I Give Up
AUGUST 10, 2016
There are two mutually contradictory truths in my life: I’m a whole lot better than I was. And I’m a whole lot worse than I was.
I’m not crazy. Okay, well, maybe a bit—but not about this. In fact, if you’ll let me explain, you might even identify with me.
I’m a whole lot better than I was.
I need to be very careful here. I have this tendency to get religious and to pretend that I’m better than I am. But with all of the humility I can muster, I really am better. I’m not sure where it came from, but I don’t write as many caustic letters as I used to write. I’m not nearly as angry as I once was. I think less lustful, prideful and bitter thoughts than I once did. Quite frankly, I pray better, live better, and serve more faithfully and joyfully than I ever did before.
That’s the truth. And my goodness isn’t because I’m old and tired or cramming for finals. I’m really better…a lot better.
In fact, if I could just quit smoking my pipe, I would be very close to perfect.
I’m a whole lot worse than I was.
This is the flip side. There is stuff in me so bad that it scares me. I don’t know if I’m just more sensitive or if I’m really worse than I was. It’s probably a bit of both. But frankly (and no, I’m not going to get very specific here…I may be a sinner, but I’m not stupid), I blush when I think of the things I’ve thought, the selfishness that defines me, and the ego that drives me. I will go to any ends necessary to protect me. I will even pretend humility, vulnerability and honesty so you will say, “Steve is so honest, vulnerable and humble…” That’s my MO.
How do those fit together?
Paul said it a lot better than I could: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate [the downside]…For I have the desire to do what is right [the upside]” (Romans 7:15,18).
What’s the point?
The point is that it doesn’t matter.
Well, that’s a bit strong. Of course it matters but not in the way you think. My goodness or lack thereof is irrelevant and my concern with it (sometimes bordering on obsessiveness) is not only neurotic, it is another kind of pride. I like to say that I measure myself only by myself and by Jesus, but you and I both know that’s a lie. I measure myself by how I’m doing compared to you or someone else. Self-righteousness and self-condemnation are the flip sides of the same coin. Both are an undue concern with my reputation, my godliness and me.
In response to both, Jesus always says, “Child, look at me. Quit looking at others and at yourself. That’s your problem and it will only make you sicker. I’m fond of you…whether you’re good or bad, and that’s the most important thing you need to know.”
So I give up…and in the giving up, my goodness and my sin are both irrelevant to his love. And I suppose the mix of genuine good (good that he has created in me) and genuine bad (I can do that by myself, thank you very much) will stir up in my soul and drive me to him. Then I find myself free of my obsessiveness, my self-righteousness and my self-condemnation. They can’t assail the walls of Christ’s unconditional love.
Now I think I’ll go and smoke my pipe.
You can take this, as it were, “and put it in your pipe and smoke it.” Or if you prefer, at least just think about it.