Talk about humbling. I have been absent from the blogosphere for almost a month, and this is what I have to say when I return? Basically, this post is about finding God’s glory in your pettiest moments. I’m banking on the fact that we all have petty moments.
Last week I devised this brilliant scheme to help my husband simplify his day. I was tagging along on an afternoon of his work errands, which included delivering a gift basket to an office downtown. I knew he had budget and time constraints, so I, the gift-giving brainiac of the family, said, “Let’s stop by World Market since it’s on our route and put together our own basket in the car.”
I’ll spare you the gory details. I’ll just tell you what we ended up with: an ugly, asymmetrical, unprofessional excuse for a gift basket. We assembled the whole mess on the sidewalk near a trash can. In my vigorous creative haste I tore the cellophane and gave up on the ribbon, so the goodies and the filler kept falling out. Vigorous creative haste: my specialty. I plunked it at my feet in the car and said, “Welcome to my world. This is how I do things, all wonky and messed up. I’m such a loser.”
To his credit, Bill was aghast at this conclusion and said as much. But I was too busy comparing my creation to the many gifts I’ve received from friends like Karen, who can make a Walmart purchase classy or another Karen, who is the kind of baker who does not own a microwave. Magicians and purists, these are my friends.
I tell this story, not to over-dramatize my reaction to a petty failure, but to demonstrate the ubiquitous sense we women have that we are failures. It’s so subtle, we don’t catch it half the time. A few days later I told my daughter-in-law Callie about the basket incident, and she laughed and said, “Yeah, I always say ‘I can’t do anything well’.” Which shocked me because Callie is one of the most do-well people I have ever known. That is not hyperbole. The thing is, we are both pretty normal, and even what you might call mature.
And yet I think like this? A lot?
Like after my recent trip to Kenya. Somewhere in the jet-lagged stupor of my first days home, I found myself reliving the trip like this:
Why didn’t I ask better questions?
Why didn’t I prepare better?
I think I talked too much.
I was actually probably really annoying.
Why did I keep losing stuff?
There were happy, glowy thoughts about the trip as well, and mostly those sentiments got top billing. But there was also the subtle self-flagellation, the wearying perfectionism. And I was suddenly sick of it. I seriously wondered how to kick this habit.
Then last week, on the day after the basket debacle, I read something Oswald Chambers said:
If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right.
It turns out I’m a failure at fixing feeling like a failure. What a relief. I cannot put this weird, wrong inner monologue right on my own. You know how dieting makes you obsess over what you eat, over the numbers on the scale, and the way your jeans fit? Fixing yourself makes you focus on yourself an inordinate amount, and you really should fix that.
So what can fix it? And is fixing it the point anyway?
I’m not sure it is. Surely the real point in life is something higher and better. There’s this word in the scriptures that offers a clue, a word that I think is actually worth obsessing over. It is the exact opposite of all those dark words we call ourselves like failure and loser and messed up. It’s a word that describes God, but it’s also used often to describe us. It’s in the scriptures over 350 times. That’s more than twice the times salvation is mentioned, and 30 times more than love. To be honest, I’ve never fully understood it. That word is GLORY.
The same day I read Oswald Chambers, I read Psalm 78. The Psalmist says there are these riddles or mysteries every generation should pass down to the next. Ancient parables about glory:
“We will not hide them from our children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done.” (Verse 4)
I read this and I wondered: How was I supposed to experience the mystery of glory in the midst of my every day fumblings? Life often feels like one step forward, fifteen steps back. Parenting is hard and fraught with daily opportunities for mistakes. Marriage is a minefield. Running a non-profit only serves to highlight what I don’t know. Community doesn’t happen naturally. So where are God’s glorious deeds? Where are his wonders? And how do I experience or better yet exclaim his glory to the next generation?
I dived into the rest of Psalm 78 looking for answers, and I got them, but what a shock. The next 68 verses read like a roller coaster ride of Israel’s ups and downs, mostly downs, a chronicle of losers who couldn’t do anything well, but who showcased God’s glory when… not when they got it right, but when their wrongs got righted by God.
I’m beginning to think the most glorious deed God has done in my life is to save me when I am lost, to resuscitate me when I am dying, to heal me when I am sick. I know this sounds too dramatic to describe a day when a gift basket doesn’t turn out right, but that is life nine times out of ten, is it not? I know my big failures need grace, but I handle my little ones on my own. And thereby miss the glory in accepting God’s offer to fix them for me.
God’s wonders are found, not in the perfect meal that’s served on time, but in the oily smear left by entire pot of undercooked pasta you spilled on the floor and the dog ate. God showed up in the spill and your sadness over it. That’s glorious, that he would be there then. It’s a wonder when you realize, hey, Jesus is standing in my kitchen. He is here now.
His glory is found when I hear my voice yelling, yes, yelling at my kids and I cringe. And maybe I cry and ask their forgiveness. And I sense the wonder that he would teach me to cringe in order to set me right. That he would give me righteous tears to cry.
I find wonder in his kindness that leads me to repentance, not just for the “big” sins, but for the times I was lazy and didn’t call a friend, but I he reminded me and I did it, for the times I was loud and arrogant and he quieted my soul and moved my focus away from me to the person in the room I was there to love. And for the times, the many, many times, I didn’t sin at all, I just messed up like an ordinary human trying to get a gift basket right.