Some of my least favorite seasons of life are those in which I’m forced to recognize my own sickening inadequacy. It does not help that I live in a culture determined to force-feed me the message of You Are Enough while I’m already busy gagging on all my failures and frustrations – as though it’s supposed to encourage me to hear what I steadily prove to be a lie. What I tend to forget is that its identity as a lie is the most encouraging part of it all. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
In a spirit of irony I decided to leave my original title up. Yes, Good Friday was four days ago. And I started writing this on Thursday. It really shouldn’t take me five days to finish a simple blog post – at my peak I could write an entire research paper in the span of five hours or so – but it takes me much longer than usual these days to get things done.
Honestly, I’ve been paralyzed by how prone I am to get it wrong. I have tanked my GPA past the point of no return. The first time I did my husband’s laundry I used the wrong dryer setting and shrank the expensive clothes he invested in for our wedding (also past the point of no return). I lost two of the important documents we need to get my last name changed. I’m still trying to figure out how not to be selfish and fearful in marital intimacy. I fail to serve others because I value my comfort too much. I don’t pray as I should because deep down I still believe the lie that the state of my spiritual life depends on the strength of my efforts, and I know those efforts aren’t often impressive.
And I get that the typical response to this in our culture is for you to tell me not to be hard on myself and to believe that I Am A Good Writer, I Am A Good Christian, and I Am A Good Wife. There may be truth to the idea that I am skilled as a writer, that I genuinely love the Lord, and that I do bless and enrich the life of my husband. But this is not (usually) what I need to hear in the moments when I am wrecked as a result of finding my identity in my own victories and failures.
Even though I consider myself a Reformed Calvinist and I legitimately believe in the truth of total depravity, I am still a fallen creature and it’s hard sometimes to remember that my perceived goodness (or lack thereof) cannot be the foundation of my worldview. It cannot be the motivation for how I work, how I love, how I speak, or how I respond to the obstacles presented to me. And I could say like a “good” Calvinist that it never is the motivation for those things, but then I’d be lying. Perhaps if you said the same thing you would be lying, too.
What I need to hear and believe is that I am no more acceptable to God on my best days and that I am no less loved by Him on my worst days – even if the latter tends to be my default in some seasons. I need to know that my failure to reach some standard of goodness is not a tragedy, because it isn’t where my value comes from in the first place.
We should rejoice in the fact that we are made in the image of God, and that if we are believers in the Gospel of Christ our hope is in His perfect ability to be good and sufficient wholly apart from us. He pulls our identities out from our own painful inability and places them in Himself. Without His sacrificial death and His life-giving resurrection this would not be accomplished. My hopelessness would not be in vain; I would have every reason to be radically torn to pieces over my own imperfection.
But because He proclaimed on the cross that “it is finished” (John 19:30), I can taste life and joy and motivation in the midst of my failure.
That is the greatest encouragement. That is what I truly seek when I seek the good.
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God . . . Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
2 Cor. 12:4-5, 12-18 ESV