A few days ago my ten year old daughter got frustrated with herself. Not to say it’s an uncommon occurrence, but this time what she said struck me.
“I never seem to do what I want to do and I always do what I don’t mean to do!” she announced with a growl of frustration.
I immediately heard the voice of the Apostle Paul in my head and rushed to my Bible to find the famous passage. Finding it hard to let a teachable moment go by, I told my daughter about Paul’s words and tried to help her realize that EVERYBODY feels that way sometimes. Even Paul – the very same guy who wrote most of the New Testament and did tons of amazing things for God! She already knows a lot about Paul; she’s been hearing and reading about him since she was young. This passage was new to her though:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” –Romans 7:15, 18-19, 25
My husband and I spend a lot of time trying to help our children learn it’s okay not to be perfect. For some reason, with our oldest daughter especially, there seems to be this innate feeling that they should be perfect. We tell them that it’s impossible to be perfect, nobody’s perfect, and they shouldn’t expect themselves to be perfect. That it’s good to strive to be the best we can be, but that all we can do is try our best and keep moving forward even when we make mistakes.
I usually get the feeling our oldest doesn’t believe us. That somehow she thinks she COULD be perfect if only she tried hard enough. I hope reading this passage freed her from that unrealistic expectation a little bit. I hope the knowledge that somebody as faithful as Paul had the same internal struggles released her to begin finding rest in the grace God offers us so freely.
There’s another thing I assured her…she’s going to feel like that off and on for the rest of her life. I didn’t say that to discourage her, rather to encourage her not to dwell in that place of frustration. To reassure her that even though we make mistakes and have struggles it doesn’t disqualify us from being the best we can be and even ministering to the rest of the world.
Take Paul, for instance. He was famous for persecuting Christians. He was greatly feared by the early church. And then he fell in love with Jesus, his Savior, and he did a 180. He decided to spend the rest of his life serving the Lord and preaching the good news of salvation to anyone who would listen. Thank goodness he didn’t give up on himself with disgust at his tainted past. He didn’t wait until he had everything completely figured out or until he felt he was “good enough.” He moved forward with his new life immediately and made one of the biggest impacts on the world of anyone ever. Why? Because he knew, better than most, of the powerful saving grace of God – the free gift of eternal life for those who choose to accept it and give their hearts to God. Without it, he would have been a cold, miserable man for the rest of his life.
If Paul can choose Jesus and do big things for God, all the while struggling with his imperfections, what’s keeping us from doing the same? Who’s to say what sort of impact we could have if we stopped feeling frustrated and guilty about all the things we want to do but don’t do, and do but don’t want to do?
I would much rather choose to hand my frustration and guilt over to God, since he so generously offered to take it off my shoulders. If we tried that, we might even find that we’re free to move forward and make a difference in our world regardless of our mistakes and imperfections. Just like Paul.