At the beginning of the year I wrote a post about pressure to be perfect. I concluded it pondering if this year I needed to do fewer things and experience more grace. Months later I’m sure the burning question in your minds is, “So how’s that going?” Because summer’s winding down and you have nothing else to occupy your time and thoughts…
Short answer: I still have a looooong way to go.
A friend told me years ago, “If, when you think about God thinking about you, you think he is anything less than completely delighted with you, you are still thinking of conditional grace.”
Well, let’s be honest, I’m totally still thinking of conditional grace. Far from delighted, when I think of God thinking of me the first word that often comes to mind is disappointed.
The light bulb moment came to me a few weeks ago: it’s like God is a kickball coach. (Why kickball? Because it’s the only team sport I didn’t completely suck at in gym class. And it’s the first one that came to mind. Also you should know that I’ve never actually played on a sports team, so this analogy may fall apart…)
So anyway, kickball. God’s a coach, and he picked me for his team! Which is amazing because, you know, GOD. If anyone’s going to be good at kickball and have a stellar team it’s gonna be him.
Just one problem: I’m not the best kickball player. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. (Nothing involving a ball does, if you were wondering.) I try and I give it my best. Well, most of the time. But sometimes I miss practices. Sometimes I goof off and don’t give it my best effort. Occasionally I kick the ball far and straight, but most of the time I’m not much help in the games.
And God is super duper nice so he won’t ever kick me off the team. But… he kind of grimaces whenever it’s my turn at the plate, and sighs in exasperation when I don’t take things seriously, and is just generally, well, disappointed in me.
Even writing this feels like heresy because deep down I know it’s not true.
And yet, that’s absolutely the best analogy I have for how I feel so often. That my salvation is secure (i.e., God’s not going to kick me off the team), but that God is disappointed that I don’t do better and don’t do more. That I don’t read my Bible and pray every day. That I no longer help in student ministry. That I don’t spend more time preparing for teaching Sunday school lessons. That I don’t volunteer in my community. That Alissa has so much potential she’s not living up to and so God just hangs his head in disappointment.
When I first started my job I got so much personal fulfillment from it. Learning an important role and doing it well and contributing and being needed… it was all amazing! Then after a few years it got boring and I got depressed and restless.
Then I started running, and I got a lot of personal fulfillment from that. Discovering that, whoa, I’m not quite as unathletic as I always thought! (Still nothing with a ball, though.) Watching myself get better and learning to persevere through something that was really hard for me was an incredible time of growth. Now a few years later I have almost no motivation to run and I’m restless and struggling again.
So I wrote that post, wrote those words of wisdom to myself, and then forgot them. Over the past several months instead I’ve prayed countless times for God to show me what he wants me to do. There are several things I’ve looked into but I’ve done none of them, each time pausing because I always come to the same conclusion: right now if I did any of these things they would certainly become an idol. Another thing I am doing to seek fulfillment and keep God from being disappointed rather than simply experiencing fulfillment in the knowledge that God delights in me.
This is really hard for me, guys. Really hard. The biggest temptation in my life is to do. I’ve conditioned myself to think that my value comes from what I do and how well I do it. Always wanting to get the best grade on a test, draw the best picture in class, be the nicest person that everyone likes, the best employee, the greatest Sunday school teacher… But if I was ill and stuck in a bed for the rest of my life unable to do anything for him, God would still delight completely in me. If I was alone on a desert island with no one to minister to, God would still delight completely in me.
The internet has several different opinions (translations?) for what Buddha’s last words were, but they’re just variations on the same theme: “Strive on untiringly.” “It is through vigilance that you succeed.” “Work hard to gain your own salvation.”
Compare those with Jesus’ last words: “It is finished.” No more sacrifices. No more working to get to God. No more fear that you haven’t done enough. Everything was accomplished through Jesus.
Reading my Bible is important. Praying is important. Tithing is important. Teaching in kids ministry is important. Serving others in need is important. But the why behind all of them is even more important. And the why behind so many of my actions isn’t what it needs to be. I don’t often do these because I want to know God better, but out of a sense of guilt that I should be doing more and doing better. God’s not disappointed in me. That’s a flat out bold faced lie.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. Gal 5:7-8
The amount that I can do for God is nothing. Absolutely nothing. I can never ever ever ever do enough for God. Far from this making me feel guilty and worried that I need to do more, it should be freeing! I don’t need to strive for anything!!!
My motivation needs to be much deeper than a shallow checklist of “should” activities. By spending time with my Creator, I learn more about him and about how and why I was created. God has so much more to teach me, and I have so much more to learn.
Less fearing disappointment, more resting in his delight. Less striving for fulfillment, more experiencing grace. Less worrying about filling all my free time with activities, more pausing to marvel in who he is.
Acknowledgement: Some of these wise words came from AJ. Thanks for speaking truth into my life and the lives of others. You’re the best.