Today’s Scripture focus:Romans 5:1-11
I am a workaholic. Sometimes I just don’t know how and when to quit. To just take a break and slow down. I have a hard time really taking days off. Even those days that I set aside on the calendar as days off are often filled with all the stuff that I just didn’t have time for the rest of the week. I find slowing down and really resting difficult, if not impossible sometimes. I am thankful that there are people in my life that help me to be accountable in this area. There have been days that I have shown up at the church only to hear, “Isn’t this your day off? Why are you spending time on that? Can I do that for you?” I am thankful for these voices of reason and accountability.
I think that one of the reasons that I tend to work so much is that I like to create. It usually isn’t a matter of not having a project to work on. Instead, it’s more like, “Which of the five projects I have going do I want/need to work on today?” I was telling someone just yesterday that I probably have the general idea and outline for at least half a dozen books in my mind right now. I just need to set aside the time to write them. I would like to be able to spend time practicing the musical instruments that I enjoy playing – trombone, bass guitar, djembe, and Native American flute, but there are only so many hours in the day. There are some visual art pieces that I want to spend time on. There is work in my wood shop that’s been sitting there for almost two years. There are computer programs that I need to learn how to use and countless books that I really want to read. The list could go on and on. The bottom line is that I like to be able to sit back and see the product that I’ve created – to hold the book I’ve written in my hand, sit and stare at a painting or craft project I’ve created, or hear a recording I’ve done in my makeshift studio.
When I probe even deeper than the act of creating, I have to admit that I probably attach a lot of personal worth to my performance – to my works. When I am “fruitful and multiply” myself through creativity, I feel that my time has not been wasted and that I have worth. When I can’t see the results of my work, I often feel a real sense of failure. I’ll admit that I look at the accomplishments of my friends at times (published authors, college professors, professional musicians) and feel like asking, “What have I got to show for my life?” The reality is that this kind of thinking can often lead one into a deep sense of isolation, failure, shame, dispair, and hopelessness. This is also what Paul is preaching against as he writes this letter to the church at Rome.
“God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” It’s as though God looks down on me when I’ve decided to get on that hamster wheel of performance-based worth and says, “What are you doing? What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to impress? You are my child and nothing can change that.” It’s as if God is trying to get me to wake up and see that my identity and my value come, not from I can create or accomplish, but what has been accomplished for me. Whatever success or failure I have in life, it doesn’t change the fact that the Creator, Sustainer, and Heart of the universe loves me – so much so that he sent Jesus to restore the vitality of our relationship, to show me a way off that hamster wheel. As Paul goes on to say a few chapters later in the same letter, God wants me to know that there is nothing in the world that can separate from the love God has for me- neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation. (see Romans 8:38-39)
And the truth is that when I can grasp this reality, I cease to judge others by the standards of performance but, rather, by their share in our common humanity – in our common identity as those created in the image of God, whom God sent Jesus to redeem. All of those external circumstances become nothing more than idols that I must lay down and of which I must repent. The truth is this: love – all love – is pure grace. There is nothing that we can do to earn it or deserve it. It is gift. The love of God. The love friends. The love of parents. The love of children. The love of companions. It’s all grace. It’s all gift.
Prayer: God, I want to get off the wheel, but sometimes I just don’t know how. Help me see myself through your eyes. Help me find my worth and identity in you and you alone. Help me to find peace and comfort in the truth: that there is nothing in this world that can separate me from the love you have for me in Jesus. Thank you for that grace. Amen.
* Note: This blog post is part of a series of reflections for Lent. The passages are based on a booklet Steven wrote for Ecclesia, the church he pastors in Fairview, NC.