by a physician who wishes to remain anonymous
Today's Christian Doctor - Spring 2008
Once upon a time there was a little girl whose daddy was a preacher in a great, big church. He had a lot to do and a lot of people to take care of . . . and it was important that they know that he was a good Christian. Otherwise, they might not have wanted his help or advice. So he spent a great deal of time with them and he made sure that they saw that his family was always well-dressed . . . and acting godly. He always gave the little girl a lot of presents – especially when he missed her school events because he had to help someone at the church. He didn’t really know the little girl’s hopes and dreams – especially the ones that he would not have agreed with. But he knew that she acted right all the time, and he loved her.
Once upon a time in another country, there was a little boy whose daddy was a missionary who told people about Jesus. That daddy also had a lot to do, and there were so very many people who needed to hear the gospel. It was extremely important that these people know that he was a good Christian because he was a foreigner and he and his family could easily be the only “Bible” these people ever read. This was a very big responsibility. So he spent a great deal of time with them and he made sure that they saw that his family was always welldressed . . . and acting godly. He never gave the little boy presents, because they didn’t have any money. But he knew the little boy would understand because they were doing God’s work. He knew some of the little boy’s hopes and dreams, and he put a quick stop to the ones he didn’t agree with. But he knew that the boy acted right all the time, and he loved him.
The little girl and boy grew up and acted right and did just what they had been told to do. And eventually they got married to each other. Two years later, they had a little girl of their own. They knew immediately that this little girl was perfect. She was the smartest, most beautiful, most athletic, most interpersonally gifted, most bound-to-be-successful child who had ever been born. And they told her so. They wanted to be sure that she reached her full potential, so when she didn’t act right, or when she got ideas about things that weren’t in her best interest, they were careful to set her straight and make sure that she continued down the right path. Sometimes she disagreed with them, and they got angry with her – because they wanted what was best for her, and they needed her cooperation in order to make sure things turned out right in her life.
This little girl understood what was expected of her, and she worked hard to succeed at it. But she wondered what would happen, if, all of a sudden, she weren’t the smartest, most beautiful, most athletic, most interpersonally gifted, most bound-to-be-successful child who had ever been born. Who would she be then? And what would her parents think about her?
Unable to process this uncertainty, she began to dance as fast as she could to keep up the front. She did excel at most things, and complied with her parents’ wishes most of the time. Eventually, she went on to become a doctor and married a wonderful Christian boy. Then she had two wonderful children of her own.
And she kept dancing . . . until one day she suddenly felt very, very tired. Her legs slowed their pace, and even though she tried to make them keep dancing, finally they stopped. And she began to fall . . . past the dancing floor and down, down, down into the depths of the earth, until she thought she would suffocate if she fell any further. And all the while, she kept willing her legs to dance. “Take me back up to land,” she commanded. “Save me from this fall. What about the honor, the glory, the approval? They’re all in the dance.”
But her legs wouldn’t cooperate. So she cursed her legs and told them they were bad. Then she cursed herself and told herself she was bad. And then she cursed everyone around her, whose fault the whole thing must have been in the first place. And she told them they were bad. But she kept falling. There was nothing she could do to make it stop.
So she cried. She cried as she had never cried before. She sobbed for the pain and weariness of dancing all day and all night for thirty years. She grieved because there were parts of the dance she didn’t even like and hadn’t even wanted to do in the first place. She cried because she felt sorry for herself. She cried because she felt sorry for everyone else, whom she knew she was letting down. Once she started crying, she could not stop. And as she cried, her legs hung lifeless. The dance was over.
