Updated: Apr 2, 2021
The following is a piece I wrote in 2019. It's very personal and very raw--but I believe very powerful, because it is something we all experience at some time or another. During Lent, as we reflect upon the limitless love of Christ, we know part of that journey is to come to the end of our limits. Not just those we put upon ourselves, but especially those we put upon him.
I turn to face you, and I don’t know what I will find. What expression will be on your face, what will I see in the depths of your eyes? Consternation, frustration, irritation—or worse, disgust and contempt? If so, then your eyes will simply mirror mine. I know in my heart those things do not rule you, but how can you not feel them when you see me? Your understanding no one can fathom, and yet you do not let your children walk in evil ways without consequence. I’ve begun to wait for the proverbial axe to fall, the shoe to drop, and the scales to tip. When I am alone, I feel bereft and anxious. The truth of your love and mercy do not fully comfort me because the problem isn’t with your character, it is with mine. And living with myself has become my greatest burden and fear.
I’m waiting for a determination to come into my heart to break free and walk in your ways. I want it to come from outside of me, and be gifted to me. I don’t want to find it inside of me, because if I search my heart, what will I find? I’m afraid of the emptiness inside. I’m afraid that this time, I will be beaten and unable to stand. A righteous man falls seven times, and gets up again. But what if he doesn’t? What if he only thought he was righteous, and when the seventh time came, he couldn’t get up again? Seven is the limit, and eight—well, eight is just too much. What if he stays on the ground, lying in his pain, broken and wounded and simply unable or unwilling to fight?
I don’t want to be that person and yet gravity is not my friend. The pull, the insane weight of my flesh, my failures, my sinful desires is giving me cause for a sorrow and sadness previously unknown to me. I didn’t know I could be this pathetic and weak. I didn’t know I was capable of such foolishness and selfishness. Can I really be this evil? Can the darkness really be this dark?
As I read through what I have just written, I see that my eyes are fixed and focused not on Christ, but myself. I preach and teach a lot about getting our eyes off ourselves but I’ll tell you what, it ain’t easy. That creeping darkness puts its tentacles in every part of my soul, and begins to suck the life out of everything. It’s almost impossible not to pay constant attention to that. And yet to get free, I am going to have to focus not on the dark, but on the Light. I have to see Jesus. I must see Jesus. If the light cannot come from within, then I must find the light without.
Is there a credit limit to grace? Is there a cap on his fund of mercy? In every sphere of life on earth we come to some kind of end, we find limits and boundaries and borders that tell us, This is it. You’ve reached the end. You’re done. You can go no further. And yet our faith informs us over and over that with God, it is different. There is no end, as a matter of fact, his character is such that there can be no end to his love, mercy, grace, compassion—and if there was, he wouldn’t be God.
And perhaps that is the most frightening thing of all inside of me. It’s that I could not come to the end of his limit, but mine. My own limit on my own conception of what is “enough.” Like Peter with his seven-times-but-not-eight limit on forgiveness, I have a limit that I think is acceptable for God to forgive and show mercy and then, if I go past that—uh oh, now I’ve done it. He could forgive me for this, but not for that. He has mercy on me for one day—month—year—but not possibly for the second. And by the third, surely the jaws of hell are waiting to eat me alive. No one could possibly abuse God’s kindness for this long, isn’t that right? So you might as well just leave the trying behind altogether.
This self-imposed limit, this misconception and misconstrued grace is an unearthed revelation in my soul digging that I absolutely must pause and deal with. Here and now, today, not tomorrow. Because I know what will happen if I limit God with my limits—my pride will take over and drag me away into the things I fear the most. “I can’t reach perfection, so why even try?” “I can’t overcome, so why not give in?” This is the nature of addiction and humanity at our worst. We think our sin and evil is our worst, but it isn’t. Our very worst is saying no to the provision for sin and evil—for us to play God with our own souls and determine our limits on his grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
But you know what really irks me the most? It’s that I have to even discover that. It’s that I have tested that so many times. It’s that in order to know the gracious part of his character, I have to face the darkness inside. I have to admit how bad it is in order to see how good he is. I don’t want to live in grace, I don’t want to need forgiveness, I don’t want to have to call on mercy, because I—I—I want to be perfect. I don’t want to live obliged and chained to grace. I want to overcome all this crap so I don’t have to see my shortcomings and failures in sharp relief every time I look in the mirror.
In the very ultimate height of human pride I have to admit: I want to be done with sin, so I can be free of the need of a Savior. Hand over mouth, eyes squeezed tightly shut, I try to not let that gut-wrenching revelation overwhelm me but instead turn me back to him.
Oh God, forgive me for taking your place. I’m done with saving my own soul. I’m done limiting what you said over and over is limitless. Oh Jesus, save me yet again!
In tears I finish today. It’s too much for me to see all this, and yet as I work up the courage to face it, I feel a new wave of something akin to determination rise up inside. A burgeoning of that scrappy little fighter inside, the one who won’t let me walk away from God even at my worst. Can I finally be strong enough to admit how weak I really am? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will stop limiting God’s grace with my version of grace. I will plunge into the depths of mercy, even if it means facing the darkness that makes me need that mercy. And I will not give more glory and power to my sin than I do to the Savior that paid the price for that sin.
And so for the eighth time, I get up again.