“Sin. When we are young it means, I have made a mistake. When we are old, it means, I have separated myself from love.” -“A Song I Knew by Heart,” page 77.
I love that quote. I confess that I never finished the book, it was more of a romance novel than I thought it would be, but maybe I picked it up from the library in the first place because I needed to hear that line.
The word “sin” is a difficult word to say for only having three little letters. When we say we’ve made a mistake, we say it remorsefully but more like an admittance. When we say, “I’ve sinned. . .” it’s a whisper. It has to be forced out, and tears often want to come out with it. Because we understand that when we sin, we act against love. And it is so painful.
I wrote about sin at the beginning of this year, and recently I had a dream that is making me think about it again. I retold the dream in my journal that morning, and I’ll share that since it had freshness and clarity. In the dream. . .
. . . I was at a conference/school assembly when I decided to get up from my seat and go down the very long flight of wrought-iron stairs. I ran into a man I’d seen earlier hanging around the same spot. He had a toddler with him so I assumed he was entertaining his son who had been loud and wiggly during the event. We made eye contact and he smiled at me with warm eagerness, which gave me a few butterflies. We made a tiny bit of small talk as the toddler roamed the hallway, but when I began to back away he came closer to me. He put his hand on my waist; I felt swept up in the attention, but when he used both hands to push me against the wall, I saw a greedy hunger in his eyes and a sinister grin. He mumbled things I can’t remember. I tried to run, but he tightly grabbed my wrist. His eyes now terrified me. The only thing I could think to do: scream. And I did scream. “Help! He’s assaulting me! HELP!” A security guard ran to us and grabbed him, who was now angrily snarling at me. The guard attached his hands to the wall and left to call the police to take him away. I stood there as the man who’d attacked me leaned his front against the wall, hands above his head. He was breathing heavily. Suddenly I noticed that the only thing keeping him there was– scotch tape. His wrists had strips of tape across them, and any second he could tear himself away. I was a personification of panic. Then I woke up.
When I woke up, I knew what this dream meant. I knew that the man represented sin. He seems welcoming and innocent, approachable. He gives me the feelings I want when we flirt. But suddenly, I’m trapped by him, and he is in a position where he can steal so much from me. I can cry out for help, and help will come, but I need to choose to run away from him. Not much is holding him back. When I am rescued, why would I choose to still stand next to the source of so much danger? I need to return to my community. He wouldn’t risk attacking me in the large group, that’s why he waited out in the hall. And if anyone there recognized him, saw something I didn’t, maybe they could even chase him away.
Please understand that I am not talking about real assault. If you are assaulted, it is not your fault. End of story. This dream simply said to me that leaving the safety of community is so frighteningly dangerous. It opens us up to finding an opportunity to flirt with sin. Jesus will always rescue me when I cry for Him, but I can’t just sit idly afterwards. I have to walk away from where sin likes to meet me. I have to find a place with people who will look after me and help me focus on the right things. There is safety in numbers.
We have to talk to people about what’s happening inside, to surround ourselves with relationships we feel safe in. I was going through something pretty difficult a few months ago, and the person I finally told said to me, “Tessa, look me in the eyes and say this: ‘I will not be a lone ranger.'” I did. And she and a few other people have been shelters for me ever since. I take steps every day to make sure I’m not alone with my hardships, from reading in the same room my family is in to calling my best friend when I’m hurt. When I feel alone, I feel troubled, and that’s when it’s easy for me to succumb to behaving like I can’t escape my struggles, because I fall into thinking, “It’s just how I am.”
I am painfully aware that not everyone has the ability to be someone I can go to. It’s happened to me many times, but even recently when I ended up telling a friend about something I was struggling with, it was very clear that their perception of me had immediately changed. It was even more clear that they wanted me to stop talking about it, because they said so with much discomfort in their voice. I am not angry at this person. I just know that I can’t go to them for shelter. It’s disheartening. But there are people I can go to, and for that I am infinitely grateful.
I am not troubled. You are not troubled, no matter how many people have reacted poorly to your courageous honesty. I know that with each hurtful reaction it becomes more and more scary, but please, don’t bottle up. Not everyone needs to know, but some people do. For your sake. Continue to be brave and seek a few people who can hold you up, love you no matter where you are. And as you search, never allow yourself to believe that you are troubled. You are a human being with air in your lungs and Jesus in your heart, which means a piece of heaven is in your body. Don’t let yourself forget who you are. You are precious.
Asking for help does not mean you are weak. You are strong, friend. You can make it. Sin does not have a hold on you, Jesus has rescued you! But sin still exists around you and teases you. You are safe if you don’t give yourself to it. But in moments when your mind wanders and sin flashes his eager smile– you cannot be alone. There is no shame in needing protection sometimes. Never feel that, never. You just need people with love bold enough to vocally say what Jesus is saying to your spirit: “Get away from him, he wants to hurt you!” They will make it easier for you to identify what you’re feeling so you can deal with it without feeling overwhelmed or overtaken.
I am going to promise myself daily that I will not forsake community. Will you promise yourself that, too?