All my life I’ve been into making checklists. Whether it’s for the day’s errands or the year’s goals, marking off those little boxes has fueled my ambition and determination like none other.Graduated college? Check. Climbed a mountain? Check. Competed in bodybuilding? Check. Backpacked across Europe solo? Check. These are just a few of the many accomplishments I’ve planned and completed, yet many boxes still remain empty. In fact, for the past year that pen has lay untouched on top of that long forgotten list.
Capable. I’ve always had the capability, both physically and mentally, to do just about anything I’ve set my mind to do, often bypassing better judgement or short-circuiting any plans God might have tried to whisper in my season of self-reliance. In the gym, I gained respect as the girl known for bounding all across the floor performing various plyometrics, often with a barbell hoisted upon her shoulders, who could and would put her body to the ultimate test of limits. Among coworkers, often the first to pick up any extra shift, pull a double, or work as many days straight or jobs at once as I could. At home and among friends, the one who could always be counted on, a solid rock of support, advice, and counsel. Always capable of juggling all spheres of my life and the duties that called in one hand.
How quickly capabilities shatter when struck down by the blow of a single injurious moment. How in one instant you can go from capable to incapable. From confident to crushed. From steady to staggering. How the frame which once stood proud and strong now toils to get through each hour. The good book says the proud will be brought low, but one never quite really understands the measure of how low until they are knocked face up into the pit of their own pride.
We are a culture that prides ourselves on being capable, competent, and callously independent. We reward and praise those who make major achievements in their own strength and skill, and look down on those who seek input or help from others. In this day and age, it seems if you can’t do it all then you’re marked as practically worthless, or worse yet, a failure, all because you failed to keep up with the pace of perfection.Our society and generation is encouraged to push limits, boundaries, to never accept no for an answer, and to achieve at any and all cost. And for many years, I too believed that this was the ultimate path to finding worth in the world, even amidst my faith in God. But I find myself now realizing that the price of all that performing–because really, isn’t it all to gain the glory and praise of people–has been far higher than I bargained for and I am left with inadequate funds to settle the debt, to offset the balance that is weighing so heavily out of my favor.
The only failures these days it seems are those who fail to keep up with the pace of perfection, running short of super strength
When you place all of your chips on the table, the whole of your confidence on your shifting abilities, you run the risk of losing all you think you are about to gain. It may not happen this round, or even the next, but inevitably down the line your choices will catch up to you and you’ll be left scrambling with hindsight as heavy as the themes on 20/20. What I am speaking of here is not the God-given go ahead to risk all for the glory of Him who has set you on a path that requires strength you knew not you had. I’m referring to quite the opposite. We know that in Him all things are possible, all things that He ordains and wills, but on the flipside, anything done in our own power and strength is susceptible to this precarious situation. This is the unsteady, shifting sand the Scriptures talk about in the book of Matthew (7:26). Our confidence and capabilities alone are not a sure or solid foundation, though the world tries to tell us they are or should be. You can brashly live life as is you are invincible only for so long. And in my case, you can only push your body to a certain limit until it breaks.
Recently, a pastor at our church was sharing a story about his two year old son as a picture metaphor for his teaching that evening. He was describing the laborious task of potty training the young boy, and then later retelling a conversation he had with his little one as he tucked him into bed that night.
“Tell mommy I am going to wake up tomorrow, go potty, then gonna go watch such and such [silly name] children’s show on television. That’s what I’m gonna do. Go tell mommy right now!”
We all laughed, but after the amusement of this precious story wore off something stuck with me. I saw myself in that little untrainer toddler. Just like Him, I often come to God in the wee hours of morning and night and tell Him just exactly how the shows gonna go down. I plan, I decide, I dictate. In unfurling the scroll of my mapped out life, measuring and plotting each point along the trajectory of my path, I dictate to the all powerful, all knowing, all seeing God, the One who is who ultimately in control, and I tell Him just how things are gonna roll from hereon out. And even typing this admittance it hits me hard again. I’ve been dictating to God–and chances are, if you’re anything like me, you’ve done it too. We have all been that resistant child, defiant in our own stance, defiant in our perceived self-reliance and capability, but the fact of the matter is that we are all still untrained children to some degree, making messes far more tedious to clean up than a soiled diaper. It runs like a disease through the body of Christ, and it’s even more rampant in the greater culture of our world. I am sorry if I’ve stepped on any toes, or come across as condemning, as neither were my intentions. I am just a humbled girl, horrified by the wrongness of my own attitudes, and moved to repentance and action to allow the Holy Spirit to change me. To open my arms in surrender to His process of sanctification–that big religious sounding word that really just means I am ready and willing to be reshaped and remade. To rid the unholy and open my arms to heaven as I’m doused in the love-filled blood that washes me clean and pure.
