The older I get, the more aware of my flaws I become.
You’ve felt it, too, haven’t you? We’re meant for more than we’re currently living, but we don’t think we have the tools to figure out the next step. The gnawing feeling that we’re not enough especially shows up in relationships and work, paralyzing our efforts in self-fulfilling prophecy.
Seeing the reality of our weaknesses prompts us to look beyond ourselves. When we lack something, we seek satisfaction elsewhere. Our imperfection redirects our curiosity toward what’s perfect.
Great stories show the human struggle against our own imperfections.
Before he became the church leader we think of today, Saul was a person of prominent standing in social, political, and religious spheres. He was headed from Jerusalem to the Syrian town of Damascus, on orders from religious leaders to imprison or kill anyone who threatened the religious rituals and systems in place. Saul considered himself justified in doing so, even blessed by his religious system. But God, because he had a better plan, stopped him on the road and changed him. Jesus met him there, gave him a new purpose, a new story, and a new name: terrorist Saul became Apostle Paul.
A New Path
We’re all on a road to somewhere, walking a path toward something better—or so we hope. Just as Jesus stopped Paul on his path, Jesus breaks into our lives to reset our direction and create a new chapter within our story. Sometimes God needs to save us from ourselves, from our shortsighted, foolish desires and selfish ambitions. Sometimes we just need a little morale boost to keep going. Other times, we need help pulling a 180-degree turn and getting back to what God called us to.
Even though God intervened in Paul’s journey of prideful, hate-filled religion, he didn’t heal Paul and send him off all at once. Even while enduring social rejection, imprisonment, beatings, and harmful persecution, something else ate away at Paul. Scholars aren’t entirely sure what he meant, but Paul wrote about something he called a “thorn in my flesh,” which kept him from becoming conceited.
Whatever the “thorn in my flesh” was, Paul knew it was as much about a spiritual condition as it was a physical ailment. He asked God to remove it three times, but God responded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
The new measure of Paul’s life was accepting his own weakness in light of God’s sufficiency. In a world that shunned paradoxes and associated vulnerability with shame, Paul wrote, with a heart transformed by grace and truth: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
One of the ways I realize the flaws of my past—and present—is by reading my journals. Every so often, I excavate stacks of journals from the closet and sit on the floor as I flip through their pages. I could pass hours like that, and sometimes I do when it’s drizzling all day in Southern Oregon and the calendar provides no reason to outrun the comforts of introversion. Journals are time machines, transporting me back into exact places and experiences with people and a mind swarming with ideas.
With these sections of each daily entry, my journal became even more useful in tracking how far I’d come in body, mind, and spirit. Sometimes the growth was negative. The journal also revealed how much I still lacked. As I flip back six months or a couple years in the pages, I’m a bit embarrassed to remember how many times I had to hear the same truths.
I don’t have to be ashamed of my past because my life today looks much different than it used to. If I were in the same place I was in six months or three years or a decade ago, that would be cause for serious concern—lifeless, unmoving. We are meant to grow. We were designed with an unrelenting need to reshape our existence.
You can’t live in the past, but you can learn from it.
You can find forgiveness and second chances if you acknowledge you don’t have it all together. Second chances plot the course to a healthier variable life. It’s never too late to change the direction of your story.
The same Jesus who transformed Paul’s story also intervenes on the paths of our lives today. God knows the darkness we’ve been through and the happiness we’ve sought in the wrong places. He’s well acquainted with our weaknesses, because he’s been walking with us all along. Yet still he says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That kind of power changes everything we see and how we see it.
Adapted with permission from John’s new book, “The Variable Life: Finding Clarity and Confidence in a World of Choices.” Visit thevariablelife.com to download a free excerpt and the 19-song soundtrack. Get 15% off when you join the email list.
photo by Evan Oliver for www.theolivers.co