Ever had one of those days when you feel like ‘Mistake’ is your middle name?
That’s been my whole week; filled with judging and reacting and not much forgiving and reflecting. The stress has been suffocating.
Now, with my fingers on the keyboard, I can finally reflect.
I’m reflecting about the condemnation I feel when I mess up; sometimes it’s meltdown inducing. My mistakes make me stressed. No matter how logical I am or how much truth I speak to myself, it doesn’t rewrite the lie I’ve believed for so long about what makes me valuable.
I can hear that we aren’t saved because we’re ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ are not cast out. I can hear it and know that I want to believe it, but it’s not that simple.
What we learn over years gets written on our hearts.
Science says that neural pathways are created. Real, physical ‘train tracks’ are built into our physiology to carry our thoughts from stimulus to conclusion about meaning and on further to decisions about an appropriate response. It’s the physical process of learning.
There you have it: all my neurology knowledge. Only enough to know that “Just change how you think about it” is not helpful to someone struggling with negative beliefs.
Really, our learning is wired into our brains not written on our hearts. But it’s our hearts that experience the consequences – good or bad – from what we learn.
I’ve built a railroad that takes me from my mistakes to my being unloveable and, from there, to the survival technique of ‘get it right’.
That’s my big lie. And, though I have tried, my logic and understanding can’t correct it. Thankfully, it’s a lie that I know God is excavating and,ultimately, rewriting in me.
I am thankful that he’s working on me, but I won’t say the journey is pleasant. More like painful. Frightening. Having my survival system dismantled and slowly replaced with a thriving system is a major overhaul.
The process doesn’t look like the end result
The railway track comparison is pretty apt. I remember years ago, watching a crew dismantle a track system near my home. The unused railway was being turned into a nature trail.
The neglected, run down rail bed eventually became a beautiful oasis where families bike, runners run and I walk and talk to God.
But the process didn’t look like the end result.
Huge machines came in, tearing up the track and its surroundings. Scrub trees were uprooted. Deep ruts were trenched in the earth.
Then, other machines came and created a path, smoothing out the earth, leaving it raw and bare.
It was a slow process of years before the trail became anything close to beautiful. Gradually, plants returned along its edges; lilacs and wild grapes eventually sprouting and thriving. Birds and small creatures returned.
But it took years.
I can relate. And I can be thankful that the process is underway and that the Bible says we can be confident that God, ‘who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished…’.
But, years? Really?
Actually, that verse ends with ‘finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns’, which could mean I’m in for a longer wait. I just hope he finishes up with this particular work in me and moves on to another, instead of dragging this on until the second coming of Christ.
Because years of excavation, tearing up and trenching ruts hurts; more than a little. Hopefully, he’s moving on to smoothing the earth and laying down trail in my heart at this point.
He’s definitely not brought me to the beautiful oasis place, yet. Nope. My mistakes can still take me to self-condemnation. When I struggle to deal with my kids the way I want to. When I panic and revert to grasping for perfection and control.
If I’m lining up my ducks as if my life depends on it, you can depend on it, I’ll be condemning myself tomorrow.
I can ‘know’ not to condemn myself when I stumble but it’s only God who can truly rewire my brain so my mistakes lead me to grace, instead of panic and self-condemnation.
But, if it’s only God who can make the deep changes in us, where does personal responsibility come in? Is there nothing that I can do to ‘help the process’? Can I sit back and relax and say “The Big Man’s got this one”?
While, ‘helping the process’ implies all kinds of things that aren’t Biblical, we do have responsibilities.
God doesn’t require our help. Just our obedience.
One responsibility is to ‘Be still and know that I am God’. I take this to mean, when I’m inclined to line up my ducks, I should resist.
‘Sit, Colleen. Let your ducks run amoke. Wait for God. He’s in charge of your ducks anyway and can lead them better than you ever could.’
Another is to steep yourself in his truths. Personally, the lies that I allowed to be stamped on my heart (or wired into my brain) have been there since earliest memory, or before. They’ve been repeated and acted on a million, million times.
They got there by frequent use. If I want God’s truth to replace them, I’d better know it when I see it. I’d better repeat his truth as often as he’ll show it to me.
And, he’ll show it to me as often as I look for it, so I’d better be looking.
A third responsibility of ours is to repent of believing the lies in the first place. This one gets sticky for me. I’m not clear on how a child can be responsible for believing the only thing they’ve ever known.
It doesn’t really matter though because I know that, as an adult, I’ve opposed God when he has tried to change my heart. I know that there are times when I’ve decided that the known is better than the unknown, even if the unknown comes straight from God.
That’s arrogance and idolatry. I have idolized my understanding of how things work and stuck to my guns when God moved in to change me.
So I repent. It’s my responsibility.
As a duck-liner-upper, though, I can quickly jump from ‘my responsibility’ to ‘the steps I have to take to complete the task’. That’s not what responsibility means. These are things I am responsible for no matter when God completes the task. It may not even be in this lifetime.
Regardless, I am to be still in the moment when I’m about to revert to perfectionism, or when the weight of my failure comes down on me. I am to steep myself in the truth of forgiveness and the grace that is mine, reading it even when I don’t believe it fully. I am, even, to repent of the ways that I’ve rejected those truths.
And God is good. He is acting on my behalf, but he is not a magician. He will not wave his wand as soon as I meet all my responsibilities.
He will work, digging up, tearing down. He will let me mess it up with my kids. He’ll smooth trails and lay down roots. And I’ll still mess it up with Lenny, my writing, my life. And through it all, I have to sit, and know that he is God and that his work is good.
And his work includes my mistakes. He will use them for his glory so who am I to condemn myself for them?