I just keep repeating to myself the first verse of Romans 8, "therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," and Hebrews 12, "therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders." There's a pretty vivid mental picture stuck in my head of me trying to drag myself to the starting block with those little pirana-like demons firmly clamped in my flesh and wriggling like fish out of water. I'm sure there's a Far Side comic in there somewhere.
I've been reading Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster, and I've been greatly encouraged by the stories of so many people, both historical and contemporary, that he uses to describe some of the greatest movements in Christianity. But I have also been reminded through these stories that resisting temptation and seeking holiness doesn't make your fight easier, in fact it leads you to more intense levels of temptation and persecution. In one of the chapters, Foster describes the life of St. Anthony, who spent twenty years in the Egyptian desert wrestling with his own personal demons before God delivered him. In a vision of God, St. Anthony asked him, "Why didn't you appear in the beginning, so that you could stop my distresses?" God's reply? "I was here Antonius, but I waited to watch your struggle. And now, since you persevered and were not defeated, I will be your helper forever."
What kind of answer is that? Seriously. I mean granted it's not scripture, and it's translated from a VERY old text, but still. God just sat there on the sidelines and watched? Was there popcorn and a betting pool too?
St. Anthony's story captivated my imagination, and it was like I could feel God opening my eyes to see myself standing on the edge of a vast desert. Here I am thinking, "no that's supposed to be behind me God. Isn't this supposed to be my year of Jubilee that I get for all the suffering I've endured?" But I look out on the immense stretch of time before me, and I can feel the suffocating heat of loneliness and discouragement and long-suffering. I feel myself choking on the dry heat just thinking about that picture. Yet I am also deeply aware of two things. First, God is with me, watching, because he showed me my desert. I wouldn't have known had he not opened my eyes. Second, it will end. I may have to die to get there (as my stubborn and slightly sarcastic self so helpfully reminded me), but it will end. I have no proof, only a promise made to my heart and hope.
From Galatians 6:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.I cannot express how much I want to please my flesh right now and justify my behavior by claiming that I deserve to be happy because of what I've been through. But I know better. I've tasted the emptiness of sin repeatedly, and I've seen death, which shatters all of sin's illusions. Yet I still grow weary of doing good. Weary. What an accurate word. If I started listing all the people I know who could apply this word to their lives, I might die before I came to the end of that list. Then again, as an introvert, I don't really know that many people, but I bet there are that many out there. Some days before I even get out of bed I'm already looking forward to crawling back into it again. Don't you? But God promises a harvest and a time of reaping. Yet the promise is so intangible, it isn't enough to keep me going most days.
So I have to go back to his words, where I read Psalm 107 this morning. I'm not going to quote it, but go read it. Right now. The psalm was such a beautiful reminder of God's compassionate love for his people; some wandered in deserts and he delivered them; some sat in darkness and deepest gloom and he saved them from distress; some became fools because of their rebellion and he healed them and rescued them; some were drowning in storms and he stilled the storm to a whisper.
God delivers. Do not grow weary. Too late. But these things I pray for myself in my own weariness:
From Romans 8:26-27 - that the Spirit who searches my heart would intercede for me with groans that words cannot express.
From Romans 8: 38 - that I would be deeply aware that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ.
From Ephesians 6:13 - that when evil comes, after I have done everything I know to do, that I would simply be able to stand.
And I come back to that same mental picture of me trying to drag myself to the starting block with thousands of piranas chewing my skin. (Should I admit that this picture in my head always has the angry birds soundtrack in the background? Because it really does, which adds a nice chuckle to my overly dramatic imagination.) And it feels so alive to be fighting, to know I'm in the game. Until one of the piranas hits a nerve, and then I collapse into a heap of miserable failure, only to pray in the midst of my weariness for the strength to drag myself up once again.