I needed to get up but couldn’t. Rather, seated and frozen, I willed the clock and my children to stop moving. If these would cease their audacious advance, I might, in the ensuing silence, locate the courage to cherish them. But there, hands clutched round cool, faux wood-grain, I remained resolute, squarely bound in my armchair, hoping this form of protest might convince my toddler or alarm to arrest itself. I actually made myself smaller in the chair, as if this could slow time or at least shrink the space surrounding me, filled with dirty laundry and rumpled sheets and crusty toothpaste and unsolved mysteries like “who would fill the fridge?” and “what to do about that water damage to the hardwood floors?” and “how would we love each other over ceaseless screams and pleas?” Paralyzed by what waited for me, I frantically searched for some reason to stand up.
This hadn’t come easy, marriage and parenting and faith. Within our first year of marriage, crying over Christmas lights, my husband and I hung ornaments and accusations in the air. A few years later, after the birth of our first child and the onset of my postpartum depression, we called a friend-of-a-friend to hear our hurts. And, one desperate day during one of those years, we agreed to be all in, shouting to each other in anger our commitment and meaning it for good.
During one late afternoon run to a bookstore for magazines and peace, I found the loveliest observation printed in stark white lettering on a 4″ square magnet displayed for sale among many other catchy euphemisms and kitschy colors. This one stuck out for its invitation to embrace the unfinished and the imperfect and the promise that tomorrow is always another opportunity to try, which suggests that trying is somehow braver than shouting or screaming or coercing:
“Courage doesn’t always doesn’t roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ “* In a world that listens to the loudest, this statement speaks volumes with its whisper. It was – and remains – a life raft in the storm of perfectionism and harried schedules and hungry little bellies. It seems that the difference between a need to shout and a willingness to whisper is one small but significant thing: a belief that tomorrow will come and, with it, the promise of victory or, at the very least, a certain step in that direction.
I often liken faith to a wo/man with a briefcase (Vera Bradley, let’s hope) full of crisp greenbacks, a million of them. She sets the briefcase down on the floor as she joins a friend for lunch, preferably during one of those gorgeous postcard summer afternoons with an enviable postcard view. She declares her affection and admiration for this dearest friend and vows to believe in their friendship forever. In fact, she insists, she trusts her million greenbacks – everything she owns – to this friend and would always think of her as the only one worthy of such a charge. Yet, until she gets up from that table and walks away from the briefcase, she has not exercised any real belief in this person’s ability to care for her greatest possession. (If money doesn’t float your boat, imagine the same scenario with your health, children, scrapbook collection or wine fridge.)
The walk-away-from-the-briefcase kind of faith, a willing surrender of our most treasured possession, always Life for us who have received it, comes by way of some deeply powerful promises together creating a living hope in Jesus as the worthy One. This hope, built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, declares that he saved us by his death and has been eternally glorified for that suffering: “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:9)
We find the key to his victory over death and our promise of life here: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7-8) Compare this to Esau whose tears could not replace a stark absence of faith: “See that no one is…godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing…he could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.” (Heb 12:17) Perhaps it could be said that the tears of a faithful person are powerful and effective.
For those of us who would elect faith as our most treasured aim, to give Jesus our life and walk away from the table, “They overcome [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, and that they did not love their lives so much to shrink from death.” (Rev 12:11) Why don’t we shrink from death? Because “since [we] have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14-15)
With this we are free to work without fear. The curse of death that otherwise accompanies such futile, taxing effort has been defeated. Tears and struggle and suffering with grit and hope have been declared the loveliest forms of beauty and the highest forms of worship this side of heaven. And, once this life peels back to reveal a new heaven and earth, all our trying will become our crown of glory since we hold the same promise as our firstborn brother (Romans 8:29, Heb 2:11). This living hope – that Jesus died for us and was glorified for his suffering – is our promise too; we will be glorified for every single end-of-day “I will try again” whisper.
Just then, back in my bedroom, my daughter, who did not receive my telepathic message to stay quiet, slowly wrenched the door and peeked into my room. I said nothing, but she knew and her knowing broke my heart, “We just bug you because we like you so much.” I smiled and standing up didn’t seem as scary when, in her lovely admission, I saw that it was not the relentless purpose I’d been given that kept me in my chair but the fear of falling short of it, of being both overcome and overbearing, a stifling of myself and the ones who truly catch my breath. In that million dollar moment, recalling the promise, I rose.
“Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12
*Mary Anne Radmacher