There are moments in life when God reminds you that you’re a mess, when He reminds you that you’re going to fall short every single time you try to be perfect, when He reminds you that you will never, ever be good enough. But He never reminds you of this without saying “But it’s okay, because I am a gracious God, a loving God, a merciful God, who does not bring you to Me to condemn you, but to save you from yourself.”
I’ve forgotten, over the course of just a few weeks, that God’s opinion of me is the only one that matters. I’ve fallen prey to the mindset of being defined by how good I can be on the outside and condemning myself on the inside way too many times to count. I’ve tried to be perfect by my own devices so many times and felt the sting of one mess-up deep beneath the surface of my skin, and it was almost too much to bear.
Today was one of those days.
The day had gone normally (if there’s ever a normal day to be found within the course of my life). I was so physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted that I’d gone to sleep before six o’clock last night and woken up this morning, over twelve hours later. When I woke up, I was greeted by the fact that God is still God, and even though I’ve changed, He hasn’t.
I ran errands during the morning, vacuumed, washed dishes, cycled and folded laundry, cleaned my room, all of the things I normally did.
As part of being a camp counselor this summer, I’m expected to lead my campers in nightly devotions. I believe I’ve written about this before, but when I sat down to work on the devotions once again, I was greeted (once again) by the daunting character of the task. I have no idea how to counsel anyone or how to lead devotions of any sort. As I sat there, I kept thinking “How am I going to counsel anybody? I’m a mess!.” I mean, I’ll be talking to all girls, right? What do girls have in common…?
Well, there’s boys…but who on earth wants to talk about boys? They’ve got plenty of time for boys and they have so much growing up to do before they even need to be thinking about them….but it’s no doubt one of the main things on their minds. It’s going to be by the grace of God that I’ll be able to counsel girls as far as boys are concerned. Here’s what would probably happen:
A younger camper, in middle school, is upset that a boy isn’t paying attention to her or she’s heartbroken because she “loves” him and he is treating her in a way she doesn’t want to be treated or he’s hanging out with other girls or whatever. She would expect me to tell her that he does really love her and that she needs to just wait for him and he’ll change eventually. Well, her expectations would be shattered, because this isn’t true.
In middle school, the word love is tossed around flippantly and without understanding of what the word actually means. The boy she seeks may be cute or any number of attractive things that are usually sought after by females, but he’s not what she needs. Too many girls (myself included) run into the trap of either claiming that they need a guy in their life and they’re not complete without him or expressing rudeness and complete disrespect for the male gender, claiming they don’t need them and that men are entirely inferior to women.
Neither of these are true.
In the book of Acts, chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra, a Roman frontier outpost about eighteen miles south-southwest of Iconium. Paul, through the power of the Holy Spirit, calls a lame man to stand up and walk. The man jumps up and begins to walk. Now, the crowds saw what he had done and they began to call Barnabas ‘Zeus’ and Paul ‘Hermes’ after the Greek gods, and they began to prepare sacrifices and worship them. How weird would you feel if someone started sacrificing animals to you and calling you a Greek god or goddess? I personally would be rather uncomfortable, but that’s just me. Anyway, Paul and Barnabas are like “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you.” (v. 15, NIV)
Middle school, even high school, pssh, even grown up boys are human just like women are human, and man can’t fulfill woman anymore than woman can fulfill man. God placed an ever-present desire for satisfaction within us, but that desire was meant to be for Him, not for other humans. So, ladies, men, other humans aren’t going to satisfy you, no matter how wonderful they may be. They’ll leave you feeling betrayed, confused, and empty if you look at them as something to fill you up.
The other trap, which is being rude and disrespectful to men, is one I’ve also fallen into. It can be easy to go from one end of the spectrum to the other, thinking “well, guys are only going to hurt me, so I obviously don’t need them at all.” While it’s true girls don’t need guys like they need God, that doesn’t mean they should treat them with contempt or disrespect. Those boys are still in need of a savior, just like the girls are.
So I’m really not sure how God is going to work this one out, but honestly He’s the one who put the whole camp-counselor-thing into play, so I don’t doubt He knows what’s going to happen 🙂 I’m excited to see it all play out.
Lately, on top of trying to please everyone, my emotions have been absolutely out of control (I know, you’re shocked). Ever since I left The City I just haven’t been able to look at things objectively, like the wisdom button in my brain and my heart was shut off and I just can’t reach it.
Jimmy and Gracie and my father came home and when I came downstairs from my room, I noted that nobody had said hello when they came in, something they’d been neglecting since I’d returned from college. Why couldn’t they have the decency to say “Hi Hunter!” through the house even if I was in my room? I was angry. Jimmy was the only one in the house and I went to him and asked why he didn’t say hello. The argument ensuing could’ve been avoided, but I had to have my voice be heard. Immediately when I left the room to go outside, I felt so stupid, because I knew I was being selfish.
Gracie and my father were outside playing with the dogs. We ran around with them for a while until finally going inside. I went and apologized to Jimmy, already feeling the weight of messing up building on top of my shoulders.
I made dinner, Mom was late, Jimmy was challenging me, Gracie and Jimmy were arguing, Dad left for work. My head was spinning and my heart was breaking. But I held tight onto my emotions, refusing to give them to God so He could stabilize me as He’d done so many times before.
