Tantrums are ugly. Watching a person come undone is as entertaining as a train wreck and nearly as ghastly, especially when the perpetrator is over the age of, oh, ten. Recently, my daughter tried wakeboarding for the first time and, after gulping lake water twice, melted down with fantastic ardor. Her words spit with lethal venom revealed so clearly the discouraging space between her first try and falling and getting up and staying up – her petulance, her reluctance to repeatedly look imperfect, her desire to be admired, to easily master her newest craft. The tragedy was not that she fell nor that she sucked up seedy lake water (!) nor even that she struggled so dearly at something which might have been quite brave (ok, ok…was brave). As she wrestled the board and the rope and the waves and the ladder, it was her surrender to pity that looked so sad.
Adults throw pity parties as well as any kid. I often struggle in much the same way, wrestling with the space between wanting to be useful for God but also pursuing my own agenda, knowing that God is for my good yet fighting the temptation to follow my wandering limbs into brief pleasure, hoping for eternal glory yet pouting for the esteem I don’t think I have, desiring rest but impatient to still myself before my Lord, wanting to care for others but nursing my own wounds, desiring to pray for my family but preferring their sacrifice for me, desiring to see other people but hoping to be too busy.
Characterized by an out-of-sorts restlessness, in these moments I often find myself flailing between an optimistic, “Everything will be just gravy!”, and a despairing, “It’s all going to hell in a hand basket!” (What exactly is a hand basket?) Or, “I got this!”, immediately followed by, “This is completely hopeless.” I am learning that this is the ugly spin cycle of pity and its first cousin, sin. It is hard work to keep falling and trying in our relationships and ministries and day jobs and talents and too-fragile-to-speak-out-loud dreams, but it is much harder to fall outside of mercy.
That same lake day we beached our boat on a small crescent of sand and began combing the shoreline for treasures. As I searched the sand just in front of each ginger footstep, I heard a whisper, “What about an arrowhead? Could you find one here?” Ever a treasure hunter, this particular find had remained elusive to me since I started looking as a young girl. I nearly turned to my family to call out this tempting challenge but the odds seemed too great. If never yet, then why now in the unlikeliest of places?
Suddenly, it lay before me: an ocher arrowhead and nothing else, cradled perfectly in mud as if someone had just carefully placed it there. I snatched it before the next wave could, and five of us gathered round to stare delightedly at such a rare discovery. Perhaps it was this gift that inspired Bailey’s soon after promise to “try one more time” the wakeboard, to give up her pity for another chance to stand up, stay up and shred.
When we least expect it and without our help, God lays before us his profound treasure. This is what mercy does.
Though I often forget, it has never been about me or any one person. It has always been about God calling out and dwelling in his remnant. Our falling down and crying out have always been fully intended as has our unbinding from the sin and despair that thwart us. This world has never been ours to overcome. It has always been God’s creation to buy back. The work of saving face and pretending to be too busy and recovering from the emptiness of brief pleasure and nursing overextended agendas has never been our intended portion. Untangling one another from death has been the blessing intended for us since Jesus first demonstrated the power to heal.
“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:15-16)
“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are free from your infirmity.’ Immediately she straightened up and praised God.
‘Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?’ When [Jesus] said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” (Luke 13: 10-17)
“For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 7:22-23, 8:13)