But this past weekend, I was knocked down. I lost two days of my life to recovering from a little infection in my throat called streptococcal pharyngitis – strep throat. Had you seen me over the weekend, the physical knock-down I took would have been obvious to you. But it’s the spiritual humbling that I believe may have been the real benefit intended for me through this brief illness, by a gracious and merciful God who uses suffering to draw us nearer to Him. Ironically, I’ve been battling “receiving” this gift all week.
You see, one of the spiritual truths I have a hard time keeping in focus is that I am a frail, weak jar of clay, and can do nothing without Christ.
I have been told that I have the “gift of administration,” but for me, that gift comes with its own handicap. It comes with a false sense of independence, a self-styled inner monologue that, no matter what is thrown at me, automatically begins chanting, “No problem! I can handle it!”
As a young, newly-married woman, I quickly learned to juggle the needs of a husband and then one…two…three children as I also managed my own life. Throw in more and more responsibility around the house as my husband began traveling? “No problem, I’ve got it.” Children begin entering into private school and volunteering is a must? “No problem! I can do it!”
As a divorced mother of those three children, I was able to care for them and work-full time, while also keeping an active social schedule, a clean house, and a consistent exercise program. No partner to help with all this? “No problem! I can handle it!”
Even as a Christian I’ve lived out of this sense of independence. As a remarried woman, I brought my three kids into our newly-formed family, while Warren brought two. Five children, a new husband and a new career to build in a new community, setting up a new home and making all new friends? “No problem. I can do this.”
Over the last several years I’ve been forced to acknowledge that I cannot, actually, “do this” all on my own. As I’ve drawn closer to Christ, He has time and again put circumstances way beyond my control into my life, forcing me to rely on Him in ways I previously had relied only on myself, as well as teaching me to rely on Him in ways I didn’t know I could. He’s shown me, over and over, that I can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5).
I’ve even spent a lot of time this past summer reading John chapter 15, where Jesus refers to Himself as the vine, and us as the branches. As I read those passages, I know them to be true, and I understand the peace that comes with their truth.
You’d think, then, that I would understand that independence is a myth born out of not knowing who I am in Christ. You’d think that, having been pulled out of my comfort zone time after time to serve in ways that are “not me,” I’d have a deep understanding that it’s entirely the Holy Spirit working through me. You’d think, having experienced the amazing, incredible, not-of-this-world peace that comes from leaning on Christ day in and day out, especially through trials and seasons of stress, that I would cling to Him every day to ensure that His peace would not leave me.
That’s just not been my experience. The “belief” that I can handle life on my own runs deep in my soul. I’ve certainly learned that I need Jesus to help me out in some areas, or perhaps during some seasons, but the independent spirit within me is one that is dying a very slow death.
And so it is that I find I need to be regularly reminded of my own frailty. This last weekend was another time of revelation for me, that I’d once again begun piling my to-do list with more and more, and all the while depending on myself – not Christ – to provide the strength to get it done. While confined to lay under a blanket – and largely disallowed from doing almost anything – I found myself stewing over all the things I'd intended to get done. Reading was one thing I could do, so I picked up a book our small group is studying, and within two paragraphs was directed to “take a break and open your Bible to the book of John. Read chapters 14 through 16 and give yourself some space to soak in the words…notice particularly how Christ desires that His disciples have peace and how He comforts (them) with the truth that they are not left alone.”
I actually did that; I closed the book I was reading, picked up my Bible, and read John as directed. Though I knew when I opened my Bible what I was about to read, the living, breathing Word of God still pressed in on my administrative little heart in ways I didn’t expect, reminding me that “apart from Me, you can do nothing." (15:5)
Other phrases jumped out at me. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” (14:1) “Peace I leave with you…let not your hearts be troubled.” (14:27) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” (16:33)
I’d lost my focus again, and had begun living out functional unbelief. It troubles me that I can continue to do this with such ease, and without even realizing it until I’ve veered far enough off the path that it’s obvious to anyone close to me that I’m not abiding with Christ, not walking humbly with him. I could allow that realization to create in me despair, hopelessness and a sense of unworthiness. And in fact, I have felt some of all those feelings this week. I’ve been like a yo-yo, up and down, unable to find my center.
Having been reminded that I am, in fact, completely dependent on God for the very breath I draw (Psalm 139:16), that all my lists and plans and accomplishments will fail the very moment He decides to allow me to fall ill for a few days, my first response was to once again try to pull myself up by my own bootstraps! Independent Spirit!?
It was only when I simply sat in the quiet of the morning, and allowed my heart of turmoil to cry out to Jesus for help, that the words of Psalm 51 came to me, unbidden. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (51:10, 12)
I’m on the road to recovery this week, both physically and spiritually. Actually, as you read this I may well be on the road to Minneapolis, to attend John Piper’s annual conference, where I hope the Holy Spirit further “rights my soul.”
I share this less-than-flattering week of my life with you mostly as a confession of sorts. I think the Christian walk is hard. I find the deceitfulness of my flesh to be relentless, and the fact that I fall on my face regularly is, at times, incredibly discouraging. I am quick to beat myself up and slow to recall God’s grace.
But I would also call this an invitation. If you can relate to feeling this way…if you find yourself feeling heavy and burdened and irritable before you even realize it, and you realize you’ve strayed from abiding in Christ…be wiser than me. Run quickly to the feet of the King, and cry out to Him, “Have mercy on me, Oh God!”
Have mercy on me, Oh God,
According to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant mercy
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity;
And cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
And done what is evil in your sight,
So that you may be justified in your words
And blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
And you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
And take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And uphold me with a willing spirit.