Lately, I’ve been wrestling in new ways with the role of grace in my life. It won’t come as any real shock to my closest friends, but one of my biggest pitfalls is perfectionism. In some ways, though, this has served me well. I’m a competitive, highly motivated person and I don’t easily take defeat lying down. This is why I’m a debater, it drives me to survive at college, and it makes it easier to meet many of the daily challenges associated with living with CP.
But whether this pervasive impulse to have all my I’s dotted and my t’s crossed applies in academics, competition, or my personal life, of course it has a lot of negative implications as well. Take my school work as an example, especially when I was younger. My parents can testify that, in days gone by, I put so much value in my school work that setbacks in this area would put me in a serious emotional tizzy. More than just pleasing my parents and teachers, this caused me so much distress because I tied up something more important with it: the idea that I had something to prove. At far too many turns in my life, I’ve been desperate to get people’s attention by achieving overwhelmingly impressive success. To my mind, since I had external imperfections that I feared people would be unable to look past, I had to convince others I was worthy of their time and respect through my own awe-inspiring achievement. My perfectionism has often flowed out of frustration with my own imperfections.
I’ve discussed similar veins of thought on the blog before, but recently I’ve come to the realization that this attitude often has an even more sinister effect than even the ones I had considered before. In recent months, I’ve been especially frustrated with my shortcomings before God. The times I’ve found myself struggling with sin, falling repeatedly into the same traps, were becoming increasingly sources of anger and frustration. God forgive me, at times I’ve been so upset with myself that I’ve doubted whether He would even accept my repentance. Maybe this time I had pushed him once too far. I found myself struggling with the fact that I never knew exactly the right words to say. Maybe I hadn’t quite checked all the right boxes to make my prayers “count,” what if my heart was never in exactly the right place before God? If my requests for forgiveness weren’t perfectly acceptable, how could I make sure that I had all my I’s dotted and my t’s crossed to make God accept me. I had allowed that insidious perfectionism to creep into my faith and my relationship with my heavenly Father.
This is a relatively recent problem, although I’m beginning to see that, like I pointed out, the roots of it have been around for a long time. I’m still in the midst of figuring this out. But, praise the Lord, He is beginning, as I wrestle with this, to show me just how false this is. It’s true that God calls us to be holy. But without sin and imperfection in our lives, why would God need to offer us grace? It seems to me that my anxiety-causing fixation on a lack of the “perfect” repentance or the “perfect” faith is basically a form of trying to obtain salvation by works. Granted, these works involve trying to achieve the “perfect” faith, but working to make sure I have all the right boxes of faith checked misses the point of faith. Why the cross if God did not long to extend us grace? It is His work, His triumph, that removes our need to check the boxes. This is exactly why the author of Hebrews can call the New Covenant a better covenant. It gives us freedom from anxiety, because God can now, by Christ’s righteousness, cover over the imperfections of our hearts. Christ’s work grants grace, mercy, and the freedom of Christian liberty. Those with disabilities, as well as those who follow Christ, should take comfort from this. Because of grace, not only do we have nothing to prove before others, we have nothing to prove before the God of all grace.
It’s been a good start to the semester. I’ve had a great time being back around all my friends at Patrick Henry, I’ve got some very interesting classes in my schedule, and as I write this I’m travelling to my first real parliamentary debate tournament with the PHC team. Needless to say, it’s been both fun and exciting.
College has been and still is an incredible experience, but it also demands a lot from you. Between debate, classes, over a hundred pages of reading a night, and the ongoing process of forming your intellectual and spiritual identity, it can feel like there’s very little time for rest and calmness of mind. Even times of great growth can make it feel hard to simply be still and experience God’s peace. Every day, I’m encountering new ideas, new spiritual food for thought, and when I begin to feel overwhelmed I sometimes find myself wishing that I had a lot more wisdom than I do. (Trust me, I’m fully aware that I can’t find a lot of wisdom in myself.)
This is where something that God has been working to impress upon me for quite a while comes in. I’ll confess to all of you that I’ve never been much of a “prayer warrior.” I applaud people who have the self-discipline to dedicate themselves to praying without ceasing. One of my professors spends nearly three hours every morning walking around Patrick Henry’s campus pond, Lake Bob, interceding for the school and its students. I can’t tell you how much I admire this. I also can’t tell you how hopeless I would be if I tried to come anywhere close to it. For the longest time as a Christian teenager, I was in the habit of offering up quick prayers as needed. I never really focused on extended conversations with God. In my junior and senior years of high school, a spiritually rocky period in my life forced me, out of desperation, to work at more purposeful prayer, (although it took me quite a while to wake up to this need, and even then I could only manage about fifteen minutes a day, and I was somewhat fickle even with that.”
