Giving Up... The Finish Line

Lent Series Button I was so frustrated.

I couldn’t believe it happened again. This week. The week my therapist and I ended our sessions (for now) because of how much better I’ve been doing. This week, when Monday my feet felt so firmly planted in the “after” of this whole journey of knowing my identity and learning to be.

But after Monday, Tuesday came.

I sat in a meeting in which a few little things added up to make me feel out of place. Then that out of place feeling grew to an angsty feeling, and I found myself going into that night questioning and uncertain about my role, my calling, and my value in this great big beautiful Kingdom of God.

I thought I was past all that.

{Hey friends and family. Guess what? I got a tattoo! Sorry if this is the first you are hearing about it…}

Seriously. I’ve been writing about all this stuff I’ve given up, and I’ve really been doing it. I’ve told people about how I feel like such a different person than I was six months ago. I mean, last week I got a tattoo celebrating this sense of freedom and new identity in Christ.

Among the many questions swirling through my mind and emotions was this one: how did I end up back here so quickly?

I was quick to assume that falling one step back meant I had regressed all the way to the beginning. It felt that way because, even though I wouldn’t have admitted this out loud, I thought I was done. I thought I had crossed some imaginary finish line.

If you think you’ve finished a race, any fall backwards can make you feel like a failure.

The problem is not the back step; it’s the feeling there's a finish line.

The word “journey” becomes an overused metaphor in the Christian life for a reason. Journeys meander. They are not as much about getting from point A to point B as they are about experiencing what comes to you along the way.

I didn’t really go back to the beginning. I can tell the feelings of angst that arose did not rock me as deeply as they once did. This back step was not a failure, but another point on the journey.

In the Old Testament story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, she is distraught by her childless condition. She wrestles and prays and breaks some rules on her journey of surrender to God’s will.

When Hannah finally shares her heart with Eli, our English Bibles translate his reply as, “Go in peace.” But his words could also, and perhaps more accurately, be translated, “Walk towards wholeness.”

Walk towards wholeness.

It’s not about arriving. Or snapping our fingers and getting it all figured out. Or reaching a conclusion and being done. We can’t actually reach that kind of decisive end, as hard as we might strive or wish or struggle to get there.

All we can do is walk towards wholeness on the path of God’s grace.


Giving Up… is a Lenten Series asking a question: What if we gave up more than external things for Lent? It’s not a belief that we can get rid of our baggage as easily as we can write a blog post. But, it is a belief that admitting those things that keep us from deeper intimacy with Christ is a good start. {Please note, this isn’t in any way meant to be a critique of those giving up something external. Often that is connected to the internal in a powerful way. In my case, though, I realized that the external sacrifice was hindering me from dealing with what was going on below the surface.}

The Broken Crayon and the Completed Work of Art

I wander around the art museum, trying to find my way. I was told there is a gift there for me.  

When I finally arrive at the place I was told to go, I am stunned. The beauty that is before me is too much. I cannot move. It is a masterpiece beyond description.

 

It can’t be true. Is it really a gift for me? There must be some mistake. It’s too heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I cannot comprehend this exists at all, much less accept this as a gift.

 

I am overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do.

 

Then, I look down and remember. That piece of broken crayon in my hand. The one I grabbed in anger after my son scribbled on the wall. It is still wrapped up in my fingers. I was on my way to throw it out when I somehow ended up here.

 

I begin to scribble on the painting.

 

At first, just a little bit, on the bottom corner. Something in me feels like I must do something, and it’s the only thing I can think to do. As if somehow adding to the work of the artist will make me more deserving of the gift.

 

But as I move my hand back and forth and back and forth, I notice that it doesn’t help. I grow more unsettled with each movement. My strokes grow wider and more furious as the sense of unworthiness and frustration grows within me. With each glide across the canvas, I feel more wretched than the last.

 

Until suddenly, there is a noise in the other room. I look away. And when I look back to the masterpiece again, I realize what I have done.

 

And I crumple to the ground in utter despair.

 

What was I thinking? Why did I think trying to add to this great work would somehow make me more deserving of it?

 

It is not better. It is worse. So much worse. What have I done?

