All of a sudden it’s sweater weather. Soup weather. Back to school. Just days ago we were enjoying sunbathing and ice cream. Is summer really gone already?
If you’ve been following along at home, you know this summer has been an intense one in my world. September me feels a world away from June me. This season tested my faith for sure. I’ve never woken up so many mornings in a row going, I cannot make it through this day without you, Jesus. Help me.
I’ll never look at a lot of things the same way again – most of all myself. This summer took me down a peg in a serious way. I’ve built a lot of my adult identity on being a do-gooder: giving blood, volunteering, going to church on Sundays. I’ve thought of myself as a friend of the poor and homeless, because isn’t that what Jesus wants from us? Duh.
This summer asked, “Yeah? What if one if your family members is homeless now? What if you can’t just give them five dollars and a hug and they’ll go away and you get to feel great about yourself? What if your prayers apparently mean nothing in the face of their problems and their pain? What’ll you do now, huh? Where are all your big ideas about Helping the Poor, mini Mother Theresa?”
This summer I saw the truth: I’m not that good. I am not doing much to help the world. Not at all.
I saw more clearly than ever before that really helping people is hard, not straightforward or feel-good at all sometimes. Now some of my past posts, like this one, seem at best super silly and at worst super callous in the extremity of their cluelessness.
Yet, as I wrote before, all of this has made me cling to the Gospel more strongly than ever. I truly do believe the grace of God is infinitely stronger than all my sin, all the ways I fail.
As everyone who knows me knows, I don’t deal with my own failure very well. My instinct is to beat myself up and decide I shouldn’t even try anymore. It was less tempting to do that this time than it’s ever been before, which is actually a pretty hopeful sign. Maybe God is finally allowing me to see more of the ugly truth about myself because finally, finally, I can handle a little more.
I didn’t give up on myself, on God, or on my loved ones this summer, but I was often tempted. These last few weeks especially, I’ve really had to fight the inner voices that urge me to just give up.
Why go to church today? You’ll just hear how important it is to take care of the poor, and then you’ll feel like the hypocrite you are.
Why pick up the Bible? You just read the comforting parts, the parts that make you feel good about yourself, like some kind of pill to get you through the day. Clearly you don’t care about following God’s commands, at least not when they’re actually hard for you.
Why pray? Won’t God just get angry with you because you honor him with your lips but your heart is far from him? Why don’t you do something for a change?
And then, paradoxically, Why try to do good? Who are you trying to fool? You can’t change the past. You’ll never be enough.
I told those voices to shut up over and over again, but I got really tired doing it. At times, going about my normal life seemed totally exhausting because I had to fight negative thoughts constantly. I was seriously tempted to stop doing things I knew were good for me and would help restore me because they brought on such internal resistance.
Yesterday, feeling yet again weighed down and defeated by all this soul struggle, I prayed Psalm 51.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation. I want to run toward you, God. I don’t want to shrink from you in shame anymore. I know you love me despite everything, but I want to believe it in my heart, not just my head.
And this morning – you guys, a miracle! – I woke up happy.
Here’s the thing. I never wake up happy and full of energy. Never ever. I am not a morning person. Usually my first thought is Ugh, already? Five more minutes. Certainly not Wow, I feel so incredibly lucky to be so so loved by God. Literally everything good in my life is a gift from God – how do I not see this all the time?
But that’s what I thought this morning. I woke up and I felt energetic, which also never happens but especially not lately, when a normal workday often feels exhausting. I felt like singing. It honestly shocked me.
Nothing changed in my life today. I’m still a sinner, and I will keep on sinning for the rest of my earthly life despite my best intentions. My family is super duper broken. I don’t understand how to help people. It’s still hard and complicated.
Plus, happy feelings aren’t everything. They’re certainly not proof that God loves me. I could go back to feeling sad tomorrow, and my redemption by grace would still be true as ever.
But today, a prayer of mine was answered. God restored to me the joy of salvation. I wasn’t even expecting joy in my life right now. I felt prepared to keep on slogging through. I figured I’d have to wait longer and learn some more patience and stuff. But God declared a holiday from those negative thoughts in my brain today. Today, I don’t just know God loves me – I really feel it.
What can you call that but a miracle? Just in time for fall, like God was buying me a new white wardrobe for Back to Discipleship.