Me: I can do this by myself. I am a mature person and I have got everything under control.
God: Yes, I can tell by the way you’re getting annoyed with how Jimmy is breathing.
Mom came home while I was straightening Gracie’s hair (tomorrow is a sort of dress up day at her school), and by that time, though I seemed pretty stable on the outside, I was falling to pieces inside. I just knew I wasn’t good enough, that all of the things I’d done to prepare the house for my mother weren’t good enough, that my treatment of my brother and sister wasn’t good enough, that my patience wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t handle this on my own.
After realizing I wouldn’t be able to do Zumba, I grabbed my iPod and went for a run. While I ran, I imagined I was running from God, running from dependence on Him, on anybody. I wanted to do this by myself. I needed to learn how to be mature. I needed to realize that this life was hard and I needed to deal with it alone. But I knew what I was doing was the equivalent of picking up garbage in my room and then carrying the garbage bag on my back, refusing to put it down. My good works were the pieces of garbage, and the bag full of them was my offering to God in payment for my sins…even though He’s already paid for them and really doesn’t need anything from me. Or it’s equal to wearing filthy rags like a fashion trend that needs to be broken instead of wearing the beautiful headdress and robe God gave me when I was adopted into His royal family. Who would wear rags when they could wear robes?
Needless to say, this wall didn’t stand.
At the end of my run, I went and sat on the stairs in my house. Jimmy was downstairs washing the dishes. Gracie was watching TV. Mom was upstairs practicing guitar. Dad was at work. I sighed, trying to keep myself from crying.
“Hunter, are you okay?” Mom called from her room.
“What’s wrong with you?”
It was then my Mom talked to me from the landing while I sat on the stairs, sweat dripping all over the place and tears doing the same. I was just frustrated that I wasn’t good enough, frustrated that I kept falling short, annoyed that I kept snapping at people and feeling like I would never change. Nothing would ever change.
But as my mother reminded me that “of course you’re going to fall short, you’re human,” and as I remembered that works have nothing to do with my eternal standing with God, my heart of stone was finally broken into pieces, and a soft heart of flesh was put back in its rightful place.
Satan likes to trip me up with making me feel like I’m stuck, like I’ll never be able to escape my own ridiculousness and that I’ll always be a mess. This is partly true. I will always sin, and there’s nothing I can do about that. My human nature prohibits me from being sinless. But I will not always be stuck in this spot.
I was told by someone in The City that I needed to learn how to let my emotions go, that I needed to be more vulnerable, and while this is somewhat true, he didn’t know my heart like God does. God knows very well how emotional I am by nature, how dramatic I am and how crazy my imagination is. God knows that in order for me to function like a normal human being, in order for me to write about something other than how dark and depressing and dramatic the world is, He needs to be in charge of my emotions. Because I’m a child of God, I’m free to feel everything in the greatest way imaginable. I’m free to feel purely and feel wonderfully because I know He loves me rather than being a slave to my emotions. God gives me the freedom to start over when I mess up, the ability to begin again when I fall short. That’s what mercy is all about, what grace is made for. Grace and mercy are second chances every day, getting what I don’t deserve.
No, I’m not perfect, not by a long shot, and I have so much growing up to do and so many things to learn, but I am the precious treasure of a God who loves me anyway. When I run away, He brings me back to Him, no matter how painful or uncomfortable it might be. When I forget who He is, He brings me into the wilderness and speaks to me tenderly. When I’m broken, shattered, and chained by my own emotions and the emptiness of trying to be ‘good enough’, He makes the chains dissolve and lifts up my face, though I feel like I can’t even look Him in the eyes. He just holds me and reminds me that it’s okay, that He didn’t die for me because I was perfect, He didn’t die for me because He wanted me to owe Him something, He didn’t die for me so I could slave away at trying to be something that I’m not for the rest of my existence. He died for me because He loved me, knowing that I would never be able to perfectly love Him back. He loves me even though He knows I’ll forget Him sometimes. He loves me even though He knows there are so many things fighting for my attention, and He knows I’ll say ‘no’ to Him sometimes in order to say ‘yes’ to them. He loves me even though I sometimes feel like He doesn’t.
God has never seen me fall and then thrown His hands up and said “That’s it, I’m done with her.” He’s never witnessed my ridiculous actions and my absolute stupidity and said “This girl obviously has no idea what she wants, she’s not true to her word, she’s overemotional, and she’s incapable of loving Me back. I can do so much better.” He’s never listened to me cry to Him and thought “Oh my goodness will she ever talk about something different?” He’s never once even considered any of these things, and He never will.
So even though I’m incapable of being perfect, even though I will fall short every single day of my life, God has been perfect in my place, He’s paid the price that I couldn’t afford, He’s given me life at His own expense, and He’ll never ask for me to pay Him back. The rags that I so love to wear, the rags that I try to offer to Him in exchange for His love, are disgusting to Him, because He has something so much better in mind for me. He instead takes my rags, burns them, and gives me a wedding dress, a fine robe, a beautiful headdress that I can wear with pride and with purity and with freedom, because I am His.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them (the Gentiles) by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” —Acts 15:8-11, NIV