Miss Strangelove had grown up in church, and was in fact a pastor’s daughter. She learned her children’s catechism. She prayed before meals. Her parents disciplined her when she was naughty, so she would know the meaning of good and evil.
One day at Sunday School, Miss Strangelove’s teacher showed a picture of Jesus on the cross, and told the class that bad men killed Jesus, but that he rose again. She said that Jesus died to take the punishment for all the bad things we had done, like taking someone else’s spanking. Miss Strangelove was a strong-willed child, and knew all about spankings. She was impressed that someone would take one in her place. She prayed The Prayer the teacher led and asked Jesus to take her spanking and come in her heart.
Even as a little girl (and she was only little) Miss Strangelove knew Jesus was with her. It was a great comfort, especially in the dark, of which she was quite afraid. Only she couldn’t help doing the wrong things. Even when she learned the Ten Commandments, and many other Bible verses, she still kept doing the wrong things. She would tell God sorry, and she would try to do better, but gradually she began to wonder if she was wearing him out. How could she mean her apologies if she kept doing the same things again?
When Miss Strangelove got to be a teenager, she was quite surprised to find out that what God really wanted was to have a relationship with her. This was quite exciting, as she was just discovering relationships. He wanted to spend time with her and everything! She thought maybe she could best develop the relationship if she went to Bible College, where she might learn to understand what it was that God really wanted from her.
But at Bible College, she found that she was just as much of a failure at having a relationship with God as she had been at keeping the other rules. It all depended on her having a Quiet Time every day, and some days she missed. Sometimes she even fell asleep on top of her Bible. She knew Jesus was sitting on the sofa, waiting for her, looking sad because she didn’t care enough to have a Quiet Time. Other students were excited about their relationships with God, but she just seemed to be a disappointment. Even the good things she did, she discovered, were tainted with bad motives.
Miss Strangelove married, and had a family. But sometimes she fought with her husband, and sometimes she yelled at her kids, and she sensed God’s disappointment with her growing into exasperation. She knew that her salvation had been a free gift, but it seemed like the rest of it was up to her being good. It was hard work. Maybe she shouldn’t have prayed The Prayer at such a young age. Then more of her sins would have gotten forgiven for free, and she wouldn’t have such a long track record of failure.
She still felt like God was present, but it was not a peaceful presence. It was an angry presence, ready to jump out of the closet and catch her doing yet another thing that she would need to apologize for or explain or justify. She was supposed to be good—she had thought God would make her good before now—but she just kept on being bad.
And then she found out it was a lie.
The presence that had disturbed her so much was not God at all. It was an imposter, hiding in the closet, who had been accusing her!
In that same closet, once the imposter had been kicked out, she found a old treasure chest. In the top was a white dress, with a note on it, that said, This is for you, to make you beautiful. Under the dress was a bracelet, with a second note saying, For my lovely daughter. On the bracelet was inscribed a word: Beloved. Miss Strangelove’s eyes filled with tears at how she had misunderstood the relationship that her Father wanted to have with her.
And filling the chest were gold coins, masses of them. There was a note with this too, in a different handwriting: This is my righteousness, for you to spend, as much as you want, more where this came from. Don’t worry, you can never waste it! Your brother, Jesus. Suddenly all kinds of ideas came into her head—how she could spend it on her kids, her husband, others around her—how she could use it on a gift to thank her Father for the lovely bracelet. She filled her pockets and started outside…
Some days—even weeks—Miss Strangelove still forgets there is a treasure chest in the cupboard. Some days she still thinks she hears those insidious whispers in the closet. She still stumbles over excuses and apologies. But the overwhelming anxiety is driven away, whenever she reads the inscription on her bracelet and jingles the coins in the pocket of her white dress.
This is an excerpt from a a devotional I wrote on Psalm 119 called “Perfect.”