I was a Boy Scout back in the day. A couple months ago I unearthed my old shirt still adorned with the few badges and medals I managed to achieve before I dropped out. I’ve forgotten most of the things I learned from my scouting days, but a few have stuck with me such as leave a place neater than when you arrived and don’t start forest fires. I confess I often fail at the first, but so far I have managed to achieve the second.
While my old Boy scout relics were collecting dust in a box the merit badge mentality stayed with me. All my life I have been chasing after merit badges in one form or another. I may have been a rather pathetic Boy Scout, but in other arenas of life I really racked in the badges and the recognition and the applause I so desperately desired. I wanted to be noticed. It became an obsession, a never-ending drive to achieve and acquire more success. So naturally this spilled over into my spiritual life as well.
My ongoing pursuit of life’s merit badges made Jesus and this thing called grace really difficult to understand. To be honest I didn’t really want grace because I didn’t think I needed it. I wanted to earn my salvation. I proved myself worthy to everyone else, so why not to God? Don’t get me wrong, I heard about grace and talked about grace, but I didn’t get it. I was too busy tallying up merit badges to impress God with.
There was a glorious moment where the switch finally flipped. I was standing at the bottom of my girlfriend’s driveway. So there we were with the stars twinkling and the lovely smell of Lancaster manure wafting through the air ruining every ounce of romance and Ali said the thing that changed my life forever. I cannot remember what the context was, but she looked at me and said, “Simeon I don’t love you because of all the different things you can do and have achieved in your life. I love you for who you are.”
I stood there with a deer in the headlights look, dumbfounded. How could she say such a thing! Just like that she’d taken all of my years of stockpiling trophies and awards and certificates and gold stars and thrown them in the trash. They were not important to her. They did not define me. I watched all of my efforts slide away into the abyss. All of those things that I thought would be necessary to earn her approval and to make her love me. I thought I would woo her with my sports skills and trumpet playing and report card prowess, but none of those things mattered. She didn’t want my merit badges.
I think I wept the whole way home that night; big ugly tears as the reality began to sink in. I began to name the merit badges I was so proud of and gave them up- praying, reading my Bible, going to church. The list kept going until I stood before God naked. I had nothing to offer. I was out of merit badges. And there in that moment Jesus slew my inner Boy Scout and grace began to flow. Grace ran like a river through my parched and weary soul that was exhausted from so many years of carrying unnecessary weight. After years of bondage I was free.
There are days when I attempt to stuff myself back into my tiny Boy Scout’s shirt with its colorful badges. I try all over again to earn God’s grace shouting, “Look at me, look at me. See how great I am!” I try to raise my inner Boy Scout from the dead. Old habits die hard I’m afraid, but thankfully God is patient. He reminds me that he doesn’t want my polished medals and badges. He just wants me.
So what are the badges that you are holding on to? Are you ready to let them go?