What’s behind spiritual accountability?
We all have times in our lives of which we are not particularly proud.
In some cases, the people we now know would be surprised to see the person we once were. I was talking recently to a friend about our respective “dark times,” when we treated people in ways that were less than loving, including ourselves.
For me, there was a period toward the end of college and soon thereafter when I was not particularly kind to myself or to those who felt I was worth their time. In a sense, through my distancing behavior, I was set on proving them wrong.
My friend had a similar story, and both of us remarked, gratefully, about how different that part of our lives was from our present reality.
Almost reflexively, and practically at the same time, we both commented that the person we were back then “wasn’t really us.” After staking this claim, I was bothered by it, though I wasn’t sure why. In time, I came to the understanding that it’s actually not entirely honest of me to say “that wasn’t me.” I’d like to say it, but it’s just not true.
In making such a claim, I somehow try to divest myself of the responsibility that “other person” bears for his actions, for the pain he caused others, and for the damage I did to myself. I was that person, and in some ways, I still am.
Though it might be more comfortable in the short term to divest myself of that old persona, in doing so, I risk not learning from it. A sense of removal may save me from some feeling of guilt, but as it has been said, those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.
I think of the apostle Paul, who had a less than stellar record with the Christians before his conversion on the way to Damascus. Before becoming one of the fiercest champions of the early church, he killed Christians on behalf of the Roman government.
Talk about a guy who would rather put his past behind him, rather than acknowledge he had the capacity for such things.
However, in being honest about who we are, both good and bad, we not only have the opportunity to gain wisdom from our past; we also avail ourselves to an opportunity to receive incredible grace.
Paul, I believe, would not have been such a fervent advocate for grace had he not felt that his own grace had been extraordinary. If he had tried to push aside the person he had been before his conversion, the grace he found in his faith would not have been nearly as profound.
It is in accepting that we are worthy of love, warts and all, that we begin to understand what real grace is all about. If we’re only willing to bring those nice, shiny, well-polished parts of ourselves to God, as if we’re on a mission to impress God somehow with how together we are, we just don’t get it.
So where does a community of faith fit in to all of this?
I’ve talked a lot lately with people about the concept of spiritual accountability. It’s one thing to be nice to one another. It’s another to truly love someone. And it’s something else all together to hold each other accountable in love.
If we’re not able to be completely real with one another within a community of faith, including allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our flaws and weaknesses, then we’re not really trusting one another to help us grow.
Once we get to a level of comfort where we can say to one another, “I’m not perfect,” then we open the door to healing and spiritual enrichment. In bringing even the unsavory parts of ourselves to the table, we give ourselves permission to lay down those things we’ve been carrying for too long, and we allow others the opportunity to love us in spite of, or even because of, our baggage.
It takes a healthy, open and genuinely loving community to love someone, even when they do some things you don’t really like. But for myself, if a church wasn’t making a concerted effort to manifest a glimmer of God’s unconditional love and grace within their walls, there wouldn’t be much point in showing up. But to give them the chance to do so, it’s my job to avoid the ever-lingering “that wasn’t me” mentality.