 

I take off my scarf. Maybe I can use it to wipe away my mistake. I scour as hard as I can. But the more I scrub, the worse the mess seems to get.

 

I look around. Has anyone noticed? Does anyone know what a mess I have made? I wring my hands and go back to scrubbing, not sure what else to do.

 

Why did I do this? Why? Oh, if I could take it back! I’d give anything to take it back. How do I make up for this now?

 

My only instinct is to try harder. I wipe at the painting with the tears that have begun to stream down my cheeks, hoping the water will help.

 

It doesn’t. Nothing seems to help.

 

I hear footsteps behind me and my heart sinks to the floor. I turn around to look. It is the artist. I try to hide, but he is walking right towards me, with an outstretched hand.

 

He pries open my palm and the crayon tumbles to the ground.

My love, this masterpiece is finished. It is my work, not yours. You do not need to add to it. It is complete. And it is a gift. You need only come. You need only receive.

 

He reaches over to my other arm and takes away my scarf.

My love, your own scrubbing cannot get this clean. Trying to cover it up your marks does no good. I am the artist. It is accomplished only through me.

 

He puts his hand on the painting, and through my tears, I see the crayon dissolve.

 

The artist looks back at me, and I see that I was not alone in my weeping. He grabs my shoulders and looks me in the eyes.

My love, when I said this was a gift for you, I meant it. It is forged from the beauty and pain of a perfect love. There is nothing you can do to add to it. I am the one who finished it. And I completed this masterpiece for you. Take it home with you now. And know that you are worthy to have it because my love declares it so.

 

It is finished.

broken crayon 

To be honest, this allegorical story was a little out of my writing comfort zone. But I couldn’t find any other words to describe the gravity and love and importance of John 19:30, when, as Jesus died, He declared, “It is finished!” I have often not believed those three little words, and attempted to add to Jesus’ work on the cross. It always ends in a mess.

 

Jesus Said Lent Series ButtonA series to honor the Lenten season by reflecting on various teachings of Christ. Let’s think about who He was and what He came to do by talking about the words that came straight from His mouth.

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The Lord's Prayer, Take Two

I was going to write a post today filled with platitudes about what the Lord’s Prayer teaches us about praying.  

But the truth is, my own prayer life stinks.

 

If I wrote the kind of post I wanted to write, I would be the same kind of hypocrite that Jesus speaks against in the Sermon on the Mount. One who uses words to look holy and pious, but fails to do privately what she does publicly.

 

It’s true that I practice a certain kind of “prayer without ceasing” during my day. I walk around with an awareness of God’s presence and an invitation for him to be part of my activities that I never used to have. And I am so grateful for the way my faith has changed and grown to have this sort of richness.

 

But, for a long time now, I have struggled in my commitment to set aside time to pray. To speak to God with intention. To focus. To set aside distractions. To breathe. To listen. To be fully engaged in the act of prayer.

 

I long to change. I can feel in the fragmentation of myself, and my faith that I need to.

 

And so more than the words of the Lord’s prayer itself, I am hearing Jesus’ introduction to it. “When you pray… pray like this.” Not if you pray. Not if you get around to praying. Not if you feel so inclined to set aside the time once in awhile.

 

When you pray...

 

This is an invitation for our souls to come, and an expectation that we will. Not because we should pray, or are obligated to pray, or are holier if we pray, but because we can pray. Because we need to pray.

 

Pray like this.

 

Not as a formula, but as a holistic picture of what prayer can look like. Of what our God looks like.

 The Lord's Prayer

God is our Father. He is intimately concerned about our well-being. God is holy. But also, He forgives us. His holiness does not mean we have to measure up, but that He is immeasurable. God provides for our needs. But also, He is bringing His kingdom. His purposes are much more grand than our individual happiness.

 

Intentional prayer like the Lord's prayer centers us. It gives us perspective.

 

I need to pray more. Not because it makes me holy. But because it makes me whole.

 

(P.S. Jesus' teaching on prayer, which includes the Lord's Prayer, is found in Matthew 6.)

 

Jesus Said Lent Series ButtonA series to honor the Lenten season by reflecting on various teachings of Christ. Let’s think about who He was and what He came to do by talking about the words that came straight from His mouth.