Am I a good person? As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be good. I was called miene kleines Shäfchen by my Great Aunt “Tante Greta”, which was german for “my little lamb”. I was the youngest and probably most spoiled of 4 daughters, and Tante Greta doted on me. She had no children of her own and I glowed under her constant praise.
I’ve inherited the journal of my oldest (now deceased) sister Hildi. There is one reference to me, her kid sister Lydie, 12 years younger than her. “She’s very cute but boy can she be annoying.” I always tried to capitalize on the cute part. I knew how to make people like me. People closer to me were the only ones who saw the annoying part, as little kids can tend to be.
As a school patrol in Grade 6 – the captain of the girls no less 🙂 – I took pride in waving to police cars as they drove by. I was on the good side.
By the time I was an adult, I was ready to launch into the world with my super hero cape flowing behind me: “Good Person”. I remember a university course with Professor Wannamaker back in the ’80’s. We had to write a paper stating our basic outlook on life and his feedback was just what I wanted to hear: “You will be a good citizen for our city.”
But being good is hard to pull off for too long. Not one of us has escaped the clay feet of our human condition. No one is exempt from struggles with our shadows and the selfishness that seems to take over. Romans 3:23 says that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” Scratch my “little lamb” surface, and my motives betray me. I bring out the good routine (is it a routine or is it real?) to make people like me, but under the trials of life, my goodness often falters and I start to moan and groan instead of being the hero I thought I was.
This week, things came to a head for me and I had a meltdown at our Wednesday night study on the New Testament book of Romans. We were talking about God’s grace and promises. Paul was the presenter that night, and he asked the question that the writer of Romans was asking: How can God remain faithful in the context of our disobedience and unbelief?
God had given the covenant to the Jews in the Old Testament. At first they rose up to the chance to be good for God, but it looked like they were constantly abandoning their half of the deal, bowing to the cultural gods of the day instead of sticking with God. Even the New Testament communities who were embracing the good news of Jesus were accommodating themselves to culture, compromising their dedication to the suffering love that Jesus modeled. Read any of the New Testament letters to the early Christian communities and you will hear how mired they got in squabbles and petty arguments. I identified with those people!
I was pretty quiet during the evening’s study, feeling run down by the challenges of the workday, but I finally squeaked out a question. I didn’t exactly word it well, but I was rephrasing Paul’s beginning question: Where is God in the midst of my unbelief? I didn’t understand where God could was when all I seemed to be feeling lately was burnout and a collapse of the “good” me. I felt like quitting my job. God’s grace which extends to even the lowest of places seemed unreachable to me. Hmm, I think I’ve been here before!
There’s an expression we use in our community. We want to “hold each other’s feet to the fire of faith”. How do you think they began to answer my teary question? They certainly didn’t call me their little lamb or reassure me that I was good. They reassured me that things were better than I felt, but also pushed me too – “What about your blog?” they asked. “Your writing inspires us all each week. Surely God is in there!”
Lately my students have been using magnifying lenses to study the monarch eggs and caterpillars I’ve brought into the classroom. It’s a good metaphor to apply to my blog – I use a magnifying lens of faith to closely examine each event or thought process or conversation that encouraged me each week. It never fails to encourage me and stoke the flames of faith in me. The poet William Blake wrote that a person could “see the world in a grain of sand.” Each evidence of God holds a world of meaning.
I talked about this and Linda said something that caught my ear. “It seems you’re holding that magnifying lens to your feelings of burnout, not to God’s promises.” Bev added to Linda’s comment, “Instead of focusing on how hard things are, you need to re-read your blog!”
Paul has seen it all in me before, and gently prodded from the sidelines. “You’re not going to quit Lydie. You’ve just forgotten to see your circumstances as a place where God can reach you and form your character.” It’s almost like I become that little kid again who wants to be good, but as soon as life gets tough, she starts to complain. No wonder things seem so difficult when I start to dig in my heels and say, “Too much!”
It was no accident that my stumble fit into the evening’s study. Paul had talked about C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, where despite the surface appearances of our lives, there is a deeper magic at work. Even when (not if) we fail like the people
in the Bible, God has a deeper magic at work in our lives, fashioning something beautiful out of our struggles and failures. In fact, God is so creative that our very stumbles are used to bring about the promise. We are not abandoned or rejected when we fail to live up to our end of the deal. God is there with infinite forgiveness, and never lets up on drawing us to him.
The deeper faith response is the one I want to live by. To trust God with the challenges and curveballs life throws my way, and to ask for help. I want to use the magnifying glass to take a long, close look at the deeper magic beneath the surface appearance of my life. I want to be storied in God’s promises, not my own failings.
Where did I see God this week? In the faithful responses of my friends who didn’t let me regress and who reminded me that even when our facades crumble, God is faithful and doesn’t forget us. In the friends who love me. In the hope that stirred up in the wake of my meltdown.
Maybe what my Tante Greta meant when she called me her little lamb wasn’t that I was good. “No one is truly good but God,” she could have told me. Maybe she just meant to say that I was deeply loved. In the end, that’s what really matters. I think I’ll focus my lens on that story instead.