Finally, she cried to God. She said, “I can’t dance any more. There’s no way. I’ve done all I can do. There’s absolutely nothing left. I’m sorry. I have let You down.” And even as she spoke the words, she suddenly stopped falling. At the pace she had been traveling, the stop felt rather abrupt. She had failed, and she expected to fall forever into oblivion. She had been exposed for what she really was, and she deserved her fate. Yet, somehow, knowing as she did that she had failed, expecting as she did to continue to fall, she sensed that she had been caught, and she was being held, even cradled. And then a hand reached out and rocked her and gave her rest. And a voice said, “I never asked you to do that dance. I love you whether you can dance or not. I made you just the way you are – a reasonably intelligent, completely un-athletic, moderately interpersonally gifted child who isn’t better than anyone else, but who is created so uniquely that no one can replace her. (By the way, looks and success are all relative in My view, you know!) I don’t want you to dance anymore. I want you to rest. I want you to sleep in My rocking hand and feel how much I love you. And then . . . ONLY THEN . . . I want you to go back up to land and let other people see what your life looks like when you’re dancing for Me, and not for them.” So the little girl rested. And she cried some more . . . but now just for the sheer joy and amazement of it.
When she got back to land, sometimes her feet wanted to dance the old dance. After all, they had been dancing it for so many years and it was hard for them to understand the new rhythm. They had to learn new steps, and they were awkward at first. But the little girl found that mistakes in the new dance were easily overcome, much more so than in the old one. And she found that whenever her feet needed a rest, she had only to let them stop, and she found that the hand had been there holding her all the while.
By now you have probably figured out that this is a fictionalized version of my own story. In a book called The Prodigal Brother, Sue Thompson sums up the central struggle of my life more clearly than I can write it myself: “I wanted to love the Lord with all my heart and soul and strength, whatever I thought that might entail. The problem was that I had a natural inclination to work in order to be seen and appreciated, and I translated pleasing the Lord into working to be perfect. . . . I became a performer, needing to show the Lord how truly I believed by trying to be perfect. I found myself falling down over and over, getting up each time more determined to get it right, thinking that somehow the horrible stain of my inadequacies would be hidden by the color of my perfect conduct. I may have been saved by grace, but by golly, grace was going to have nothing to do with my daily walk! I was going to prove I was spiritual by keeping every law on the books.”
This really describes the way many of us live our lives as Christians. We work hard to earn God’s favor and the favor of others – especially our Christian brothers and sisters. In Richard III, Shakespeare described this human tendency: “O momentary grace of mortal men, which we more hunt for than the grace of God.”
It’s a false world of control that we think guarantees us belonging and love, when in reality, all it does is help us feel more in control. It has little to do with human belonging and love, and nothing to do with God’s belonging and love.
And belonging and love are not even the primary things that we need. We need a completely new heart, the freedom of being a new creature. And that comes only through the grace of God. That’s hard to accept in human terms. Philip Yancey said that “the gospel is not at all what we would come up with on our own.” Because IT’S NOT ABOUT US. It’s about God and His completely undeserved compassion toward us.
The message of Scripture is not about our performance, but about God’s sufficiency in the face of our failures. Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:9-10, “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God does not tell us that we must pull ourselves up by our boot straps and do a better job next time. On the contrary, He tells that it’s hopeless to think that we can succeed of our own efforts. He tells us that He has done the work for us and made us new creatures completely: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-19, NASB).
Once we experience this true relationship – once the grace of God pierces our hearts in a real way – we can never go back. We would never want to go back. As George Herbert wrote, “But can he want the grape, who hath the wine?” We surrender the grapes of our own performance and self-sufficiency for the heady wine of God’s grace that saves us, and His sovereign love that pours into us and through us out into the world. And when we get to this point, we realize that no matter how painful the journey was, the destination is worth all that it took to get here.
The result of God’s grace impacting your heart is a treasure of more value than gold. It is only in this way that you can know for the first time that you are not responsible. You are not responsible for your own salvation. You are not responsible for mending all the hurts that your parents, spouse, or friends have experienced in their lives. You are not responsible for being the best and the brightest. You are not responsible for singlehandedly and self-sufficiently carrying the torch of Christianity to the world. You are not responsible for keeping a happy smile on your face so that you don’t give Jesus a bad name. And you are not responsible for dancing to the world’s beat. You are responsible only for living out each and every day in the palm of your Creator and dancing the steps that He orders. When you fulfill this responsibility in your human frailty and brokenness, He takes care of everything else in His sovereignty and power. And He carries you along and lets you be a part of the dance of grace.