Strip Empty

7:38 AM

"What do you think," I ask my soul friend, the girl I run to for prayer and accountability, who I should write a post on, "what do you think it takes to be that sort of person -- the sort of person that people naturally say, 'She is so on-fire for Jesus'?"

I had told her about a post I'd read, a tribute to an engaged couple described as that -- on-fire for Jesus. They looked ordinary to me, like any other engaged couple posing for engagement photos. But something about them had caused the photographer, in that short period of time, to label them on-fire. Something about them had immediately given away their secret obsession with Jesus.

What was the secret to letting the cat out of the bag so quickly?

I knew godly people -- respectable men of God, discerning women, good kids. They spoke well of God; they lived good, Biblical lifestyles; they looked different from the world. But they were not like those rarest gems -- those Christians who radiated Christ, the ones you looked at and said, not, "What a godly man!" but "Was that Jesus?" So full of Christ, so overflowing with Him, that their beautiful spirits, their unique personalities, their gentle kindness toward you all sum up into nothing less than being like Christ Himself.

Perhaps it lay in being good?

I'm seven years old, and out by the fire hydrant in the front yard a few paces from the crabapple tree I run into God. That day He stirs life in dead soul, a rescue breath, and I live alive. For that brief moment, I grasp salvation: what He has done.

The rest of my life has been works.

One particular seven-year-old day I decided to be good -- for a single, entire twenty-four hours. My parents told me to be good; my Sunday school teachers emphasized loving one's neighbor and obeying one's parents and sharing toys as the epitome of Christianity for second-graders. I figured if I couldn't be good for an entire day -- me, good girl extraordinaire -- I had something wrong with me. And so for an entire day, I was good. I don't quite remember what that all entailed -- picking up my toys, not talking back to my parents, not yelling at my siblings (though I had a secret Big Sister System that manipulated for my selfishness undetected by the adults). That day was a success.

Checkmark for Bailey Bergmann. If I kept it up, I'd win first heavenly prize for Best Second-Grade Christian.

Being good. That was Christianity. Obey. Obey. Obey. Good. Good. Good. And that was simple enough, as I proved: just gritting one's teeth and doing it perfected that sort of Christianity. At the fire hydrant, I admitted I was not good enough. At the daily grind, I admitted the opposite. And in the end, I woke up to the cold reality: I was not good enough.

Perhaps it lay in looking godly?

If perfection was impossible, perhaps the little rough spots and empty patches could be smoothed over, chinked up. If my inside guilt -- my bitter thoughts, hidden jealousies and petty annoyances -- could radiate nothing but ugliness, perhaps I could fake holiness.

I got good at that. In Sunday school, I raised my hand and answered all the questions and they thought me angelic. I swallowed my disdain at the immodestly dressed acquaintance only to mock at her later in the privacy of my own self-righteousness. I dressed right; I looked right, Biblical, different. I homeschooled. I wore long hems and high necklines. I didn't watch bad movies, care for evil music or read frivolous stories. My friends -- well, I didn't have any, really, but I didn't have any bad friends. I got good grades, won essay contests and earned accolades from unsuspecting admirers.

People praised me for talking right and looking right and doing right. And for a while, I believed them -- until I felt for my soul and could not find its shriveled existence, so hidden was it by layers and layers of whitewash.

Then perhaps -- perhaps if I cannot be good on the inside and if the badness leaks through my perfectly painted facade -- perhaps I must repent in ashes and sackcloth to atone for it all?

I feared God more than anyone should fear anybody. I could offer Him nothing and I knew it. I knew that He pierced through self-righteousness, that He did not praise the warmth of my outward when my inward was cold to His touch. I got to fixing myself up before I went to Him. Before confessing my sins, I would blot at them with works and despair. Before telling Him my heart, I would sweep away the unsightly into locked rooms. I would package my idols into a basket like Rachel and sit on it heavily, pretending that I didn't know that He knew all.

I hid everything. For if He saw me, if He knew me, if I stripped soul-naked before His omniscient eye -- .

So afraid was I that I would not let Him in directly -- wouldn't speak with Him, wouldn't read His Word, wouldn't listen to His call. He went around my stubborn fear and brought those Christ-radiators. I could not believe these sort of people existed -- people open before God, people who did not lie about being happy or good but were genuinely joyful and gracious. People who did not hide, full of guilt. Imperfect people but wide open people.

And that's how He reached me -- through His messengers overflowing with His love, His peace, His joy. Curious, I drew into their love and found myself in the love of the Redemption Himself.

Those full of Christ -- they weren't perfect people. They looked as I would call normal, without trappings that immediately spoke to their wisdom or godliness. But they were not normal. They had stripped empty -- stripped empty of fear, stripped empty of pretension, stripped empty of self-righteousness -- and they had been filled. They obsessed about Christ. They centered on Christ. Nothing was too much for them: they lived in the full presence of God Himself.

They didn't hide their sins, didn't put on false fronts, didn't fill themselves with good sayings and Biblical know-how. They stripped empty and came as fools, as sinners. They left holy.

That is what I want to be.

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5 impressions

  1. I love your posts, Bailey. I've been thinking the same thing. I just want to be more like Christ. Centering Him in my life makes me on fire for Him. I really need to work on this.

  2. Sometimes I don't know what to say to your posts because you said it all.

    Saying I completely agree with you would be way too true.

    Thanks for this post, Bayleaf!


  3. Loved this story. I went through the same thing a few years back. Thankfully God helped me to see His love and Grace. God is so good to us.

  4. I know exactly how you feel; I always wanted to be THAT Christian - the one that radiated Jesus, the one that just gushed of His love and mercy, one that you could tell was just different - but I always believed that kind of Christian was made up of flawless personna, a perfect track record, and a church involved freak who's closet was made up of Christian t-shirts.

    *smacks head*

  5. Hello Bailey,

    I've never commented before on your blog, but have been reading your posts for about a year. I really enjoy reading what you have to say, as it aplies so well to my life as a fifteen-year-old daughter and the oldest of nine children!

    This last post is something I have been thinking about. And you put it into words so well! :)

    I have been blessed by your example, Bailey. You want to know the truth, and you want others to know it as well. You want to know God personally. And I can see it. (How did that work?! I'm staring at a screen!)

    Anyway, keep going Bailey! God bless you,



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