Occasionally I get tired of the huge effort required to get in shape, keep my weight down, and stay ahead of gray hair and frizz. The whole thing takes more effort with each passing year, and it’s not as if I’m realizing stellar results. I’m barely staying ahead of the aging specter nipping at my heels.
What a relief it would be to let myself go. I’d sport my natural hair color, which I think is about thirty percent gray, throw out the exercise DVDs, and eat all the dessert and pastries and bread and chocolate I wanted. I’d wear muumuus (those billowy dresses from Hawaii) to hide the fat. And I could stop buying makeup.
“Would you still love me?” I ask my husband, after describing my plan.
He knows this is dangerous territory and treads delicately but resolutely, closing the door to further discussion.
The problem is that I wouldn’t love me. The hair and makeup thing is admittedly a little vain, but the exercise and eating thing is ultimately for my health. So it looks like I’m stuck with personal maintenance.
My weariness with outward grooming illustrates the inward struggle that accompanies a long project like raising kids, or loving other people, or walking with God. It’s discouraging to do the right thing, over and over, for years, and not see the hoped-for results, or realize that you still have so far to go. You’re increasingly aware of the pitfalls, your failures, and the reality that an outside person or unexpected event could throw the whole thing in the tank.
Parenting is an exhausting round of teaching, guiding and passing on values. Sadly, you have no guarantee of the outcome. People and relationships are endlessly challenging. Being kind and loving is the right thing to do, but you have no control over others’ response or how they treat you. No matter how devoted you are to knowing and serving God, he seems to hide himself at times. Where are the answers to your fervent prayers? Why is life so confusing? It would be easy, in all these circumstances, to give up. It’s just too hard. It’s tempting to stop caring. To let yourself go.
We get tripped up because we’re programmed to think in terms of success, not faithfulness. We forget that our corner of the world is a very small part of what actually exists. God really does hold the whole world in his hands, and as perplexing and disappointing as life is, he really does have a plan. It involves displaying his majesty and glory and bringing humans to himself. This ought to change my perspective from wanting to be successful to wanting to join him in his mission.
Hebrews 11 comes to mind. It’s the account of the incredible faithfulness of centuries of God’s people waiting for the promise of the Messiah to be fulfilled, but not receiving it in their lifetimes. They must have been discouraged at times, and many of them experienced suffering and martyrdom (read Vs. 35-38). They weren’t successful by anyone’s standards, but they remained steadfast. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Vs. 39-40).
That perfection came in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. Now we wait for the culmination of history, when everything will be subjected to Christ, and we too will be commended if we remain faithful. All of our little pictures, with pieces that seem to be missing or unexplained, will make sense in the big picture.
Our present faithfulness may feel futile or incomplete, but we don’t know what may be left undone if we don’t keep at it. I’m not in the same shape as those DVD exercise chicks dancing around on my TV screen. But I can sprint up the stairs without getting breathless, and I have the strength to pick up my 35 lb grandson and carry him around upside down. His shrieks of laughter are worth every minute I spend doing lunges. I can’t lift 10 pound weights (my shoulders object), but I can lift 5 pounds in each hand. Something is better than nothing. Who knows what a mess I’d be if I was a couch potato? I can’t do it all but I can be faithful.
So in my life with God, who knows what part of God’s plan I’m fulfilling with my faithfulness in the midst of weariness? Even if it’s not clear to me at the moment.
Don’t give up. Don’t let yourself go. Choose faithfulness, and let God be in charge of success. That’s all he asks. It’s his project, not yours, and he knows how to get it done.
And for the record, I don’t plan to be a muumuu wearing, gray-haired frizz ball anytime soon.