I began to write these things because I didn’t know how to help someone. I understood exactly where she was at, but didn’t know how to help her move forward from that spot. Experience produces empathy, not answers. So in those moments when people I love are looking for change, but looking in the wrong places, what am I to do?
What can I say that I haven’t said a thousand times before? Words don’t work if someone doesn’t truly want to change. Words don’t work if they’re only empty solutions. And you could say I just wanted to point out that there comes a time when we all must face the harsh truth that even wanting to change is not always enough to save us. Actions inevitably have equal and opposite reactions. Choices inevitably have unintended consequences and at some point we have to wake up and understand that this isn’t a game anymore. Eventually we all have to take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror and realize this is not just our life. Yes, we own it, our lungs breathe in and out. But the tiny threads of ourselves that we’ve distributed and entangled and woven throughout the stories of other people are no longer ours to control. We can’t just cut off the oxygen and expect things to continue on as normal. Life isn’t like that. People aren’t like that. And in my head that seems so obvious, but I know it wasn’t always obvious.
And then I thought, perhaps, what she needs is grace as well. After all, I’m just repeating things she knows, and even claims to believe. After all, I know firsthand there is a marked difference in rationally knowing something and letting it radically change you. That doesn’t devalue repetition. We need reminders all the time. But while I’m not here to be a Savior, I should have the same level of compassion, understanding, and mercy, that my Savior so quickly offers me. Grace to know there is no time span after which I can call someone a lost cause. Nobody is ever a lost cause, my human nature just makes me give up too easily. So I remind myself to remind her that I love her. Even if it’s completely obvious, to remind her over and over again.
While I was thinking all these things, I all at once realized: these feelings are not unique to how I relate to her. Do I not do this to my savior every day and wonder why nothing changes? Do I not scream to him “show me you love me, because I don’t believe it in this moment!” Do I not deny the grace He’s provided for me, thinking I need to change my actions first, not my heart? Do I not endlessly compare and contrast, excusing myself if there’s someone worse; condemning myself if there’s someone better? Do I not spit in the face of the only thing and the everything that I need, day after wretched day, because I think I’ve arrived, or think I’ve fallen too far?
Am I not every bit that weak and wounded sinner, constantly pursuing, as Paul describes, a form of so called Godliness, but denying the power found in it?
Suddenly I was acutely aware of the fact that perhaps, she is not the only one who needs her eyes opened.
Praise God, the story needn’t end there. Not for her, not for me. Today does not have to end in self-righteousness or self-destruction. Today is not over, and this story isn’t over, and the ending can still be Jesus. The ending should always be Jesus. Even when I hopelessly misconstrue Him, He doesn’t stop pursuing me either. And these days, these moments, yes we inevitably fall into them, but He has never failed to bring us out of them. When day after day, my own legs fall out from underneath me, His everlasting arms have yet to let me hit the floor. Life is a struggle, and we are sinners who can’t seem to stop sinning, but He is forgiveness. He is mercy. He is endless second chances. And never once has He made me walk alone.
And that’s when I realized, what she needs to know, is not how her self-concept is flawed. What she needs to know is how God is not. Maybe what she needs to find is not my reassurance; but a better picture of who God is. And maybe I need to fix myself before I try to fix her.
I think I had somehow got a picture in my head that wasn’t quite an accurate representation of God. So I’ll remind myself, and remind her, that He is relentless. He is not shaking under the weight of her mistakes or mine. He’s using them, every single time, to teach and sanctify our hearts.
Let me repeat until my own heart is calmed, then let me use those same words to help calm hers: My flesh and my heart may fail, but You are the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. (Psalm 73)
[[I was chasing healing when I’d been made well. / I was fighting battles when you
conquered hell. / Living free, but from a prison cell. / Lord, I lay that down today.]]