Ever since I was a little kid do you know what I wanted to be? I wanted to be the best. The best. I think my mom, family, and close friends can account to this.
In elementary school that meant I would be the first one done with math drills, on the winning team in kickball, and friends with the cool kids. In fourth grade, when we had to list our three life goals, I wrote: become president, go to the University of Oxford (I had heard it was the best), and ride a jetpack (which is still a goal of mine).
Then, in Middle school, I realized that those things didn't matter as much as I thought they did, so I shifted my sights onto greater things: I aspired to be the best Christian I could be. I remember revering older Christian guys who seemed to live out the life that I wanted. Everyone seemed to love them, and they seemed alive, and so I set my heart on it. I would burn bright. I would be a leader. And I would serve Jesus with every fiber of my body.
Now, was there anything wrong with those desires? No! I think they were fantastic, but my heart quickly twisted them. Soon the desire to burn bright resulted in creating high standards for myself. Unattainably high standards, which I rationalized by saying it was good that I never would be able to realize these expectations, because then my consequent daily failures would ensure continued effort. Right? This was how you gave your all right? So I kept trying, each day a little harder, except for the days I didn't, which I would regret and chastise myself, questioning my commitment to Jesus.
Eventually, the feeling of constant failure drove me to my knees. God I can't be good enough for you, I would consistently pray. I want to be good! but I'm a constant screw up, hanging on strictly by Your extravagant mercy. I don't deserve Your love. Why don't you just forget about me? The desire to be better would keep me up at night. (And I'm no longer just talking about Middle school, I'm talking about highschool, I'm talking about this last year.) I have spent so many nights lying in bed, reflecting over each of the day's interactions one by one. Failed there. Failed there as well. Could have love more. Eh, that was okay, but I still did this. God I don't get how you love me, I don't really get how anybody could. If they really knew. And those are representative of the good conversations, the ones that don't end in tears or curse words. Those are the conversations that don't follow whenever I fell to an addiction, thought about hurting myself, or screwed up a conversation with a girl.
The fact is I've never felt good enough, and I often find my weaknesses pitiful. Most days this disgust with my sins or just general failings can probably be stripped away to reveal simple self-loathing. I hate that I can't be the person I want to be, the person I "should" be. To make it worse, I take this idea that I'm not good enough and I start to see everyone around me making the same conclusion. I know people realize how far short I fall. My inadequacies are trumpeted in every program or position that's turned me down, and I know that girls come to the same conclusion. I see the look in their eyes, or at least I think I do, and I reason that it is better to preemptively reject yourself, when you are pretty sure that they will as well if just given enough time. It is always better to hurt yourself than to let others hurt you right?
So where does all this often leave me? Crying out for mercy. Asking God not to turn His face from me. Many days I strive and fight desperately for what I know I can't have on my own: approval. I say I know grace, but the evidence seldom displays itself. So do I really know it? Don't get me wrong, I know the theology. I know the verses and the ways they should affect me. I've taught the lessons and prayed the prayers, but living in its reality escapes me most days.
Which brings us to identifying the problem, most days I miss out on living in the life Jesus has given me. In the pursuit of being good, personal righteousness has become my idol. When I read the verse, For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. I don't think Well I need to live dependently on his grace then! Instead, I'm prone think, Maybe I can do that.
A couple of people in the last couple months have said to me, if only you could see how much Jesus loves you Drew, the striving, the anxiety that flits in and out of each day couldn't hold you. Well, I want that. I do. I pray for that in the middle of the night and randomly through the day. When I read the Bible sometimes it hits me, and I'm overwhelmed by its truth, and other times the book seems boring or completing my homework seems like a more important task at the moment. Why can't I just get it?
Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, explains that people avoid Jesus in two different ways. One, some people simply reject his grace, they avoid His Lordship in their lives, and choose instead just to live however they want. Two, other people avoid Jesus by avoiding sin. When people (and I think I've often fit in this category) strive their hardest to avoid sin, often they also are simultaneously avoiding Jesus being their savior. Even if they know they aren't saved by their works, they still build their identity and evaluate their relationship with God based on their track record of righteousness. We are modern day pharisees who have perfected a religion based on Christianity. As Keller writes, "We [pharisees] struggle for a sense of worth, purpose, and distinctiveness, but it is based on conditions that we can achieve, and that are always slipping away from us." He goes on to say:
"Despite all their legal righteousness, then, Pharisees have lives that are, if anything, more driven by the despair of sin. They build their sense of worth on their moral or spiritual performance, as a kind of resume to present before God and the world. The moral and spiritual standards are all religions are very high, and Pharisees know deep down that they are not living up to those standards. They are not praying as often as they should. They are not loving and serving their neighbor as much as they should. They are not keeping their inner thoughts as pure as they should. The resulting internal anxiety, insecurity, and irritability will often be much greater than anything experienced by the irreligious."When I read that I needed to put the book down. Dang. He was almost too right on. Each of his words seemed like they were picked out for me. However, To borrow a lyric:
"I don't want to live that way."
The alternative to this is a life of freedom under the acknowledgment of how much Jesus loves you. How do you discover how much Jesus loves you though? How do you let it sink in? Rushing through your blood stream, filling your lungs, and changing your marrow. Letting each day be transformed by it. Do you sit and wait for it? What road do I need to be on, or how often do I need to read the Bible? Cognitively, I know He loves me... like actually loves me. It is locked in my head. I mutter about it when I'm falling asleep and I talk about it alot. And there's definitely been times in my life when I've not only felt it, but the reality of it woke me up with a smile in the morning. But most days I don't feel it, and I'm not sure how much it changes the way I live.
Does the fact that I don't always feel His love mean I've forgotten it, or that I never really had it to begin with? I've struggled with this question a lot. The answer I've come to is No, I don't think so. I think we discover how much Jesus loves us by walking out in faith. If the Bible is true, then His love is already there being sung over us and I just need to walk in reality daily. That statement seems so ethereal though! What specifically does walking in his love mean for what I do tonight or tomorrow morning? I don't really know. I know that I want to wake up and instead of confessing how much a better job I'm want do following Jesus today, I want to bask in His love. I want to be loved and love Him. But all the practicalities I'm not really sure. I feel like it all comes down to this question though. Discovering and living in the reality of how much Jesus loves me, despite what I can offer, seems more important than all those hours and days I've spent in conversations about community, leadership, missions, or even about how we can best follow Him. It seems more important than everything. All my thoughts, accomplishments, and efforts are nothing in comparison.
Because if He loves me, if what the Bible says is true... I don't know. Jesus. The cross. Me? My eyes are threatening to cry as I write this. My brain hurts just thinking about it. My heart hurts wishing for it. If He loves me...
Right now though.... It's late. I'm tired. It has been a long day. So I guess I just want to end this post saying Come Lord Jesus. And if anyone reading this can identify with any part of these ramblings, I encourage you to join me on this journey! Let us share our questions and our insights. Just so you know, I don't think it will necessarily be a journey to a far off land, and it won't involve some sort of remarkable intellectual ascent. It just involves learning to walk in the love that's already been spoken over us. Learning what we already have. Discovering Who we can have. Abandoning lives of fear, inadequacy, and striving, in order to explore what what it would be like to be adopted into God's family. God's family! It changes everything. To be told, Of course you're can't be good enough, but I love you. That's crazy. Join me though! I don't know the way, but I'm certain its the right path. I'm willing to bet on it.
Through the darkness, addictions, and questions that are sure to loom ahead, I think this will be the most beautiful journey.