I want people to be more like (I want) to be. I want people to love like (I want) to love. I want people to believe and be driven by the mission by which (I want) to be passionately driven. I want people to do things (I want) to do.
Ok, I may not always be as honest with others and myself as all that, but I’m sure I’m never as subtle as I imagine either.
One of my underlying problems is my brackets.
There’s are desires in my heart. Sometimes well concealed. There’s a gospel that is transforming me. Excruciatingly slowly, it often seems. Yet in this slow, goofy-stepped dance with Jesus called sanctification, I’m often more aware of what I want in others than what I am myself.
I want straight lines. Parts of me crave clean geometry and elegant repeating patterns of predictability, yet I see God writing through lines that seem to me profoundly crooked. Plain wonky.
‘Life is ambiguous,’ Eugene Petersen writes, ‘There are loose ends. It takes maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and the untidiness. If we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be the essential and dear—the hazards of faith, the mysteries of God.’
Thankfully, I’m not alone with this conflict. I’ve found some helpful travelling buddies.
Solomon’s pages of deep introspection and insight in Ecclesiastes land him at a place of futility and spitting into the wind. An observation that so much of what we deem to have great gravity and worthy of immense industry, turns out to be meaningless vapour. Ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow.
His resolution? ‘Find encouragement in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot’. Hardly aspirational but sage all the same.
Paul lives the struggle of the ‘want to’ in Romans 7 when he says (essentially): ‘my want-to game is strong, but reality betrays it; my don’t-do game is strong but the score sheet betrays it’.
‘Wretched man am I,’ he exclaims. But then he looks up instead of sinking deeper. ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
The straight lines that I hanker after are only found in two places: the unsatisfying world that I attempt through my futile yet meticulous construction, or Jesus’ slow work in and through me.
God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick, for sure, but we usually want to straighten the stick as well. And all the sticks nearby while we’re at it.
God’s Word and my life are filled with frail characters who, in the hands of the master potter, reveal the ‘all surpassing greatness of the power of God, not them’.
God does not want to extricate you from every messy place. Nor does He want to remove every crooked element in your life to make everything tickety-boo so you can have your best life now.
Nope, he wants to meet you in the noise and the mess and for this to be the place where he writes through and sings to you with straight lines and pure notes. Because they’re His.
We want neat bows. Sometimes there are only loose ends that He uses for His glory and our joy.
Where’s living hope? Make a home there.