And if I am washed by the blood of the Lamb, by the only taintless sacrifice, shall I not even too embrace the crucifixion that precedes this ceremony of righteousness? Shall I not also embrace the death of things in my life that have no place in His presence as much as I do the blessings He showers? Even in this death of the old, there is life, there is newness, there is rebirth. That somehow as counterintuitive and backwards as this whole transformative process of renewal is, it is ever so clear that in submission and surrender there is freedom, and that in reality it was my own self-reliance on my limited capabilities that led to my captivity of soul. That freedom isn’t found where our minds tell us it’s found, but rather where our spirit leads us when all our own methods are exhausted; to the very foot of the cross where He hung for our redemption.
Freedom. It’s what every human being inherently craves. Our souls yearn for it because we were created to be free. We weren’t created to have boundaries, or limits, or lack, but for eternal satisfaction in close cohabitation with the Creator set amidst an utopian world. But then the fall and death crept in by our own device, our own self-determination to have that which was never intended for our good, for a burden that we were never meant to carry. It was this ambition, this temptation to have more of our own strength, more of our own ability that ultimately led to our demise and to every life-sucking plague that entered this world as a result.
So this indescribable pain that limits what I can and cannot do, that threatens to rob the enjoyment of my summer, that mocks all my planning and potential pursuits, that persistently tries to convince me that its lies are truth, all stems from this post-fall desire that says we need control and power when really the only thing necessary is surrender.
So I surrender, but not to the pain that prevails. I surrender and lay at the altar this sacrifice of self-will that tells my God that I will trust and I will persist in faith, even when all else shouts otherwise. I will fight and I will summon strength, the strength that I find when I’m bowed on my knees, and in Him I will rest and find victory. His promises I will speak, and His truths I will declare. And I will fight and I will struggle against
the setbacks that aim to feed me the lie that I am limited; to keep these physical slowdowns from hindering my happiness, my joy, my peace, or more importantly, my place in His kingdom.
Despite my physical deficits I can still find surplus in His unending love, power, and strength that He so graciously promises to extend to us in the trials of our lives. I may not be capable of joining my friends on those hikes I long to complete, I may not be capable of diving into the glossy waters of Lake Jo letting my body bend and extend as it once could, I may not be capable of waking up and hitting the pavement for those morning runs I long to return to, but today I am more capable than ever of running the race God has set before me in this season, and ultimately, for the greater calling of my life. More capable of listening to and discerning His voice amidst the sea of my own thoughts and doubts. More capable of singing His praises, even when from the thick of it it seems there are no praises to sing. More capable of finding joy in the hard and weary places where it seems the light barely cracks through. And all because God was gracious enough to soften my heart toward humility instead of hardness in this season of surrender. All because I no longer will stand to allow myself to become caught in the clutches of my own control. I asked for more of Him, and in return He rightfully demanded all of me. The bargain was my brokenness in exchange for wholeness in Him. If I trust that He is faithful to hold true to His word, how could I not relinquish the pieces He longs to put back together.
There are still many things I want to accomplish in this life, still many boxes to be checked, and I believe that God-willing, one day I will. But I will do so in His perfect time, and even greater things than my miniscule mind could conjure.
So I must shut the door on the past, let go of comparing my current state to what I was once capable of, and surrender to the peace of knowing it is all for His greater glory and my greater benefit. It is all for picking out the imperfect and persevering toward completion. It is all for the joy set before me, the joy that is found in reverse of my plotting and planning and on the other side of the valley I look out upon, out far beyond my own control or my capabilities, in the very palm of His hand. That is where I must rest, and that is where I must find myself complete. Because when you have nothing left of your feeble frame to prove, no more strength apart from God to muster, it is becomes so evidently clear that in this place of utter bankruptcy of your own ability can He truly come and mobilize you with all of His empowering grace. For He is the One who widens my way, who makes me able to tread the perilous places where my feet cannot otherwise take me, so like a deer I can scale the heights even in my helpless state. For the Sovereign Lord is my strength, and I will ever sing of His goodness, until this air leaves my lungs. Of that I will always be capable.
Scripture Inspirations: Psalms 18, 2nd Samuel 22:33, Habakkuk 3:19, James 1