Chapter OneCOME OUT, COME OUT,
WHEREVER YOU ARE
Night. Ruller lies awake, listening to his parents in the next room.
"Ruller's an unusual one," his father says. "Why does he always play
"How am I to know?" Ruller's mother says in the dark.
Ruller is Flannery O'Connor's creation; a small-town kid waking up
to the world.
Day. Ruller chases a wild and wounded turkey through the woods.Oh, if only I can catch it, he thinks, and by golly he will catch it if he has
to run right out of the state to do it. Ruller sees himself marching
through the front door, the turkey slung over his shoulder and the
whole family, amazed, shouting, "Look at Ruller with that wild turkey!
Ruller, where did you get that turkey?"
"Oh, I caught it in the woods. Maybe you would like me to catch
you one sometime."
But catching the wounded bird is harder than he thought. Another
idea occurs to Ruller: "God will probably make me chase that damn
turkey all afternoon for nothing." He knows he shouldn't think that way
about God-but it's how he feels. And who can blame him if that's the
way he feels?
Ruller trips and falls and lies there in the dirt, wondering if he's
Suddenly the chase is over. The turkey drops dead from the gunshot
wound that crippled it. Ruller hoists the bird on his shoulders and
starts a victory march toward home, right down the center of town. He
remembers his thoughts about God before he got the turkey. They
were pretty bad, he guesses. This is probably God getting his attention,
stopping him before he goes wild like his brother. "Thank You, God,"
he says. "You were mighty generous."
He thinks maybe the turkey is a sign. Maybe God wants him to be
a preacher. Ruller wants to do something for God. If he saw a poor person
on the street today, he would give away his dime. It's the only dime
he has, but he thinks he would give it to that person for God.
Ruller is walking through town now, and people are knocked out
by the size of his turkey. Men and women stare. A group of country
kids trail behind him. "How much do you think it weighs?" a man
"At least ten pounds," Ruller says.
"How long did you chase it?"
"About an hour," Ruller replies.
"That's really amazing."
But Ruller doesn't have time for chitchat. He can't wait to hear what
they say when he gets that turkey home.
He wishes he would see someone begging. He would, for sure, give
them his only dime. "Lord, send me a beggar. Send me one before I get
home." And he knows for a fact God will send him a beggar because he
is an unusual child.
"Please, one right now," Ruller prays-and the minute he says it, an
old beggar woman heads straight toward him. His heart stomps up and
down in his chest. He springs at the woman, shouting, "Here, here!" He
thrusts the dime into her hand, then dashes off without looking back.
Slowly his heart calms and he feels something new-like being
happy and embarrassed at the same time. Ruller is flying-him and
This is when Ruller notices the country kids shuffling up behind
him. He turns generously to face them: "Y'all wanna see this turkey?"
They stare. "I chased it dead. See, it's been shot under the wing."
"Lemme see it," one of the boys says. Then, incredibly, the boy
slings the bird over his own shoulder, hitting Ruller in the face with it
as he turns. And that's that. The boys saunter away with God's turkey.
They are a block away before Ruller even moves. As they disappear
in the falling dark, Ruller creeps toward home, breaking into a
run. And Flannery O'Connor ends Ruller's remarkable story with the
words: "He ran faster and faster, and as he turned up the road to his
house, his heart was running as fast as his legs and he was certain that
Something Awful was tearing behind him with its arms rigid and its
fingers ready to clutch."
"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most
important thing about us." A. W. Tozer wrote that, talking about how
people project their opinions about God onto the world. He was asking
those of us who believe in God-which is most of us-what God it is
we believe in. Good question.
A lot of us think what Ruller thinks about God. The God we believe
in is Someone who gives a turkey with one hand and takes it away with
the other. The giving is a sign that God cares about us. We feel close to
God when we get what we want, and it makes us feel generous too. So
everybody wins, right?
The story is different when we lose a turkey-it's a clear sign of
rejection. We look for a reason. Where did I go wrong? Why is God angry
with me? Is God trying to teach me something?
