I spend far too much time bemoaning my failures as a wife, mother, and overall human being. There exists this veil between my heart and God’s- self-imposed, of course- that separates me from His infinitely deep and wide well of joy. I look at all the ways I get it wrong, do it wrong, say it wrong, live it wrong- clawing at the veil in vain attempts to see more than just my own mess. I waste a fair amount of effort begging God to take away the failing parts, to improve them, reshape them, turn me into that other, better thing.
Because then I would be able to rip off the veil, see Him clearly, and do everything right. I mean, being perfect and living perfectly would have some significant advantages, right? That would make our relationship strong and healthy- not needing God to help me with anything anymore or having to bother Him about giving me grace and all that- just coolly hanging out together on His level of utter perfection.
Or maybe I just need to light a match and set my arrogance on fire.
“As he moved on, Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his post where taxes were collected. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Matthew got up and followed him. Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner. The Pharisees saw this and complained to his disciples, ‘What reason can the Teacher have for eating with tax collectors and those who disregard the law?’ Overhearing their remark, he said, ‘People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, “It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.” I have not come to call the self-righteous but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:9-13)
He came for the weary and frustrated me. The yelling-angrily-at-my-kids me. The compassionless me. The ungrateful and childish me. The despairing and tearful me. The willful and controlling me. All of the things that I am- the good, bad, and ugly- He wants to sit at the table with all of them.
What a guy.
The very purpose of Christ coming to earth, dying, and coming back to life was for us to finally be able to escape the burden of laws and rules and the pursuit of moral perfection, and live life immersed in a new kind of freedom. We were set free from the Law and invited into relationship instead. We are perfected through our imperfections– by experiencing God’s grace filling in the cavernous failures with His endless forgiveness and love, and ACCEPTING IT without assuming there’s a caveat. Because there isn’t. That is sanctification and it is so, so beautiful.
“Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living? 2 For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. 3 So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries.
4 So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. 5 When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.” (Romans 7:1-6, NLT)
“…the new way of living in the Spirit.” The way of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love.
The veil between humanity and God was torn the moment after Jesus released his final ragged breath on the cross and surrendered his spirit to Death. I, however, have worked hard stitching my own personalized version to take its place in my own heart. Deep down I still fight the lie that tells me I’m supposed to do something more to deserve God’s love and grace; that I am required to “repay” Him in some way by way of deeds that I do or my level of morality. Even though I know in my spirit that’s not true, I still live as if it is.
I find it difficult to accept a gift or act of service from anyone at face value. I’m forever suspicious of an underlying motive. If someone gives me a gift for no particular reason or does something nice for me, I usually feel obligated to repay them in some way, negating the spirit of the initial gift. But a gift is called such because it is free and comes without strings attached.
God’s grace is a gift. It is the active expression of His love for us. There really are no strings attached.
And His grace is best taught and demonstrated through our failures- to our kids most especially. If you are like me and cry yourself to sleep too many nights because of the way you parented that day, because you can’t seem to control your frustration and the way you speak to your children at times, breathe in because there is grace enough for us, too. This is a weak spot of mine where I feel most defeated by Satan. I am distracted from pouring the Gospel of Love into my children because I am too busy yelling at them instead, and then later crawling in my dark hole of shame. Regret ends up overshadowing joy most days.
We are told often, and with good intentions of course, that we are not failing at this or that, or that we are not failures as people. Wrong. We are. We are all total failures. Jesus’ death and resurrection would have served no purpose if that weren’t the case. But the JOY comes in knowing that it is through our failures that we are made holy and perfect in the eyes of God. Without the broken bits and pieces there would be no cracks for grace to flow through.
“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life… It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’ If that happens to us, we experience grace.” (Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations)
The joy gets lost in my failed attempts at trying harder, doing better, and attempting to become “my best self.” (*throwing up on a pile of self-help books*) I am not the answer to my problems and mistakes. The answer to any and all failure is Jesus.
Rich Mullins was a very successful Christian singer and songwriter who produced many classic contemporary Christian hits from the 90’s. He was also an alcoholic, struggled with substance abuse, and suffered from mental illness. He was intimately aware of his imperfections and desperate need for God’s grace.
“I would rather live on the verge of falling and let my security be in the all sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some kind of pietistic illusion of moral excellence. Not that I don’t want to be morally excellent but my faith isn’t in the idea that I am more moral than anyone else. My faith is the idea that God and His love are greater than any of the sins we commit.” (Rich Mullins, Pursuit of a Legacy video)
And therein lies our hope- that experiencing Grace has absolutely nothing to do with what we do. It is through the very imperfections we may be begging God to fix that His love and grace are able to be most intimately understood- and an intimate understanding of God’s love and grace is the sustenance for a deepening relationship with Him. God’s power is most clearly demonstrated through us in the midst of our weaknesses. This is the place of genuine transformation.
But even if, for some reason, this transformation alludes me and I find myself still battling this same angry thorn in my flesh twenty years from now, His love will remain steadfast, His mercy unending, His forgiveness infinite, and His grace boundless.
“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT)
Thank you, Jesus.
Peace & Love, Amy