I didn’t want to write this in the personal tense. I tried to word this article by using the indifferent and safe pronoun, “we.” But I couldn’t. As much as I wanted to hide behind “we” and throw everyone under the metaphorical bus along with myself, it wasn’t fair–and it would probably be untrue for many. So, I didn’t. I wrote using “I.” I apologize profusely to all my high school English teachers, but I had no choice.
My biggest complaint of God is his apparent complicity in my life. I have wrestled with certain sins for years; some of them I have battled almost half of my relatively short existence on this planet. Some have them have crested over my life like breaking waves, and I thought I would drown. Some of them, I can hold at bay for months, years, only to have them surge back at me with a ferocity and viciousness I am wholly unprepared for. I feel like William Prescott at Bunker Hill; I’m never quite overrun, I just keep losing.
Part of that is due to the fact that I am not a “good” Christian. Anyone who knows me would attest to that. I am good in the sense that Christ has imparted his grace to me, and I stand before God a perfect, cleansed being. And I realize no one but God is “good.” But the practical reality is that I drift through a good portion of my days either intentionally or unconsciously neglecting the ruthless love that is showered upon me. There is nothing that I will ever do that will make Christ love me more, and there is no sin I can commit that can make Him love me less–I know this to be true. In my heart, I know I am loved. That doesn’t mean that I float along in perpetual realization of that. The sun always shines; that doesn’t mean I have to come out of the shade.
We are told in Scripture that we will not be given more than we can bear; I feel, as many others surely do, that God lied. If we’re not given more than we can bear, why do we fail so much? “More than we can bear”—what a cheap and abstract value of measurement! How can I battle my habits without divine intervention? How can I stand a chance against my genetics and predispositions without explicit grace? I can’t bear myself, but I’m supposed to bear the world?
I try–like the rest of Christendom, I try as hard as I can, but common grace hasn’t cut it, and yet I seem to get very little else. A good book here, a kind word there, and I’m held over for a day or a week. I go to Mass and I’m good for the afternoon. In the evening, I’m right back to where I started. Where’s God? Where’s Jesus? Where’s that Holy Spirit I was promised? All I can see is myself–floundering and raging against the darkness I cannot drive out of my life. In one hand, I grip a rosary—in the other, a glass filled with condemnation.
Perhaps the idealist or the sainted would say that after our initial experience with Christ, we cannot help but improve. They are not wrong, but perhaps they do not assume a proper timeframe. Those who have been forgiven large debts–those alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts, corrupt officials, murderers, rapists–those ordinary folks who try and fail over and over, they are branded with the mark of their sin. These are most acutely aware of their sin and most struggle with it. We are forgiven, but we struggle to forget; I’m not sure that we should. An open wound may heal, but scar tissue is inevitable. And after a certain point, it feels that all is scar tissue, and all the new flesh is reserved for the Second Coming. These things happen, whether we want them to or not.
In the meantime, I am left with my scar tissue and a faint, yet reborn heart. I am not strong and courageous, but Christ is, so I hide behind him like a timid child. Some days, it’s all I can do to climb out of bed; I prefer the company of my sheets to the company of myself. I remember to pray, but I don’t want to approach God. This regrettable sentiment is not rooted in any of the cliché, fixable reasons for not wanting to pray. I know that I must approach the risen Savior as I am. I know He doesn’t want me to get my act together before I come. The only call I hear is, “Come to Me, you who are weary. And I know you are so very weary.”
But so often, I am too fatigued, too bedraggled. Prayer requires surrender and effort, and I often can’t drum up the energy to take my armor off. Meanwhile, I lie in bed and wait for strength that is a long time coming.
And it will come; I trust that it will. As Brennan Manning wrote: God’s grace is not cheap, it’s free. It has carried me through in the past; it will carry me through tomorrow. I don’t often see it, but the fact I’m still standing bears witness to the fact that it is nonetheless present. When my inspiration and enthusiasm has crumbled, something keeps me falling forward, and that something is not myself. I would prefer to curl up and die; something outside of me insists I stumble onward.
Maybe there is a reason for this I don’t yet see. After all, you can’t see light through a wall without cracks and holes, and there is certainly plenty of chipped and broken plaster in my life. In many ways, I could use more breaking and crumbling. I need to be rebuilt. God is working, but often it feels like more tearing down then building up; there’s a season for that, I just wish it wasn’t so long. I left Alaska three years ago to get away from winter, but it caught up with me in California.
Maybe there isn’t a reason beyond the reason of Job–that God is betting with the Devil over my soul. Love trusts all things, but sometimes I wish God didn’t trust me so much, and instead walked me by the hand. But He doesn’t do that. If He let Peter sink in a stormy sea, and He let Paul suffer a thorn in the flesh, who am I to think that He will whisk my problems away? I am not yet calloused enough to pray that specific prayer of deliverance.
So I keep losing, knowing that I’m winning. It may not be in this lifetime; it may not be until I have embraced the death that has reigned in me a shade longer than it should. But when I do, I will be carried home and I will be free. Christ promises freedom from sin; my freedom is coming–my freedom is already here. We are working together–Christ has freed me, now I’m trying to follow Him.
So I, with the rest of the saved sinners, wait for when we are wholly and entirely repaired. Perhaps I will get closer in this life; perhaps I will move farther away. The cross of Christ stands before me and behind me. I walk on.
I keep losing, knowing that I’m winning.