Thursday, March 13, 2014

By a Thread

There are really two ways that most of us look at life. Some of us look at the things we do well; others focus on the things we could do better. Neither is a particularly beneficial viewpoint.

At any given time in your life, if you really think about it, about 98% of things are going well. Almost all of things are working out. But focusing on what's working is dangerous. It leads to complacency at best, entitlement at worst. It either makes you shrug off the 2% or curse it for not being a part of your near-perfect life. We learn to say that the little bad things don't matter because life is, overwhelmingly, good. That ignores a real piece of living here, and it neglects a tender space in the heart that takes on the burden of the broken places. I'm not a fan of the 98%.

The 2%, however, is no less dangerous. At any given time, about 2% of things are going wrong. Bad stuff happens. People fall short. You fall short. Life just isn't what it seems, or what it promises. But focusing on the failures is also dangerous. It leads to perfectionism and self-hatred, and eventually to feelings of futility and hopelessness. You keep pushing yourself, striving for something you can never have in this world, which is wholeness. Even at Creation, this place wasn't perfect; it was only ever "good." Even God kept improving on His design - deciding long after the six days that it wasn't good, a contradiction to His original belief, for man to be alone and thus, designing woman. It wasn't 100% that made Creation good; it was the One. It was one-ness with Him, the relationship of man and God walking together, the intimacy of the Garden. Focusing on the imperfection, on the 2%, robs us of the joy of good.

I'm not saying we shouldn't celebrate what's working in our lives. We should cherish the good things. I'm not saying we don't continue to work on the broken things. There's always something to make better, and we should never be satisfied with our shortcomings. What I'm saying is that viewing this life as working and not-working, blessed and broken, good and bad is, in one way or another, inhibiting us from living the good life.

Neither is it so simple that we "turn our eyes upon Jesus" and just look at God in all of this. I don't think that's a realistic theology. It takes our eyes away from this world, in the face of a God who has put us in this very place. It disconnects us from the life we're meant to live. Everything God ever told man to do, every command He's given, every invitation He's extended, has to do with living life here. It has to do with going into the nations and making disciples, to loving our neighbors, to meeting together with the faithful, to a million tiny little things we will do over a lifetime in this place. Looking at God and pretending this place doesn't matter is like spitting in His face. Just because you're His doesn't mean you get a pass out of here; He put you here. Not so that you would drudge through your days and drag your weary self into eternity but so that you would have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) That's more than a promise for Heaven; that's a promise for here.

So how do we do it? How do we figure out what this life is without focusing on the good and becoming complacent or entitled or focusing on the bad and becoming perfectionistic and defeated? What holds our lives up if it is not the good things? What holds us back if not the bad?

Our lives are held neither up nor back; rather, they are woven together by a thread. Call it whatever you will; I like to think of it as grace. God says He knit you together in your mother's womb, and anyone who knits know that means there's a thread that runs through your life that holds everything together. It brings the good in with the bad, gives you something to hold onto and something to hope for all at the same time. It lets you relish your blessings and embrace your brokenness in the same breath. And all the while, it keeps your eyes on the God who has given both, according to His mercy. He is the God who created you and declares, "It is good" but never stops tweaking things because good is never perfect. But still, it is good because of the one-ness, because of the relationship between your life and His, because of the intimacy of your wovenness. It is His thread that holds you together. 

I think that's the balance. I think that's the view we're supposed to have of this life, of ourselves. It's not that we focus on the good; that's a recipe for complacency. It's not that we dwell on the bad; that's an invitation to defeat. It's not even that we look to our God; that's a temptation to escape. Rather, it's that we fix our eyes on the thread of grace that holds us together, the thin strip of holy that allows us to see the good, the bad, and the Lord all at once. us. 

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