I had a rather random thought earlier about child leashes. You know, the ones that are masked as little critter backpacks but in all actuality are a leash for parents to keep track of their wandering, and likely disobedient, rascals. I truly don't like those things. In my inexperienced parenting mind I think to myself, "Come on, parents. Just teach that kid some obedience and make the effort to keep them with you." Notice how I said my "inexperienced parenting mind". Because I only have one and he is only 15 months... so I still have a lot of realities ahead of me in the world of wrangling little ones.
Recently, M has brought us down some uncharted territory with his behavior and it has forced me to face some parenting and teaching milestones I thought were still a little ways out. How often do I need to go back to the tv, or the computer or the stereo and teach and train him not to touch it? Seemingly often, I guess. For a little person who is constantly wrapped in a diaper, he sure reacts as if he's being tackled by a mugger when I attempt to change the poop nestled in his pants. I find myself exhausted at the end of the day, feeling drained of all patience and wondering if any of these moments are even making a dent. He is a strong-willed little boy.
God, in His beautiful and albeit comical, timing and sovereignty is showing me just how much M and I have in common in this phase of life. M's outward behaviors are, I'm realizing, the physical manifestations of my spirit, heart and mind. The problem is that obedience is such a legalistic concept to me. I obey because I'm supposed to... because if I don't there is someone (the law, my family, the church, my employer) I am letting down. I do this to the extreme in that I struggle to throw a recyclable item in the trash because I know that, even in that plastic yogurt cup, I am letting the image I have made for myself down... even though no one even knows it happened.
In a mom's facebook group I am a part of, a mom recently asked what it means for you to have your child's heart. This, apparently, comes from a verse in Malachi, basically meaning that your child trusts your guidance so wholeheartedly that even in the moments they don't want to obey or don't understand why they must, they do it because they trust that you know what is best for them. The example given was that when you tell them to obey you and sit down when you ask, they are not still standing up on the inside.
My legalistic view of obedience does not allow me to fully give my heart to God. My obedience is not because I trust Him, in my vulnerability and questioning, to know what is best for me. It is because I have a fear of letting Him down. This creates a relationship that lacks intimacy. And produces minuscule rebellion.
On the other side of the coin lies perfection. The paths this life has taken me down have built up quite a strong demand for perfection. That has not, however, produced in me a person who is excellent at everything she does, but a person who tends to quit a lot of things because, "If I can't do it perfectly I just won't do it." As I walk down this path of learning to be obedient to Christ, I struggle with the journey. I struggle with all of the imperfection that paves the way.
Is it easier for me to just stay in this place? Where I don't live freely, but at least I live in these chains perfectly? The thought of facing, moment after moment, the crossroad of obedience or chains, is exhausting. Thinking of the moments where I will not be strong enough to obey is enough to make me want to run, arms flailing, as far away as I can.
As I examine these realities of my heart I see clearly just how much I am like my son. And just how much more patient my Father is than I. I am the child with the little critter backpack attached to the leash of mercy. His mercy. It keeps me in His reach, so each time I go back to that imperfect place, He trains me. Whether it's by the sting of consequences or the gentle love of His Word, He has mercifully kept me in His reach. When I face my lack of self-discipline, and every fiber in my being wants to just rebel in the simplest of ways (laziness, selfishness, biting words, too much chocolate) He comes back once again to guide me to His perfection.
The height of this lesson for me is found in the imperfection. Before Christ came and rose from the grave, perfect obedience was what was required of those who desired to spend eternity with the King. Your salvation depended on perfect obedience. Then our Savior came, the one true spotless lamb, and knowingly walked up that hill so that you and I would not need to be perfect. So that our obedience could be because He had our hearts. On that day, the requirement for me to be perfect, hung next to Him, never to come down. I am free to say "no" to selfishness, disobedience and sin with my physical body, and also with my heart, knowing that He is more than enough and incomparably better than any and everything I've ever run to before.
He loves me, so He puts the little critter backpack on me and covers me with grace as we face the world, day after day. Beautifully imperfect with no requirement to change that, but to accept His mercy and praise His holy name for being the perfection that I cannot be.
Here are things we will never perfectly be, but can always strive for. They are also things He always is, and will never not be.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." (1 Cor 13:4-8)
We will have moments when we don't want to persevere. We will have moments when we might delight in evil. In our sin we may choose to protect ourselves over another. We will never do these things perfectly. We will fail and fail again and fail again... The beauty in this is found in verse 10.
"But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears."
When He returns, our imperfection will disappear for all eternity. When He comes into our sin today, His perfection covers over our imperfection in the form of forgiveness and grace. He will come one day, and we will be those things without putting forth even the slightest effort, because we will be truly and fully made new. Today, I am on my knees in humility, so thankful that He chooses to come to me every day, providing me the grace to be imperfectly obedient.
There is absolutely no such thing as a "Perfect Christian". Unfortunately many people have tried to show themselves as such and it has created a facade that does nothing but fade with each passing day. In this moment I am thankful that He has never expected me to obey Him perfectly, but wants to walk with me, guiding me through the training moments, until the day He returns and wipes away all imperfection.
Man, how He truly and deeply and perfectly loves us. And how graciously He remembers the beautiful moments with His child, and mercifully forgets the sin-filled ones.