As I cleaned up the remnants of our breakfast–the quiche where the bottom crust was too soggy, the biscuits where I’d burned the bottoms and had to cut them off, and the blueberry-almond muffins with their freakishly blue batter–I heard the words: “You’ll never be good enough. Remember that.”
A student and I had just finished talking and eating said breakfast, which tasted much better than it sounds. We’d only met yesterday, and didn’t know each other well, but had a lot in common. We’ve both overcome much, love Jesus, want to reach the campus with the good news of following Jesus, and wonder what God has planned for us. Not in a way that says, “I wonder what God is going to do?” but in a way that says, “I wonder what God’s vision is for my life, and am I slowing down enough to notice when he says, ‘Go this way’, or ‘Do that’?
We only get one life. That life is precious and joyous, filled with God’s abundant hope, possibilities, and blessings. God has plans for that life. However, because we are human, we are apt to do what we want to do, and miss what God has for us. I know that I’ve missed certain opportunities presented to me by God. This fills me with regret. It’s not a regret that makes me beat myself up, but it is a sad statement of fact. I am aware that life does not come along in limitless supply. Nor is it rock-solid. At any moment, something could happen that alters the course of my life completely, or even ends it. Because of this awareness (most of which is brought on by the reality of disability), I think I value my life more than I would if I were “perfectly normal”. Maybe what I feel is a shadow of what people feel when they’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness and they know in a very real way that their days are numbered.
I love my life. I really do. I love being with people, meeting new people, sharing conversations, learning new things. I love the warmth of sunshine and the sparkle of laughter. I love chocolate and peanut butter. But even coffee outranks that combination. Coffee. Now’s there’s a gift of God. It is an enormous joy and privilege to live this life. I want to squeeze everything I can out of every moment. I want to use it in exactly the way God wants me to.
As I cleaned up our less-than-perfect breakfast, it occurred to me that this meal was a metaphor for how I look at life. Always striving for perfection, but never quite getting there. But wasn’t I supposed to? Didn’t God want me to achieve perfection? And then, I heard those words. In my quest to be everything God wants for me, I can easily fall into the trap of thinking that one day I’ll actually get there. I do not want glory. I do not want accolades. But I do want to know that I used my life to its fullest potential. I keep on imagining that one day I’ll hear God say, “You did it. You became everything I had planned for you.”
And my work will be done. Whoops. That does sound like accolades. Never mind. And keep reading.
I was drifting in that direction when I heard God’s voice. The words were not said in a condemning way, but in a gentle way as he said, “Remember Jill. You’ll never be good enough. You’ll always need me. That is why I’ve come.”
It is right and good to strive for the things of God and work towards our fullest potential, but we will never outlive or outwork our need for God. We need to remember our fragility and our potential at the same time.
In Lent, like so many other seasons of the church year, we live within a paradox. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded in one breath of our temporal nature. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. But in the next breath we learn the glorious reality of eternity: “But the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” We might decide to give up something in order to remind ourselves of Christ’s sacrifice and self-emptying. Here, we come face-to-face with our pitiful abilities to resist the lure of what we want to do. The thing(s) we give up are not inherently sinful (hopefully), but even here it is impossible to combat our desires without reminding ourselves of Jesus and relying on his strength.
There is a strange sort of beauty in this world of struggle and triumph, sin and forgiveness. It is God through Christ who brings this beauty. It would not exist without Jesus. We cannot accomplish it on our own. We cannot bring it to pass through sheer dint of our own will. Jesus makes life beautiful. This beauty is a gracious gift given to a broken world.
There is the feeling during Lent that we should remember our brokenness and be down on ourselves. And there is an element of truth here. But this Lenten season, I find myself more aware of the beauty that lies in the brokenness of life. And I am filled with joy and thanksgiving that it is only Jesus’ suffering and death that could lead to the beauty of resurrection. And that’s more than good enough. It’s everything.