Most of us never say it out loud or even dare think it for long, but
losing a turkey makes us think God is unpredictable, bad-tempered,
mean, unfair. Those thoughts drive us away from God, deeper into ourselves.
Now God is a bookkeeper counting every false step, every mistake,
every screwup, and holding them against us. God is a grudge-holder
who gets back at us by snatching family, friendship, health, money,
contentment, success, and joy right out of our hands.
Losing a turkey makes us think God is unpredictable, bad-tempered,
But then we think, Who can blame God? Seriously. Just look at me-LOOK
AT ME! I'm a mess. I never should have gotten the turkey to begin with. If
it hadn't dropped dead in front of me, I wouldn't have.
So we project onto God our worst attitudes and feelings about
ourselves. As someone famously remarked, "God made us in his own
image and we have more than returned the compliment." If we feel
hatred for ourselves, it only makes sense that God hates us. Right?
No, not so much.
It's no good assuming God feels about us the way we feel about ourselves
-unless we love ourselves intensely and freely with complete
wisdom and never-ending compassion. If the Christian story is true, the
God who shows his love for us everywhere, in everything, expresses
that love completely and finally in what Jesus did for us. Deal done-can't
add to, can't subtract from it. Any questions?
Well, yes. As a matter of fact we have quite a few questions. These
declarations about God's love are a lot easier for Christians to say-especially
to others-than to actually believe. Julian of Norwich put
her finger right on the bruise when she wrote: "Some of us believe that
God is almighty and can do everything; and that he is all-wise and may
do everything; but that he is all-love and will do everything-there we
draw back. As I see it, this ignorance is the greatest of all hindrances to
God's lovers." Where do we think we are going when we draw back
The tiny gods we worship when we draw back from the true God are
idols we've made to look just like us. It takes a profound conversion to
accept that God is relentlessly tender and compassionate toward us just
as we are-and not in spite of our sins and faults, but in them and
through them. As Anne Lamott sees it, "The secret is that God loves usexactly the way we are and that he loves us too much to let us stay like
this, and I'm just trying to trust that." She makes two things plain here:
God won't stop working on us until the job is complete AND God doesn't
hold back his love because there is evil in us. Not now, not ever.
One night a friend asked his handicapped son, "Daniel, when you
see Jesus looking at you, what do you see in his eyes?"
After a long pause, the boy replied, "His eyes are filled with tears,
Now it was his father's turn to hesitate: "Why, Dan?"
An even longer pause. "Because he is sad."
"And why is he sad?"
Daniel stared at the floor. When he looked up, his eyes were
rimmed with tears. "Because I'm afraid."
Wow. It's not supposed to be like that. God never meant for us to
be afraid. "There is no room in love for fear," John says. "Well-formed
love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life-fear of death,
fear of judgment-is one not yet fully formed in love." It breaks God's
heart that we are afraid of him, afraid of life, afraid of each other, afraid
So we do everything in our power to remain self-absorbed, self-sufficient,
self-satisfied. "Better the devil you know," the saying goes,
"than the angel you don't."
It breaks God's heart that we run from him instead of to him when
It breaks God's heart that we run from him instead of to him
when we fail.
For an alcoholic, a "slip" is a terrifying experience. The physical and
mental obsession with booze comes like a flash flood in a place
everyone thought was high and dry. When the drunk sobers up, he or
she is devastated.
This is not academic. I'm an alcoholic. My life was ruined by alcohol
abuse and restored by the relentless tenderness of Jesus. When I
relapsed, I faced two (and only two) options: surrender again to guilt,
fear, depression, and maybe death by alcohol; or rush back to the arms
of my heavenly Father.
Here's the thing: It's no trick to feel loved by God with our lives
together and our support systems in place. Self-acceptance comes easy
when we feel strong.
But what about when we lose control? What about when we do
wrong or fail to do right, when our dreams shatter, when the people we
love don't trust us, when we disappoint even ourselves? What about when
we are no better than the people we always looked down on? What then?
