This week I did a burning ritual–for those of you who don’t know what a burning ritual is, basically, you write down things you want to let go of on little slips of paper and then burn them. Simple, right?
Uh, maybe not 🙂 I started by writing down the things that were the focus of my burning ritual. In this case, I wanted something to really solidify the things God’s been teaching me about His full redemption (e.g., Ps. 130:7) and to agree with Him against my own guilt and shame. So, I wrote down the mistakes and sins I’ve been carrying around–some of them for years. I bet you know what I’m talking about: those things that you studiously ignore, shove to the back of your brain, and when you think about them, you see no way for God to fix them even though the Bible talks about God’s full redemption.
So! I hand wrote them all down on a piece of computer paper and cut it up into little pieces. This was actually pretty hard. Seeing it all in black and white in one place was a cringeworthy experience. But actually, after I got over the shock, it was very healing. Everything on that list was the sort of thing anyone does. It really emphasized to my shamed self that I’m not uniquely evil, if that makes sense.
Anyway! I got a stoneware bowl (I’ve had bad experiences with breaking supposedly candle-rated glass with the heat of a burning ritual) and took my papers and bowl and lighter out into the garage so I wouldn’t set off the smoke alarms.
I tried burning them one at a time, praying over each and lighting it on fire, but, apparently, the paper was flame-resistant. So then I tried making a wee fire in the bowl with various flammables but it still wasn’t cutting it. Then I got the brilliant idea of soaking them in something. I was pretty sure we didn’t have lighter fluid and I happened to have just been cooking, so I threw on some homemade vanilla-infused rum–win, win, right? Good smells and quick-burning papers? No, not so much. The papers stuck to the bowl and wouldn’t let in enough oxygen for the fire to burn them.
In the end, I added one paper towel at a time to burn my papers, stirring liberally. Thank the good Lord, they finally burned up.
Now, why am I telling you this? All I wanted was to burn my papers in some awesome ball of flame so that I had a more tangible way to remind myself that God had taken those sins and fully redeemed them the next time I started feeling shame or avoiding those parts of my brain! But in the midst of my frustration, God reminded me that this is what we do with sin. We try to get rid of it on our own. We trying fixing our sins one at a time, instead of recognizing the root character issues that they grow out of. We add other things, hoping to get rid of the sin… good works, maybe being extra nice to the person we wronged, etc., etc., etc.
Nothing we can do can actually get rid of our sin. I love this fact. It means I am off the hook for trying to atone. I can’t atone. All I can do is throw myself on God’s abundant mercy and grace. I was reminded of that passage in 1 Kings 18:20-40 where Elijah goes up against the prophets of Baal. He has them pour water all over his altar and offering and then he just prays and a blast of fire comes down and pretty much vaporizes the whole thing–not just the offering, but the altar too. God’s forgiveness is like that. He doesn’t just cleanse us from our sins–He consumes all the bad consequences and turns them into something beautiful (Rom. 8:28). He fixes the hurts we’ve caused, using them for other people’s good too.
Is there anything you’re still hanging onto? If you’re God’s child and you’ve asked His forgiveness, He’s fully redeemed it–vaporized it and everything around it. It’s time to let go.