Every time I finish a great novel, I go through a few days of mourning. I can’t pick up another novel right away because I want to savor what I’ve just read, digest it and roll it around in my mind a few more times.
When I get toward the end of a great novel, I can’t wait to finish it to see how the plot resolves; yet it’s bittersweet saying goodbye to these characters I have followed. When I fall in love with a novel, it’s usually more about the characters than it is about the plot, although there are those books where the plot grabs me and holds me to the end. The novels I love challenge my thinking, speak truth or life into my heart or stir something in me that may have been buried.
Such was the case with Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I’ll be totally honest at the risk of sounding snobbish. I am not a big Christian fiction fan. Maybe it’s the books I’ve chosen or others have recommended, but most times I find them shallow and dishonest. Many of the authors are excellent writers, I just challenge the essence of the stories they tell. In fact, many of them leave me jaded, wondering if there really is that perfect family who deal with every hardship just as Jesus would. These books rarely unpack the realities of our fallenness and the wrenching heartbreak that comes from our sin.
What a surprise it was to read this novel that deals so boldly with prostitution. And not just the literal prostitution of the main character but the prostitution in all of us, in our hearts. Each of us have prostituted ourselves and I am among them. I have sold myself to others idols, other loves and my heart has been hardened and my eyes blinded. Fortunately, I have witnessed the kind of redeeming love that is expressed in another character who pursues the prostitute as Christ pursues each of us. He has every reason to say, “Forget it,” but he keeps asking for God’s strength to love. For he knows he can not love this woman on his own accord.
I was drawn in for so many reasons, mainly because I could identify with the main character. I could relate to her fear, her stubbornness, her feelings of victimization and unbelief. I could feel the shame that accompanied the voices of darkness and of her past choices. And as she softened, I could feel my own heart opening up and coming to terms with my own hardened heart.
I still struggle with these things, with the false beliefs, the pride, the stubbornness and mostly the fear. The truth is that I will always struggle with my humanity and my flesh, but I don’t have be a victim of any of these things. To play the victim means I give up my power. So I ask to be empowered each morning in my prayers. I may be powerless over the feelings I have and the thoughts that first enter my head, but I am not powerless over what I do with them, especially with God’s grace.
I don’t mean to make light of making choices because in some situations it certainly feels like we don’t have a choice. Our body, mind and spirit want something so badly that we are convinced we have to go with what feels right or maybe we choose not to make a choice, which then of course some other thing or person makes the choice for us. But I am learning that if I ask God to take these thoughts, obsessions and feelings of hardship, He gives me the grace I need just for that moment. Lately I have had to pray for Him to take these thoughts, obsessions and feelings several times a day, sometimes even several times an hour. And while I may not always feel it, I am being redeemed. If I am willing to open the door to my heart, even just a crack, I believe God enters into my life in gentle ways. Ways that heal. Ways that bring darkness into light.
But it’s not always that easy. I’m just like the character in this book; I run away time and time again, forgetting the way of my heart. I push God off the throne (as if!) and put myself there, believing that I must take control to get what I want. And what I want more than anything else is freedom. But how interesting… when the very freedom I seek ends up being a prison instead. Being the hard-headed controller I am, I have to get in enough pain to remember that God’s way is always the best way. Even when I have trouble believing that, he has shown me his faithfulness time and again. His promises remind me that if I keep walking with the knowledge that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the truth of God’s love for me, I no longer have to run away or try to do God’s job. For I cannot redeem myself. Only the author of love can offer redeeming love.