Ask someone who's just gone through a breakup, a lost friendship,
or her parents' divorce. Does she have it together now? Does she feel
secure? Worthy? Does she feel like a dearly loved child of Abba, or did
she lose the sense of God's love when she lost control? Does she experience
God's love when everything feels broken or only when things
are good-only when she's good?
God is not shocked when we fail. No more than a mother is
stunned by her toddler's stumbling and falling and getting into fixes he
can't get out of. Julian of Norwich wrote, "Our Lord does not want his
servants to despair," however often and however hard we tumble
because, "our falling does not hinder him in loving us."
That's hard to believe. People like us are skeptical about that kind
of thing. We believe there must be a catch. And if it's difficult to get our
minds around, it's even harder to truly accept in our deepest hearts.
We're so timid (or is it proud?) we can hardly bring ourselves to ask for
the mercy we need. Not because we hate God and not because God
hates us, but because we hate ourselves.
Get this if you don't get anything else: The spiritual life begins with
accepting God's wholehearted love for our wounded, broken, surly,
frightened, sorry selves. There is no other starting point.
God calls us every one to come out of hiding. God calls us back
from wherever we went running for our lives, calls us back home. God
is the love-crazed father at the window, waiting for a lost boy to come
to his senses, gazing down the road for a sign of his return, now running
to meet and embrace and more-than-half-carry his kid the last
mile so they can start all over, as if nothing bad ever happened between
them, as if the party he intends to throw that very night is the celebration
of his child's birth.
It's always been this way. Adam and Eve were ashamed when they
disobeyed God, so they hid themselves. And one way or another, they've
been role models ever since. Why? Because we hate being seen for what
we truly are, which has almost nothing to do with being as bad as we
could possibly be and almost everything to do with failing to be all we
could be and should be-what we aspire and maybe even pretend to be.
We know the truth-or at least much of the truth-about ourselves,
and it's not all that pretty. Our way of dealing with the ugliness
is mainly misdirection: Hey, look how ugly that guy is! Look at all the
things I don't do! Our solution is faking it, taking cover when we lose
our nerve-hiding out. Which is no solution at all.
Simon Tugwell wrote:
We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume
to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance
which we hope will be more pleasing. We hide behind
pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public. And
in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and
think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.
Well, surprise! Whether anyone bothered to tell us this before, and
whether we like it or not, God loves who we really and truly are. God
calls us, as God has called everyone since Adam and Eve, to come out
of hiding just as we really and truly are. No amount of spiritual cosmetology
can make us more presentable to God-God buys us in an As-Is
condition and says, "I've been looking for you! I have just the place
If what God says is the truest thing about us, then it makes sense
to follow him and accept our As-Is condition as the starting point.
Thomas Merton said, "The reason we never enter into the deepest reality
of our relationship with God is that we so seldom acknowledge our
utter nothingness before him." If we confess the truth about ourselves,
there's every reason to fear God will say, "Yeah, that's right; and another
thing ." and we're fairly sure there will always be another thing. We
are like people afraid to tell the doctor where we really hurt because we
fear we may be sicker than we think.
We are sicker than we think. We're dying and, crazily, running from
the healer because we're ashamed, because we hate ourselves for all we
are and all we're not.
God, who spoke us into existence, speaks to us now: "Come out of
self-hatred into my love. Come to me now," he says. "Forget about yourself.
Accept who I long to be for you, who I am for you-your
Rescuer-endlessly loving, forever patient, unbearably forgiving. Stop
projecting your sick feelings onto me. You are a broken flower-I will
not crush you-a flickering candle-I will not extinguish you. For
once and forever, relax: of all places, you are safe with me."
For once and forever, relax: of all places, you are safe
One of the most shocking contradictions among Christian people is
the intense dislike we have for ourselves. We are more disgusted and far
less tolerant about our own weakness than we would dream of being
with someone else. David Seamands saw it like this:
Satan's greatest psychological weapon is a gut level feeling of
inferiority, inadequacy, and low self-worth. This feeling shackles
many Christians, in spite of wonderful spiritual experiences
and knowledge of God's Word.