"Would you be open to a little feedback?," he says, looking me square in the eye. If ever there were a loaded question, this is it. I say "Sure. Lay it on me." I brace myself.
The two of us are standing at the end of the breakfast buffet line. We're way up in the mountains of Colorado in a giant western-style lodge with 25 men who are here for a retreat that I'm leading.
"I had a huge breakthrough from the exercise you walked us through last night." Now he really had my attention. I set up the exercise he was referring to by describing how most people have negative thinking patterns and limiting beliefs that were triggered by some experience(s) earlier in life. These patterns become so deeply rooted in our being and subconscious that we don't recognize them as negative or limiting. Some of our interpretations of who we are and how the world works causes us to think, act and feel in ways that don't serve us well.
The term for this is "sin." Most people think sin is all about lying, theft, murder, adultery and other nasty stuff like that. And, to be sure, those are definitely sins. The word sin comes from the ancient archery term meaning "to miss the mark." Sin, therefore, is anything that causes us to miss the mark of the peace, joy, grace and blessing that God so desperately wants for us. Sin includes evil thinking and doing --- as well as "wrong" thinking and doing.
Most people think God is mad at us when we sin. I think it's more accurate to say God is sad for us when we sin.
But I digress. Let me get back to breakfast.
The night before, I asked the men to go off by themselves to reflect on this. To see if any past experiences may have cemented a negative thinking pattern or limiting belief into their brains... into their souls.
My breakfast companion told me that he slowly walked back to his room with no clue about how to approach the exercise. Nothing came to mind. As he entered his room, it dawned on him that he should settle down his mind and heart and pray ...to ask God to reveal to him anything that may have triggered a negative thinking pattern or limiting belief that he was oblivious to.
And then, BAM! He said it hit him like it happened yesterday. A memory that was crystal clear, but not thought of for 30 plus years. He was 6 years old at church and the high schoolers were putting on a play about Jesus. In the crucifixion scene, they used light and shadows on the back curtain of the stage to depict giants nails being pounded into the hands and feet of Jesus. He burst into uncontrollable tears because all his 6-year old mind could comprehend was that Jesus was being tortured because of his (the little boy's) sin. He was so wracked with guilt that he subconsciously resolved at that very moment to always be a good boy.
Only in hindsight now did he recognize that his whole life has been driven by being good. Everything he did was good. He was good student. A good son. A good friend. A good leader of bible studies. A good husband. His whole frame of reference for judging people was based on how good they were.
"Last night it me like a ton of bricks that for 30 years I have been experiencing only half of the gospel. Jesus most certainly was crucified because of my sins. But He did it so that I wouldn't have to live under the burden of having to be perfect. No one can be perfect. We'll never be good enough, but God is ok with that if we are truly repentant of our shortcomings. The gap between those shortcomings and the perfection of God is bridged by Jesus. All these years God has been extending a gift of freedom and forgiveness to me and I finally received and fully appreciated that gift last night. No more guilt. No performance pressure. Just grace."
I scooped up some fruit. Some biscuits and gravy. And settled into one the best breakfasts I've had in a long time. I think God's heart was smiling just as much as mine.