ and responded with love?
What if we didn’t see people as either good or bad, but instead saw them as both broken and capable of more?
Just as we are both broken and capable of more?
Can you imagine what that would do to this world?
We are called to live in this world both as residents of this one and citizens of the next one. To both anticipate the coming Kingdom and see that it is already at hand, and that it’s doors are open to all in need of healing.
It is only God’s radical and total acceptance of sinners that has the power for the radical and total transformation of sinners into saints. And it is that same radical love, that same radical light of the Kingdom which shines in our hearts, that we are called to share today. Because we are all both broken and capable of more.
We are all both sinful and forgiven.
It is a big task, to live as though the Kingdom is at hand, and we will undertake it imperfectly. But it’s better to undertake it and fail than to fail to undertake it all.
Take heart, and let God’s light shine.
 Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York: Avery, 2012), p. 72.
Mean Daddy: chexed via Compfight cc
Shame: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc
Man with Cup: Rod Waddington via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on letting Christ's Light shine, check out this episode of Be the Bee: