There's really nothing that aggravates me more than myself.
Some days, all of my inadequacies and all of my shortcomings seem to swim before my eyes, tainting everything I see with a filter of failure. Some days, my imperfections stand out to me like flashing neon signs. They weigh on my spirit and sap all my energy.
I'm not talking physical flaws. I'm not talking inabilities or lack of talent. I'm not talking embarrassing mistakes or public slip-ups.
I'm talking about the thorns in my flesh.
I'm talking about the deep-set, fundamental rifts in my character that cause me to do the things I hate. The personal defects in my nature that never leave. The glitches in my very essence that cause me to sin in the same ways, again and again. There are aspects in the very design of my personality that never fail to fail me, and never cease to seize me.
For some, these thorns look like a hot temper. Lack of self-control. A timid spirit. An insecure demeanor. An abrasive personality. A pessimistic outlook on life.
For me, it's my inclination towards skepticism. It's a cynical mindset. I'm a critic.
Along with other tiresome attributes of my character, these things have plagued me for as long as I can remember. I so often feel that they inhibit me from truly worshiping God with abandon. I feel that they trap me inside myself. I feel that they prevent me from following after Jesus in hot pursuit. I feel that they are needless character flaws. Pointless problems. Trials that serve no purpose. Issues that do nothing but leave me sitting with my head in my hands whispering, "Why can't I fix this?!"
While I can manage to conquer certain things, there remains these nagging problems that I cannot seem to rid myself of. And everytime they come back and cause me to stumble, I want to cry out to God in frustration, shouting "God, you could take this away, so why DON'T you?!"
And as I slip beneath the waves for the millionth time... He reaches out a hand, and pulls me back to the surface. And while I stand there, cringing and awaiting the scolding... it doesn't come. Instead, I hear his loving words. "You of little faith. Why did you doubt?" And as I open my eyes to look at my Saviour, I see that His face is kind. His words are gentle. He's not angry. He's not fed up with my misstep. He's setting me up for another go. Another try. Another shot.
This is not a lecture, it's a pep talk! This is a Mum and Dad teaching a toddler to walk. The baby teeters and sways. It falls as soon as it turns its head to the various voices in the room. Just as Peter began to sink when He turned his eyes from Jesus and instead directed his gaze to the wind and the waves, the baby topples the moment it looks away from its coaxing parents.
When we turn to Christ, no wonder we can walk on water! In the light of His very identity, there is no power that can challenge Him and remain standing. When He stands, everything else falls. When He speaks, all contrary claims are busted for the lies they really are. Wherever Jesus is, fear is exposed for what it truly is: secondary to love, lesser than joy, weaker than forgiveness, and well within the reach of Jesus' outstretched arm.
Sometimes our glances back intimidate us for a moment, and fill us with their facade of control. And that's when He's like a loving Father, patiently calling our name until we finally turn to Him, again. Sometimes it takes a LONG time before He catches our attention, because our stubborn hearts can't turn away from the gripping fear of what's around us. So He begins to call us a little louder, and with more intensity. Sometimes He has to grab us and turn us around manually. He has to rip from our tiny hands the idols and symbols and prized possessions and trophies. And just like toddlers, we scream and throw a tantrum. Like 5-year-olds, we run to our room, slam the door, and shout, "You don't even love me!" Like teenagers, we roll our eyes and sneak out in the dead of night to try to retain our sense of freedom.
But, like clockwork, we eventually stop crying, and instead we giggle in the warm embrace of our daddy. We calm down, stop kicking the wall above our beds, and come out from our rooms to the awaiting hugs from our parents. We hit rock bottom, look at the barriers we've built, and we notice just how temporal, fleeting, and rickety they truly are. So, we slump home with our hands in our pockets and our face burning in shame, anticipating the lecture and disappointment and anger waiting at home. But when we sneak in through the back door, we are greeted by a warm meal, clean clothes, and our parents' tears of relief.
We are called prodigal. We are called Peter. But, thanks to Jesus, we are also called perfect.
He sees my cynical nature. He sees the skepticism that clings to me like a parasite. He sees your pessimism. Your short temper. Your laziness. Your lack of discipline. He sees how we return, time and time again, to these weaknesses in our spirit. But He also sees our headway. And instead of pointing out that we've fallen yet again, He points to the distance we've traversed. He reminds us that we made it further than last time. We lasted longer. We improved.
And maybe I am improving, bit by bit... but I still don't understand why He doesn't simply take away these thorns in my flesh. At least, not until I read about Paul's.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 - "Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
He knows I will never get it, and He knows you won't, either. Even if we had an infinite number of re-starts, we wouldn't "get it." He knows that. And He smiles. Because every time we stand back up, dust ourselves off, and give it another go... it means we are still seeking. It means we are still working for a closer walk with Him. It means we are still pursuing His perfection.
Our walk with God won't look smooth and easy until Heaven, my friends. A walk with God, realistically, will look a lot more like a waddle, a shuffle, and often, even a crawl. But as long as we're waddling ever closer, shuffling ever nearer, or dragging ourselves ever deeper, we're on the right track.
So while I still get infuriated with myself for my repetitive weaknesses and recurring relapses, I now know the Truth. These thorns in my flesh are what remind me that His grace is sufficient. It's all I'll ever need. I may not be able to "fix it," and that's a good thing. If I were able to correct these flaws in the makeup of my personhood, why would I need His grace? Why would I ever need to lean on His love?
But, since I can never truly escape myself, I have nothing to grab onto except for His outstretched hand. When I fall for the billionth time, I have no way of repairing my damaged self.
I have no choice but to allow my Father to pick me up, dust me off, and say, "All right, Champ. Let's see how far you get on try One-billion-and-one."