12I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things
or that I have already reached perfection.
But I press on to possess that perfection
for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
Good Friday at This Odd House started out “pretty good.”
The kids were home from school, and the LOML was home from work. We all cuddled in the big bed for a bit. I squeezed in a short run on the treadmill. The LOML Skyped his mum in England. Then around 9 a.m. he kicked me out of the house—in the best possible way. Told me to walk down to the Hidden Pearl, our new fabulous neighborhood coffee shop, to write. I protested for a moment. Amelia (2), true to form, had just sneaked a yogurt and smeared it all over the sofa. But the LOML offered to clean it up and insisted that I go. I know this odd book isn’t going to write itself. I know I need to capitalize on every writing opportunity I have. So I went.
And it was good. Very good, in fact.
The Hidden Pearl was crowded on Good Friday morning, but eventually the place cleared and I was able to claim my favorite table by the window. I was able to soak in the spring sun. Sip my decaf café au lait. And write. About Mary and Martha and Lazarus and Jesus. His great love for them. And His power over death. I praised Him with every tip-tap of the keys.
Finally, around 4 p.m. I packed up and strolled home. Or maybe I skipped. Or soared even. So high was I. On Jesus’ power and love.
I approached This Odd House, full of anticipation. To see my precious family. To share my Good Friday meditations with the LOML. To load us all in the car and go to church and worship some more.
But I opened our gate. And Something. Horrible. Happened.
I took one look at the backyard. At the toys strewn hither and yon. At the cars and trucks and balls and golf clubs and pails and tubs and all manner of water toys. Everywhere. And my heart began to pound. Every muscle in my back tightened. I found it hard to breathe. And I marched up the steps.
The scene in the kitchen wasn’t much better. Dirty dishes still in the sink. Crumbs covering the counter. Sand and shoes piled just inside the door.
I didn’t even call out, “I’m home!” I just dropped my bag on the floor and set about the huffy task of putting everything right.
They heard me come in though. Those little ones. Came running into the kitchen, calling, “Mama! Mama! You’re home!” Of course, their sweet voices pierced my hard shell for a moment. But then I saw them. Dirty faces. Dirty play clothes. And mere minutes before we were to leave.
“You’re a mess,” I groaned, more for their father’s benefit than theirs. He had come to greet me, right on their heels. “I need to get you cleaned up. You can’t go to church like that. Hurry up! We have to leave in a minute.” Etc. Etc.
And I marched them right upstairs.
But not before I had made a magnificent mess of my own. All over the place.
Sprayed liberally all over the yard. All over the kitchen. Up and down the stairs. All over my family. There it was. My furrowed brow. My frowning face. And my cutting words. My irritation. My ingratitude. My self-centeredness. My sin.
Miraculously, we made it to church. Almost on time. The kids were relatively clean. And I had tried to apologize to the LOML in the car on the short ride over. He forgave me enough to let me hold his hand as we settled into our seats near the back of the auditorium.
Our church has a Good Friday tradition. Every year they lay a large wooden cross on the stage. They distribute slips of paper and pens and invite the congregation to nail their sins to the rugged beams.
I took my paper. I took my pen. I sank low and pulled my coat around me. And as the worship team played and other penitents pounded those hammers, I wept and I scrawled something about stress and fear and pride and shame. That had been bubbling up for weeks. That kept spewing out at the slightest provocation. Forgive me, Lord.
Then I fell in line, waited my turn, and pierced those things through.
Peter returned to his seat shortly after. And in a whispered confession, he told me that his nail had shot away from him on the first stroke, and it had landed on the floor out of reach. As a result, his sins were lying loose on the cross. And he had re-pounded someone else’s sins instead.
So when the ushers hoisted the cross at the end of the service, Peter’s sins fluttered to the floor. My sins stuck.
On Saturday night a lovely young couple came to our house for dinner. We have the privilege of helping them prepare for marriage. As if we are in any way qualified.
We talked for hours that night about love and desire. About communication and conflict and expectations and fear. And at one point, the darling bride-to-be bemoaned the fact that she has to keep coming back to the same issues. That they haven’t been solved once-and-for-all.
I felt her pain. I wanted her to know that she isn’t alone. That though she is forgiven and Spirit-filled, she is still blessedly human. That this is life in a fallen world. And this is the painful, but precious, process of spiritual growth.
So I told her all about Not-So-Good Friday. I told her that—even though I have 20 years on her—I still keep circling back. To the same old places. The same old hurts. The same old sins.
But, by the grace of God, there is still growth. There is growth in the fact that I can usually now see. That this is not, in fact, about toys and crumbs. It is not even about the LOML and how we do or do not share the load. At its core, this is about fear and control. And Friday’s deep fears—that I cannot write, that this odd book will never see the light of day, that I am no good, that I will fail—yes, those deep fears over things that I cannot control make it of utmost importance that I maintain extra-tight control over the things that I can.
But it goes even deeper than that. Stretches further back. This is an old pattern. These are old tapes playing in my head. Old fears of worth and identity. Old desires for perfection and approval. Old reactions modeled for me from my earliest days. Old coping mechanisms that kick in without any thought.
But yes, by the grace of God, there is growth. There is growth in the ability to see these things for what they are. To own them. To release them. To seek forgiveness. To nail them on the cross. To make peace with the fact that sanctification doesn’t always mean we get to cross our sins off the list. For good. No. Unfortunately, not. Sometimes those pesky sins flutter back to the floor. And with the help of the Spirit, we nail them on again.
Anyone else keep circling back to the same old spots?
How do you see growth?