It occurred to me earlier, in a moment of idle thought, that some of the frustrations I feel, spiritual frustrations specifically, are not the worst things that I experience. There are certain things that I pray for most everyday, and then there are things that I pray for regularly in certain seasons of life. Some of these things are personal, some are familial, some relate to the church, and some are national/global. That being said I find that there are some very powerful and tangible answers that I see to the things that I pray for and about. God has noticeably done things in and around me that I have asked Him to do. He has worked in situations, given direction, brought health, and restored relationships. For all of these things I am thankful, and truly I am still amazed every time it happens. I never cease to be awe struck when God works, regardless of His method or timing.
But then there are the things that seem to be ignored. Don’t misunderstand me, I know that God hears, cherishes, and responds to every authentic prayer offered to Him, but surely I’m not alone in thinking that on occasion I’ve sent some requests that either slipped by the appropriations committee or weren’t met with very much enthusiasm. There are things in my life and my world that I am greatly dissatisfied with. There are situations that I don’t believe are right, and I know that God can do something about it. It’s not that I don’t trust Him, it’s more that I just don’t understand (which, to be quite honest, puts me in decent company within the record of the Bible…Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, John, etc…)
Into this muddle of thoughts came a subtle realization this afternoon. It struck me that many of the things that I pray for, that haven’t see reconciliation or “answers”, bring me to a place of guilt at times and weariness at other times. For instance, personal holiness. I want my first response in every situation to be one that mirrors what Jesus would have done in the same position. If you know me very well then it is painfully obvious that this is not necessarily my pattern every time. I make stupid decisions more than I wish I did. And without fail, after I’ve said or done whatever it was, I go through a series of stages. First I’m irritated at the situation in general: why did I have to be “there” at “that moment”? Second I’m frustrated with myself: I know better, I’ve been “there” before, why am I so prone to stupidity? Third, I volley a few respectful displeasures at God: I’ve prayed about this plenty, couldn’t You have warned me, where was this in my devotions?
In those moments, particularly as I’m looking for a spiritual valve with which to release some of the pressure, I realized that I am not too far away from exactly where God would have me to be. You see, in failure there are two major responses: Futility or Frustration. Futility says, “I’m doomed to do this over and over, it’s really no big deal, I’ll just accept that I’m this way and try not to worry about it.” That, if you didn’t know, isn’t a great response to failure. The frustrated response goes more like this, “Why can’t I just do what I know I should? It’s not like I don’t know the right thing, I’m not confused, I just create messes when I lose focus or get weak in the moment. I don’t like this.” That response, if you didn’t know, is a tangible piece of evidence of something beautiful.
Christian theology, or at least any worth its salt, says that all major spiritual changes work on a person sort of like an infection. It starts out doing things in places we cannot see, or even feel, and then, later, we see the outward evidences. It works its way outward, searching for the skin. But long before it ever reaches the skin it has already changed us. We find that even in our mistakes we aren’t satisfied with ourselves. It’s as if we are living with an internal expectation that our external self isn’t quite reaching. And though that might sound a bit depressing itself, as if you’re doomed to endless tension and frustration, it’s not depressing. If you’ll listen to me Christian there’s great hope in that tension. The fact that we are irritated and bothered by what we do wrong is grand and glorious evidence that our heart, the seat of our actions and desires, is beating in time with God’s. And that’s a big deal.
So don’t despair if you make a mistake, despair if you make it and don’t mind. But if you feel frustrated, perhaps it’s a good idea to thank God in that moment that you aren’t satisfied with yourself. And thank Him that He loved you when He knew you’d make all these mistakes, He loves you while you make them, and He’ll love you if you make them again. He is pleased with the current version of who you are, not the future one that will always react right.
Take heart and be encouraged, because if you find yourself wanting to be better, to be like Jesus, it’s because He’s gotten under your skin.