Plain Ole Me
by Larry Braswell

(Used with permission)

Looking back on my lifelong adventure with The Church, I find it looks mostly like a drama. Loads of suspense; twists and turns galore. I can tell you when I have been most at home there, and also when it made me feel as out of place as Jack Daniels at a temperance rally.

My Lord knew what He was talking about when he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

I was a child when I came to know Him. I didn’t ask why at the time. Everything that was, just was. I didn’t need a reason. Heck, I didn’t even know what a reason was other than as an answer to the question, “Why?” He loved me, He called me, I went to Him. I loved the thought that father loved me before I was born. I desperately wanted to remember, that, as He loved me before I was born, so did I love him before I was born. Alas, I never was able to remember that. But I was content.

Granted, I did not spend every waking hour as a child thinking about him as would have befitted the love He had shown me. I took him for granted, as a child takes all things for granted. He simply, was. He didn’t require me to show my appreciation for His sacrifice, only to accept it. I never had to worry about Him leaving me. He was ubiquitous. He was my air, ground, sunlight, and star speckled, moonlit sky. He was all around me. The sad thing is… I DID know this. I DID know that he was with me every moment of the every day and would never leave me. I DID know that he would let me play and let me skin my knees or stub my toe and that He would hold me when it hurt and tell me it would be ok.

Somewhere along the line, something happened though. The same as it did for most of us. I aged. I Matured. I listened to those around me talk of blessing, cursing, and Christian duty. I learned from others that faith without works is dead. I learned from them what you were supposed to look like if you were a Christian. And, I excelled.

I learned how naïve I was as a child. I learned that God, The Lord and Master of the Universe was my master and had expectations of me. Also, that there was something called, ‘my witness’ and how important it was to keep that something spotless before God and man. I learned of Holiness and what t meant to be holy, to live holy, to die holy. I learned how important my holiness was.

I tried. Shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone, I tried, really tried. I failed. No one noticed that I had failed. But the message and the knowledge were still there. I was ashamed and broken hearted at my failure, but no one noticed the failure or the shame. I started not to care that I had failed and no one noticed. Maybe I could keep doing the right things and the feeling of failure would go away. As a young man, I suddenly realized, after many years, that I was faking it. In my mirror lived a hypocrite.

Brothers and sisters all around me were constantly testifying how God had performed this miracle or that blessing on their behalf. I envied them. I tried again, harder this time.

THIS time, surely God would bless ME. I saw no blessings, no miracles. God is love…, is perfection…, is holy. I must be doing something wrong. Maybe it is because I don’t kneel properly when I pray; that must be it. I learned to kneel. No…still no blessings, nothing material that I could point to and show others, “See, He does too still love me! I DO still belong!” Yet, still, the blessings flowed like water unto my brothers and sisters, according to them, as if God were playing a game to see which ones would be able to give forth the greatest praise.

I…, well, I just…, I don’t really know anymore. I was lost. The God that had been everywhere I looked when I was a child was nowhere around me as I learned more and more about serving Him, and I was out in the cold. It was frustrating! I had learned ALL THE RULES!!! I learned all the right things to say, see, watch this, “God is love!”, “Oh yes, Brother, I am blessed!”, “Well, it is all in His will”, but, at this point in my life they rang as hollow as a broken bell. They came to have no real meaning for me, mystical incantations from a lost language. Something must be truly wrong with me.

I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t go to church and play the game of sainthood with others who seemed to be more loved of God, than I.

Without anger, I turned away. With great sadness, I turned away. With tears, I realized that I am not good enough to be His. After all, he blesses His beloved, doesn’t He? I had nothing. I was poor. I had no hope for things promised by tomorrow. The relationship with God I had known in my childhood seemed more like fantasy now, than the reality His love had been to me. Others seemed to find joy in serving God because He blessed them with material things, and because he performed miraculous healings at their command, and made gasoline materialize in empty tanks, and allowed them to cast out demons on Saturday night so they could stand and testify to it on Sunday morning.

How I yearned for just a portion of that. But it never happened that way with me. Every blasted time someone would say, “God told me…” it was just another reminder that I was not good enough for God to talk to me. Something was wrong with me. Maybe I am of the same kind of person that Judas Iscariot was? I belonged once, but somewhere along the line, God left me. I railed and I pled! How did I offend You?! Please just give me a hint and I will fix it! I will work harder than ever for your approval! I promise! Please, make a deal with me!

But, no deal ever came. I fell away. First from the Church, and then from faith. I fell far away.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

I cannot remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard that again sometime later. I can tell you that at some point in the intervening years I had determined that God would have my service, regardless of whether He loved me or not. It was not a service of joy.

I was in the ARMY. I was married and both of my children were here. It was in North Carolina in our little rented house, but I can’t tell you where the voice came from and I cannot swear to you whether it was a voice, His voice, any voice, or just buried memory. I can tell you of the days that followed where I tried to figure this out.

What did Christ mean by that? Children cannot serve. By their very nature, they can’t understand the rules. How can they perform works to prove their faith? Show me a child that can explain the Ten Commandments. Show me a child who could fully explain what you had to do to avoid Hell and get into Heaven. Show me a child that knew that this was the objective in this world.

And then I can tell you when I finally understood. It isn’t about the blessing. It isn’t about whether or not God chooses to use you in the act of healing, or in the performance of miracles. It isn’t about how much money you have been given to steward. It isn’t about your car, your clothes, your education, your shoes, or your hair. As a matter of fact, “your” doesn’t even enter into it!

It’s about Him! It is about knowing that He is your air, the sunshine on your face. It is about knowing and believing and trusting that, He simply is! He doesn’t require me to show my appreciation for His sacrifice, only to accept it. I never have to worry about Him leaving me. He is ubiquitous. I cannot get away from Him, even if I wanted to. He is my air, my ground, my support, my structure, my blood, my energy, my sunlight and star speckled moonlit night sky. He is all around me. He created all around me. And everything around you and all that is or ever was or ever will be. (Not a pantheistic view, just trying to show His importance to me.)

And He really loves me and is happy with just plain ole me. I can earn nothing more from Him. I cannot make Him love me more. That is just one thing he cannot do…

Be at peace.

September 20, 2008