But, as I’ve been realizing how impossible it will be to get through the ups and downs of everyday life in my own strength, God has been slowly waking me up to how vital prayer is. I’ve felt that I desperately needed wisdom. But for so long I missed the promise in James that “if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God has given us access by faith in Jesus Christ to all the incredible abundance that He can give. However, he places the responsibility on us to take advantage of His gifts. He wants His children to come to Him, to build our relationship with Him by asking that we might experience more of His amazingly rich grace. It struck me that for years, I had been acting as though I was standing in the desert of my own strength, a “dry and weary land where there is no water.” God had given me a stream to drink from, a limitless supply of the pure water of His grace, right at my feet. But to drink, of course, I had to get down on my knees. I was too proud, so I just stood there dying of thirst. How foolish! God has offered us everything we need, and yet we fail to ask for it.
We desperately need to learn the habit of purposeful prayer. Living with a disability presents a lot of needs, but God makes it possible to meet every single one. We have only to get on our knees, to seek his face and drink of the abundance of his glorious grace. The strength he will lend us, as I’m slowly and happily learning, will completely blow us away.
I’ll be honest; if there’s one thing I can’t stand its waiting. Ask my family and they’ll be sure to tell you; whether it’s waiting for the beginning of the next exciting chapter in my life, waiting to get out of casts after surgery, waiting for a long-anticipated new book or movie to come out, right down to waiting for ice cream after dinner, patience is NOT one of my strong suits. (Incidentally, this is why I’ve always been so fond of being allowed to cut to the front of every line at amusement parks. Even CP has its perks. J) Given my usual attitude towards waiting, I’ve had a difficult time coming to grips with a lesson I feel God has been teaching me lately. I feel like this is a season of “wait upon the Lord.”It’s both easy and common to acknowledge intellectually that “God works on his timetable, not ours.” This is an article of faith that seems to be repeated often in evangelical circles, one of those statements that we unfortunately affirm in order to sound like “good Christians.” Yet, even though we will outwardly say what needs to be said in order to keep up our “good Christian” image, truly accepting this statement is much more difficult. Of course, we can understand if God doesn’t always give us everything we want immediately. The emotional rollercoaster of a season of waiting often leaves us asking, however, “Couldn’t He be just a little bit early?” It’s nerve wracking. We find ourselves filled with a profound desire, even a desperate need, for something we know God could give us. In my last post, “Trust Issues,” I talked about the uncertainty I felt as I grappled with some of these unfulfilled desires in my life. Perhaps it’s a desire to find the special companionship of the one God made for you. Perhaps it’s the need to find a job in the face of financial uncertainty. Whatever blessing it is we await, we imagine that if we had it sooner rather than later, the comfort and security would make life so much easier. Yet God doesn’t promise us perpetual earthly comfort and security. He promises to give us what we need, exactly when we need it. Our comfort and security is to come from the fact that we are under the loving care of a sovereign God. Everything He does is for our good, but that means it isn’t always immediate. Still, this can be very frustrating. It’s hard to understand why it seems that everything we ask for has to be accompanied by some sort of test. Why can’t God just let things fall into our laps easily and quickly once in a while? Trust me, this is a question I’ve been dealing with lately. This has been a time of transition for us, as Dad has been looking for a new job and seeking to invest more time in Need Project. Why couldn’t the solutions just happen, I wondered, without all the worrying and praying and “11th hour” acts of provision? This has got to be something that’s just as prevalent in the lives of others with disabilities; we wait on diagnoses, improvements, and life milestones from the day we’re born, and some of us have to wonder, why all the suspense? Can’t God just “make it happen?” These are questions I’m still wrestling with, but the more I wrestle the more I’ve come to a realization. I can’t always comprehend God, but the fact is, He’s good. He knows exactly when to bring blessings into my life (and this was my greatest realization,) not so that they’ll happen most quickly or be most convenient, but so that they’ll be the richest blessings. When we are forced to “wait upon the Lord,” we experience the most growth and dependence on Him. Not only that, but waiting prepares our hearts to receive blessing. We taste God’s goodness with a heart that has been refined by fire for the task, and long-awaited blessings are even sweeter in the tasting. So God’s timing is as much about making his blessings as sweet as possible as it is about testing and growing his children. The Bible says, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Those plans might involve waiting, but that waiting makes possible the fullness of God’s goodness. His riches are incomparable, his goodness inexhaustible, even while we wait.