My eldest daughter's puffy, tear-stained eyes pierce me with the anguish that only a three-year-old can have.
"I know, darling. Obeying is very hard sometimes, even for Mommy. I have a hard time obeying God sometimes too."
Just like my eldest, I get very frustrated with how difficult it is to obey. I want to just fix everything that is ugly and wrong in my heart. I want my heart to be pure and whole and I want this right now.
Our conversation reminds me of what I read in Brother Lawrence's "The Practice of the Presence of God" where Brother Lawrence says that perhaps God doesn't want us to try to fix everything in our hearts all at once. Perhaps God just wants us to focus on one or two things at a time while we allow Him to change our hearts:
When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, "Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enable me". Then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, "I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss." Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.Why do I feel as though I must agonize over my disobedience? Why do I think that I must be pure before I am worthy of God's love, worthy to ask Him for anything? Isn't that the whole point of the cross...that I cannot be worthy on my own?
In Mark 9, a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus' disciples who are unable to cast out the demon. The disciples try to cast out the demon without prayer, without asking for God's help. This is what I do all the time. I try so hard to cast out my own failures, my sin, the ugliness of my heart without asking for help. Just as the disciples did, I underestimate the power of evil in the world and in myself. I don't see how weak and proud I am.
Then Jesus has an exchange with the father that gives me such hope!
This man asks Jesus, "Would you heal my son?" And Jesus says, "Everything is possible for him who believes." That is, "I can do it if you can believe." The father responds, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" That is, "I'm trying but I'm full of doubts." Then Jesus heals the man's son. This is very good news. Through Jesus we don't need perfect righteousness, just repentant helplessness, to access the presence of God.
Jesus could have told the man, "I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you...can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need." But Jesus doesn't say that--not at all. The boy's father says, "I'm not faithful, I am riddled with doubts, and I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral and spiritual challenges. But help me." That's saving faith--faith in Jesus instead of in oneself. ~ King's Cross by Timothy KellerAha.
Putting my faith in Jesus rather than in myself. Telling God that He must mend and clean my broken and ugly heart if He wants my heart to change...and then not worrying about it anymore!
To be able to confess to God when I fail and then leave it with Him ~ this is grace.
To allow Him to change me while I simply rest in His love ~ this is grace.
To leave to God the work of making my heart beautiful while I focus on and enjoy the sweet relationship I have with Him ~ this is grace.
Praise be to God for the good news of His grace!
May I remember this grace instead of being frustrated with my inability to obey.
May I trust that God's seeming delay in making my heart beautiful is what is best, that the journey is somehow essential to the goal, rather than being impatient for a perfect heart right now.
art credits: "Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen" from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900; "Christ with Martha and Maria" by Henryk Semiradsky in 1886