It’s like finding a stiff wad of forgotten used tissue in a jacket pocket. Or a moldy container of leftovers in the back of the refrigerator. It’s the hair in the drain and the frightening herd of dust bunnies under the bed. Gross and unwanted bits in our lives that we weren’t aware were lurking about.
Sometimes it’s as though God shoves a mirror in front of our soul and we can see them then, those awful blots, things we thought we’d long since gotten rid of. Out of sight, out of mind, so God helps us see.
In the last few weeks we’ve been vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and spending time out in Montana. We’ve caught waves, dug our toes into sand, enjoyed family, hiked, rafted, kayaked, and fly-fished. We are all brown and heart-happy. But God came along too, as He is wont to do, and He showed me some things I’d rather not see.
Sticky pride, for one. Superiority. A judgmental spirit. Just as I’ve been seeking to grow in humility and wisdom….oh Lord, have mercy. Will I ever learn? Will I ever have a pure, humble heart?
My soul recoiled at the sight of my sin; it would willingly explain away or slap some blinders on, anything but fully see. “I’m sorry, God, I’m so sorry. Please restore a right spirit within me, please forgive my proud words and thoughts. Help me to walk in humility.”
Light bends around the corner and I remember that victory in the Christian life isn’t about giving sin a kick in the face and walking triumphantly away, never to deal with it again. It’s seeing our sin, confessing it, seeking forgiveness, and then being attentive day by day to just how it gained a foothold in the first place and drawing a line there. Defending that point of entry and daily kicking, knowing that the Enemy is wily and will try other doors when one is shut. Just like when we’ve emerged from the sin of selfishness and have begun giving to others, we might find that we stumble into yet another mire, of pride in what we’ve done, which is stickier yet and harder to detect. It flies below the radar of our self-evaluation at days’ end; it takes God’s Spirit to reveal it, it takes God’s mercy and love to sustain us as we see all that black within us when we thought we were finally making progress.
So I thought about my gardens and how I prune back my plants because I care for them and want them to be healthy and not unruly. An unkempt garden isn’t the work of a loving gardener, but a lazy, disinterested one. So I must endure the Lord’s pruning, chastising, and training. I must remember that the Enemy would wish me to grow wild and thick and choked on my own fullness, a breeding place for disease and rot. But my Father lovingly prunes me for my good and for the good of others. I have to bear seeing the black, knowing full well that He’s bringing about the white.
So we kick, yes, we bite our tongue when that critical word wants to sail out, we resist the pull of selfishness and go wash the dishes rather than curl up with our book. We listen to our spouse’s grievances against us without giving vent to an angry retort. We kick. And we fail too, when we kick with just our own willpower, our own strength, when we forget that God is ready and willing to strengthen us, to go before us, to fight for us. That there’s a difference between holy kicking and petulant flailing or proud stomping.
It is so humbling, how deep and frequent the pruning needs to occur. I hesitated to write this post, because my humiliation is so deep that I wonder that any of my words could be trusted to be of good use. I feel not quite ripe enough to speak. Not faithful enough. Not holy enough. I am a plant clipped back and bare, all my pretty foliage and flowers carefully stripped away. But, I thought, as my leafy mask fell to the ground about me, maybe it’s helpful to speak from the place of brokenness and shame to the others who are being pruned too, disciplined too, loved fiercely too.
It’s okay to be the vessel being formed, the wet clay being molded, to not have arrived yet, to be in-process. It’s okay as long as the hands are trusted that shape us, that we lean-in to the Father’s loving correction and not away from it. That we live transparently and honestly and humbly, and that we speak from an awareness of all the work yet needed to be done within us, which kicks our pride most injuriously.