Tim woke me up Sunday morning with a plan. We were going to skip church and get out in the woods as a family. We needed, as he put it, “something different.”
In truth, I’m the one who needed something different. He probably knew that. I’ve been weary lately, and downhearted. If I could unpack my burdens and lay them out on the table, they wouldn’t look like much. I’m not drudging through life with overwhelming fears or grievances. But the things I carry weigh me down just the same, and lately my family has been feeling the heaviness.
I didn’t want to go along with Tim’s plan. I enjoy nature just fine, but I’m more the cozy corner type. I’d sooner sit in my recliner with a book in one hand and a latte in the other than trudge through the underbrush wondering how many ticks are hitching a ride on my jeans.
I went anyway, because I couldn’t justify lounging at home while my family embarked on a “fun” outing without me. I didn’t need one more regret to add to an ever growing pile.
I don’t know what it is about walking beneath the wide sky and breathing the autumn air, but it always loosens something inside. When I’m coiled up too tight to make sense of my own feelings, natures coaxes me open.
Hiking that morning, and again as I walked yesterday, I began to think how, having grown up in the church and raised to live a good, moral life, it’s easy to do the right things and act the right way without your heart being in the right place. (There should be a term for that – for good church girls who look devout to everyone else but are actually just doing what they were trained to do.)
So I started talking to God about my heart, how it’s not what I want it to be. I want to be soft. Strong in Him, but soft. I want to love deep, trust far, and give without holding back.
But instead, I’m wallowing in regret. I’ve wasted time and wished away years. I’ve made bad parenting choices and eroded my childrens’ innocence. I’ve taken my marriage for granted and mistakenly assumed it would always be healthy simply because it always was. I’ve abused and neglected my body. I’m perpetually exhausted, easily angered, and increasingly discontent.
I’m grieving who I’ve become, and what I’ve lost. And I keep asking myself: if I’ve known Jesus my whole life, why am I not more like him?
It feels like I’m going the wrong direction. Instead of becoming more generous, selfless, and compassionate, I’m becoming self-protective and calloused. I’ve grown cynical and pessimistic. My outward life might look decent, but on the inside it’s far from the abundant life Jesus offers.
Is anyone else experiencing this phenomenon?
I’ve been told that as we mature spiritually, our perspective on sin and our perspective on Jesus diverge ever farther apart. The more aware we are of our sin, and the uglier it looks to us, the greater our appreciation for and understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.
I hope that’s what’s happening here. I sincerely do. But I can’t help doubting it.
I just don’t see Jesus in myself. Not like I see him everywhere else. He’s in Africa, cleaning wounds and filling bellies. He’s downtown, speaking life into hopeless hearts. He’s on social media, encouraging the downtrodden.
I see him in my neighbor who always remembers to ask about this or that event in my life. I see him in adoptive mamas who demonstrate a divine capacity for grace and love. I see him in my friend whose response to Stage IV cancer was unwavering faith and inexplicable joy.
Why am I not more like these people?
I know, I shouldn’t get caught in the comparison game. It doesn’t matter whether I am or am not like the people I admire. There is only one person I should be comparing myself to, and that is Jesus. And no matter how long I live or how hard I try, I will never live up to his example. Which is exactly why he came, died, and rose in the first place. That’s Gospel 101.
But it’s hard not to compare. We live in a world where the highlights of our daily lives are displayed online, while the low points – and even the mediocre ones – are kept safely private. Seeing is believing, but what we see is only part of the story.
I don’t want to contribute to that cycle, and I try to be honest on this blog so far as discernment allows. I never want to give the impression that I have it all figured out when reality is so much less flattering. The real, Jesus-needing me is an overly introspective, slightly obsessive, recovering hypochondriac. I have doubts, my faith doesn’t come easily, and my feelings often contradict what I know to be true. I struggle to love, tend toward apathy, and have ongoing battles with depression and anxiety.
But I’m also a thinker, a writer, and someone who wants to be an encouragement. While I struggle to see hope and beauty in myself, I see it in others. And despite my cynicism, I cling to the belief that God will somehow, someday, take the ugly parts of me and turn them into something beautiful.
In the meantime, I wish I could learn to live in the freedom of His grace. How do you find the balance of grieving your sin for the travesty it is, while leaving it at the cross where it belongs? I’m better at the first than I am at the last, though too often I find myself grieving the fact that I’m not grieved enough.
Perhaps, in some twisted way, feeling bad about who I am and who I’m not is just one more measuring stick I’m using to make myself worthy of something I’ll never deserve.
It’s time I take my eyes off myself and the people I’m not living up to, and put them back on the one who did the living up for me. It’s time to gaze at Jesus and let his perfection soak up my failures.
The question is, how? How do you make less of yourself and more of him? When so much of this battle is in your thought life, how do you take those thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ? If you have practical advice, or if you just relate and want to let me know I’m not crazy, please share.