There’s a chair across the room from me that I fear.
It’s pretty non-descript. As a furniture piece, it adds character to a room simply due to its age. Designed and built over 70 years ago, the thing just looks different from its surroundings. It is now an addendum to the décor, something to spice up an entry way or flesh out a den; its days as the centerpiece of a collection have long since passed.
It used to be my chair. I sat in it every day. I watched TV there. Drank coffee there. Read the newspaper and college textbooks, too. Fell asleep, slumped over at an impossible angle.
I made mistakes sitting there, too.
I sat in that chair the day I made the single worst judgment call of my life. I remember it clearly, much to my chagrin. I flattened my fanny between the slightly drooping sides of the chair, arms worn through multi-generational use, and coldly decided to do something horrible. I thought about it. Justified it somewhere in the back of my mind. I decided, on a certain level, to do this thing, and never thought I would regret it. I knew it was wrong, and still I did it. I made the actual mistake sitting right there, too. The next day, I sat in that same spot and rationalized my actions, if only to myself.
It remains to this day the greatest sin of my life.
It was also the greatest turning point of my life.
Shortly after the celebration of self-centeredness that was my voluntary sin, I realized what I was and was not. I saw myself, a wild jackass of an imbecile, an immature man-child who rejected God’s path simply because it wasn’t my path. Our Creator used that moment to change me in ways I never thought possible.
It took me years to admit to the depths of my sin completely, though I tried to wade through it little by little. It was hard to deal it with since I spent most of my time wishing I could forget it; forgetfulness and facing-up are mutually exclusive notions, don’t you know. Along the way, I struggled with the sensation of being unworthy of His grace. I preached unconditional forgiveness of sins to others without believing it applied to this sin of mine. I stayed up late wondering when I would be free of it all.
But first, before all that, I got rid of the chair.
It was a wood and fabric memento of something I never wanted to remember. I hated the thought of it sitting in my house. I never sat in it again, never once tossed my backpack there as I passed through the room. It reminded me, and I feared the pain of those daily reminders.
As soon as I could reasonably do so, I gave it away. It was old and unique, having passed through several sets of hands within my family. Tossing it on the trash heap would have called unwanted attention; I would have been forced to explain why I had thrown it away. That was when I learned that both stupidity and evil fear exposure; I was guilty of both.
So I gave the thing to a cousin.
We weren’t close, he and I, and I figured I’d never visit. I assumed he would take the chair and put it in the spare bedroom down the hall. His wife would dump clothes for ironing on it. The dog would sleep it in. Whatever. I didn’t care what he did so long as he did it without my ever seeing it.
That was over 15 years ago and turns out I was right. We haven’t visited. Not once.
But my cousin gave the chair to his mom. When my aunt retired, she and her husband sold their big house and bought a condo that lacked a spare bedroom. The chair went to my parents’ house. Mom and Dad live alone and have too many chairs for the dwindling number friends in their circle, so they eventually handed the thing to my brother. Do you know whose house I am visiting now that I am back in the US? As Mom used to say, I’ll give you three guesses but two of ‘em don’t count.
He displays the thing proudly. He graciously remembered it used to be mine and set it up as the seat of honor. He’s proud of his missionary little brother, and really played up the presence of my throne, strategically placed with a great view of the backyard, the breakfast nook, and a40”flat screen TV.
Never has a kind act gouged me quite so deeply.
As long as he’s awake, I feel obligated to sit there. I can’t justify sitting elsewhere, not after all the fanfare, but just touching the thing breaks my heart. I mean, I really, really blew it back then. It was the defining moment of my adult life for years, and that chair was where it all went down. I’m not worried about slipping back into the struggles I had before. I know grace applies, even to me. I’ve seen how far He’s brought me, and I know I’m not the same person who so defiantly railed against the natural order of things while sitting in that antique.
I wrote that four months ago. There’s been a new development.
This weekend I’ll be speaking at a church not far from here. I’ll share about our mission work on Saturday, and then preach on Sunday morning. The church is located in a nice town with houses and Walmarts and malls. There’s really only one thing significant about the church: it is about 2 miles away from a small duplex where I used to sit in an antique chair and read my college textbooks.
Something has changed for me, though. I’m not fearing the visit. I won’t hate the sight of the town, or the Laundromat around the corner from where I lived. I doubt I’ll cringe when I pass the old college. No, I’m not going to react like I did when I saw that chair.
That’s because now I see it differently.
Sure, I messed up in that town. Want to know what else I did there?
I dedicated my life to Christ. I played a part in helping my wife become a Christian. I saw her baptized in that church. I preached for the first time there; the Sunday School director pushed me to teach, helping me realize that His Spirit had given me a gift for it. My wife and I changed from people playing some kind of religious action figure game to being immature yet growing Christians. We left that place after having prayed about a major decision for the first time in our lives. The place we moved to after leaving our college town played an enormous role in preparing us to become missionaries.
In the last few months, the Spirit that dwells within all Christians has helped me see all the ways God used that town to shape us. He molded us, using both our own mistakes and the grace of other Christians to begin a process of making us useful and beautiful. As a result, I don’t think of that time as being marked by my sin as much as colored by His grace.
So where does all this leave me and the chair?
Continuing to avoid that simple blue chair would, for me, amount to denying that anything has changed. That would be an act of intellectual dishonesty, an elevation of irrational emotion over objective reality. In fact, the next time I visit I’ll sit there and drink my morning and afternoon coffee. I’ll chat with the family from my former throne. I’ll scoot it closer to the TV so I can sit there while the nephews beat me at Xbox. I’ll settle into the familiar comfort it offers while also finding comfort in knowing how God used that moment to bring me so far.