I like things like mornings and Mondays and September, times of new beginnings and fresh starts. I like times like that—usually!
Lately, though, I've been thinking about those other times. Times when I don't want to jump in and have another go at things. And I've been considering what makes the difference. Why is it that sometimes I'd rather "get on the bus, go to another state and live in the woods and eat berries,"as school-bound Lucy puts it in one "Peanuts"episode? (Charlie Brown gets to the core of the matter by asking, "Having trouble with fractions again, huh?")
What are the "fractions"in my life that take the fizz out, that get me trapped in malaise and wanting to say, "I think I'll pass on that opportunity"? What makes me not want to serve another, work on a relationship, chair a committee, parent a child, lead a study or get involved at any level?
In taking an informal survey of some people I know and looking way down deep in my own heart, l've identified several reasons I might want to opt out - or to not opt in.
The first reason I might not want to start again is the vacation syndrome. A five week vacation in the woods this summer was like Turkish Delight to me. I developed a taste for it and wanted more. Coming back was hard to do. It involved a choice to believe Jesus was right when He said, "The one who loses his life shall find it."As I believed His word I could then choose to accept the responsibilities that He'd given me, knowing that in doing so I'd find life-more than on the open road.
Another reason I've identified for wanting to pull back is an awareness of inadequacy. Looking at the task and thinking "I can't do that!"or "I can't do that as well as she/he can."l empathize with Moses: "Here am l. Send Aaron!"But the Creator says to me as He did to Moses "I called you. I want you. I'll be with you. Because you are weak, the glory will go to Me in the end."Again the choice is mine. Will I take Him at His word?
Not being noticed or taken seriously seems one more reason to fold up my tent and back away. But Jesus said, "Take the lower seat."So why should I mind when someone gives it to me? Instead, I can ignore secondary causes, and inwardly say, "Thank you, Jesus, for giving me this chance to follow You, this chance to take the lower seat. I know You don't give stones when I need bread."I then can get on with what He's called me to do.
These things-–a vacation mentality, an awareness of inadequacy, and a sense of not being noticed are all things that can (and do at times) make it hard for me to step into the realities of my responsibilities. But as hard as these make it, there is one thing that for me makes it even harder. Failure. Not the inability to get the job done, but rather the failure to do it His way. Sin and it's inevitable harvest of guilt and shame can more than anything discredit me in my own eyes to the extent that checking out seems the only option open. I once put it this way:
The feeling's back.The "thing" can be being out of control with my kids or in a meeting. Or one-on-one saying hurtful things, rather than speaking words that heal. Maybe I've had a failure in courage or in courtesy. Maybe I've been flirting with the world and made some bad moves. Any of these, sneaking up on me for the umpteenth time, can make me say with David, "My vitality was drained away as with the fever-heat of summer"(Psalm 32:4). I mean, it's bad enough to realize I had it in me in the first place, but to see it come out again can be overwhelming. Humbling even.
It hurts a lot.
And this is what it says,
"You've done that thing,
The very thing,
You'd never do again.
Shame all over you."
Over the years the Lord has been teaching me a few principles about my failures—my sin.
1. I need to take a good, hard look at these death spots in my life and acknowledge them . Even though it's humbling and it hurts, I can look without fear because God only reveals these to me so that He can heal me. He's not playing "Gotcha!"
2. 1 am learning to let my failures lead me to say, "Amazing grace, that saved a wretch like me."And to mean it! As I then confess my sin and turn from it toward God, I can worship Him more genuinely. I know I'm forgiven much, and so I love Him much.
3. Too, by disclosing to me the bond I have with each other sinning person, Jesus is increasingly tenderizing me. I see how I thrive under His forgiveness and understanding and I want to pass it on.
4. A while back, though, I was stumped. I couldn't figure out how a sinless God could understand the shame and guilt that issued from my failure. Even the great passage in Hebrews four that assures me Jesus understands my struggles, says He is without sin. "So how can You understand?"I asked Him. With a bold stroke He reminded me of His cross. His word came quietly to my thoughts: "He who knew no sin became sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God"(2 Cor. 5:21). He had felt sin's burden of guilt and shame. He does understand. He is a merciful high priest who can offer both help and sympathy in even this.
Because I'm learning to look at my failure the way God does, I'm energized to welcome the opportunities that come with September and Mondays and mornings. It's becoming freshly real that "His mercies are new every morning."And I can start again. So can you!