Do you ever feel like, despite your best intentions, you’re sort of failing at life? Like you can’t seem to keep all the balls in the air that you’re supposed to be juggling? Do you wish you could be giving your best performance at work, at home, at school, in your relationships, but when you divide up your 100%, it’s always going to come out to a fraction for each? Are there areas in your life that you would love to do better at, know are important to do better at (exercise, eating right, spiritual practices, helping neighbors, keeping your house clean…), but your efforts never quite meet your ideal?
I’ve been in that place lately. As someone who has always struggled with energy, motivation, structure, discipline, and follow-through, with the upheaval of moving overseas and then not having an outside establishment like work or taking my children to school helping me to structure my time, the chaos took over and I found myself feeling very far from my goals in every area of life. But sometimes, when it feels like you’ve hit bottom and you’re sitting amongst the rubble, that’s when you can hear God speak, if you listen.
I was trying to get something done in my bedroom, and my shadow (a.k.a. toddler) was with me, of course. She sat on my bed, but was growing impatient, so when I caught a glimpse of a toy sticking out from under my bed, I grabbed it and handed it to her to buy myself a few more seconds. I went about my business, and when I turned back, this is what I saw, and it couldn’t help but bring a smile to the face of even this distracted mama:
The sight of my daughter fumbling around trying to get that Happy-Meal crown straight on her head suddenly brought such sweet delight that I had to stop and laugh. It made me want to hug her, squeeze that cute little body, kiss those chubby cheeks, and tell her “Good job, honey. You did it!”
And it hit me. My Heavenly Father, wouldn’t He feel the same as He sees me fumbling around trying to get my crown on straight? Mustn’t He be so glad that I know I’m His daughter and I’m learning how to live into my title, the title He gave to me, not one I have yet to earn? Wouldn’t it make His heart ache deep and sweet, at the same time bubbling over into glee?
What if I were to choose peace, to trust His grace, and to find joy in it all, like this little child in front of me? My Father doesn’t want me to be heartbroken over the natural course of my development as His child. There is no place for shame in His Kingdom. The only thing worthy of feeling guilty over is true transgression, not the natural weaknesses we tend to brood over (“I should be better at this.” “Did I say the wrong thing when I was talking to that person?” “Why is my ______ not as good as this person’s?”..) that really only serve as distractions. We need to learn to ask ourselves in those moments, is this thing I’m feeling shame over actually sin? If it is, bring it to the foot of the cross. And leave it there. If the guilt lingers, then we are missing the entire point of the gospel, rejecting the gift He most wants to give us. Take up the forgiveness and freedom and redemption He’s holding out to you right now.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” -Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphasis added)
We must remember that we don’t aspire to please God in order to earn His love. We aspire to please Him, with pleasure, only when we’ve realized we already have it.
“And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands.” -Deuteronomy 26:18
And if it’s not sin? If it’s just the fact that you’re a finite human being who happens not to be talented in every facet of life, or the number of hours in a day don’t allow you to prioritize baking your bread from scratch or running a marathon? Do like Elsa, and let it go.
Yes, we do need to make the effort to prioritize what is most important to us in life and to make improvements in areas where there is a need. We will experience the natural results of how we spend our time, reap what we sow. If we, consciously or unconsciously, decide that investing in a certain relationship is not a priority for us, that relationship could fall apart. If it’s an essential relationship, we probably want to avoid allowing that to happen. If it’s not essential, there could be some pruning or scaling back that needs to take place in order to invest our time elsewhere in this season of life. If we don’t prioritize taking care of our bodies, we know what that will result in down the road. Prioritizing is essential.
“they will eat the fruit of their ways…” -Proverbs 1:31
“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest– if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9
The handful of people I have the deepest respect and admiration for all have this in common. They know what their priorities are, and they avoid getting distracted. Sometimes there will seem to be interruptions, and sometimes those interruptions will actually be a divine opportunity, a chance to re-focus if perhaps our work has been distracting us from loving people well. It boils down to this:
What do we want to look back on our lives and see that we invested in, in order to know that we lived our one life well? There isn’t anything more important than that, is there?
And yet, we are going to fumble as we aspire to this. Aspirations are, by definition, things we are still working towards and have not yet fully arrived at. It’s foolish to expect to already have arrived.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:12-15
But if we set our hopes on that crown, allowing our actions to follow one step at a time, won’t that bring a smile to the face of our loving Father? Hasn’t He already given us His love beyond measure, shown us we’re worth everything He has, even when we were still sitting in the muck and mire? Indeed He has.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:1-8 (emphasis added)
God is not a critic, tearing apart every aspect of your performance. He’s not waiting for you to fail, and he’s not setting you up to fail. He just wants to walk by your side. He has given you all you need to do what He asks of you today. Not every possible good thing will fit into your life in this day or in this season. He will show you, if you ask, what He’s asking of you right now. He will lead you on toward maturity, one step at a time.
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness…'”-2 Corinthians 12:9
He is beaming with pride as you fumble with your crown. He is filled with delight as you look at Him and smile. You are His pride and joy.
“He happily rejoices over you, renews you with his love, and celebrates over you with shouts of joy.” -Zephaniah 3:17
“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” -2 Timothy 4:8