How do we succeed in the Christian life? How do we make it? How do we last...
I don't want to overly-confuse this, so for the sake of brevity, let's assume that many things can be the focus, aim, and purpose of the Christian life--all depending on where one is in their walk. But how do we have faith to push in... to pursue... to not give up when everything in your life is crashing down and screaming that you should stop?!
To work through this, I just want to consider one brief example.
In Victor Hugo's masterpiece Les Miserables, the story's hero Jean Valjean rescues the broken prostitute Fantine from the venomous law that the story's antagonist Javert prided himself in dishing out. After being caught defending herself against a man who was first attacking her--and who was ultimately the cause of her death--Valjean rushed to her side, despite her not knowing him. He was moved by her story, and therein saw someone in need of grace.
In a move of selflessness, Valjean risks humiliation--even to the point of being spit upon by Fantine herself to show Javert how devoted she was to his law. Instead of chastising her and giving up on her, Valjean speaks law back to Javert, denouncing him in the process, fighting for Fantine's freedom. Hugo describes her looking up at the two men, and instantly changing her perception of Valjean. It's as though she saw Valjean morph from being a man of apathy, to an angel of love, fighting for her hope.
But here's the beauty. After realizing that her hope was through Valjean's grace, and not Javert's "rules" and "duties", she decides to go with Valjean and receive medical care. While in his care, he tells her that he's been praying for her (rather, that he prays to "the Martyr above for the martyr here below"--let that sink in a minute). To him, she was prized. He never carried any anger toward her, nor shame, nor frustration. Instead, he saw her as she truly was: a child of God whose beauty was abused, cheapened, broken, and prostituted out to the world's horrors.
The book tells of his grace beautifully, but it's the 1998 film that really captures the heart of the Christian life. After Uma Thurman's Fantine tells Liam Neeson's Valjean that she can never be loved because she's a "whore", he lovingly delivers the most powerful line of the movie: "the Lord desires you..."
We are whores. Our minds, stories, world, others, and enemy tell us this every few minutes. "Cover up and hide... you're hideous. You can never show your face again." We have no trouble hearing and embracing that.
But now I ask you to risk resting in the weight of this...
He still desires you.
The Lord adores you.
Valjean continues the scene by saying "you've never been anything than an innocent and beautiful woman." This is sadly not what the message some of you have received by the Church. I know. I get it. But this is the message of the Gospel. This is the risk of the Christian life--to lay down you illusions and risk following the love that seeks the real you.
This is where we're asked to live... in this truth: that despite how heinous our past choices, God desires you, and if you're His, you're nothing but innocent and beautiful. Risk letting go of your past. But know, Christian, that until you die, the world will tell you that you're ruined... that you're too far gone... that you're a whore. I hear it everyday too. Regardless, risk with me. Fight to seek the face of a Father who sees you as innocent and worthy.