Today I lost my new friend’s son. Fortunately, a librarian found him wandering around while I diligently watched another little boy who, apparently, wasn’t my friend’s son. Still, I panicked when I discovered my mistake and I am sure that my anxiety didn’t even come close to what my friend felt when she looked around the sing-a-long and didn’t see her little boy. I can easily say that this was my biggest mistake in a long time; however, I made several trivial mistakes this morning, too. Someone aggressively beeped at me, so I must have done something wrong. Then someone else beeped at me because I was driving too cautiously. After I got safely home, I spent hours trying to negotiate with our prescription insurance after I made the mistake of waiting too long to begin trying to refill a medication. All in all, it was a morning full of blunders, not to mention the countless sinful, angry thoughts I had.
I could say that this was an unusual morning, but (apart from losing a kid) it wasn’t. Each day I make multiple mistakes, think terrible thoughts, forget to do things that I should do, and do things that I eventually wish that I hadn’t done. Sometimes these are sins, sometimes mistakes, and sometimes they just don’t measure up to the standards that I have for myself. Each time I make a mistake or I sin, I am reminded that I am an imperfect, finite, blundering sinner. In fact, the truth is that if I didn’t know God and how much He loves me, I don’t know how I could bear myself. Yet, because I do know how much God loves me, I am able to love my flawed self, even on days that I lose my friend’s kid.
You see, God’s love is transformative. It doesn’t overlook our blunders or even our sins. It sees us as we are, flaws and all; however, God’s love “never fails.” No matter what we do or don’t do and regardless of what we mess up or how often we give up, God’s love “always perseveres.” Consequently, when we come to recognize that a perfect God wants to embrace our far-from-perfect selves with His boundless love, we are driven to surrender ourselves to Him.
We see this theme repeated throughout the stories of the Bible. Some of our spiritual ancestors made silly mistakes that were recorded for us so that we could see the way in which God embraces our imperfections and does not allow His plans to be thwarted by them. For example, Joseph dreamed that God would bless him and give him a role that was more important than his brothers. His choice to share these inflammatory dreams with his brothers enraged them and resulted in his being sold into slavery. However, God was with Joseph and, through his mistake, God brought about the very plans that Joseph had prophesied. * Centuries later, Jesus’ disciples tried to guard their Leader’s time by turning away children who were trying to see Him. Rather than turning away from the disciples in disgust, Jesus used their mistake as an opportunity to unveil the tender nature of His love when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
Other Biblical men and women committed sins that were documented in the Bible. Many of their stories reveal the power of God’s unaltered love. For instance, God’s love did not turn away from a Samaritan woman who had been married to five different husbands and was currently living with a man she was not married to. Instead, it revealed God’s truth to her and used her as a vital instrument in others’ salvation (John 4). His love didn’t shun a man who was afraid to be identified as a follower of Jesus, but made that man the foundation of the Church (John 18:15-27 and Matthew 16:18). The father’s love didn’t even reject a man who “was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1) and who wrote of himself, “I am the worst sinner of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Instead, it transforms him into one of the fathers of the church and a man who “was an example for those who would come to believe (1Timothy 1:16).
My guess is that we all have times when we feel guilty or just plain not good enough. Whether it is because we see our innocent human imperfections or because we are overwhelmed by the weight of our sins, these feelings can do one of two things: push us away or draw us in. Too often, we let our sins and flaws push us away from the God and cause us to hide from Him. Like Adam and Eve, our inadequacies and sins make us feel naked and vulnerable before a perfect God. They tempt us to say, like Peter, “Lord…you shall never wash my feet” (John 13:6-8) and they keep us from knowing His boundless grace, love and forgiveness. However, if we lay ourselves bare before God, His loving response to our sins and short-comings can become powerful motivators to run into His open embrace. His unconditional love and forgiveness can remind us that we are His dearly beloved creations, that He made us, and that He is remaking us “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14). It can fuel our desperate longing to “go home” to our Father and cause us to realize that we can’t do this life on our own. It can make us dependent upon Him.
This week, I’ll close with a poem that is based on the story of the Prodigal Son which is found in Luke 15:11-32. The story is, among other things, a wonderful reminder that God is our Father, that He deeply cherishes each of us, and that, no matter what we do, His desire for a loving and intimate relationship with us never wanes. I hope that the words of this poem encourage those of you who already know this love to see yourself through your Father’s adoring eyes, regardless of your failures and shortcomings. If you have not yet run into God’s embrace of love, I hope that my words will nurture your heart’s desire to surrender yourself to the One who calls you Beloved and Whose whole being longs to be reunited with you – flaws and all.
I walk the hard dirt road – alone.
I know no one and no one knows me.
My life is bleak and barren,
My body is weak and weary.
I have nothing in this world,
It is all sin and guilt and shame.
I weep as I wander the road, yet, I hope.
I hope because I am traveling to you
And because I know that you can use a hired hand.
I hope because you pay your workers well:
I have a chance to survive.
As I near your dwelling, you see me approaching.
I am too far to see your face.
I fear it holds anger, hurt and rejection.
But, suddenly you race towards me
And we weep together as you take me into your pure, perfect arms.
*You can read more about Joseph’s story in the Bible. It is found in Genesis.
**Poem by Ariane Sroubek, first published by the Live Poets Society of New Jersey in Of Faith and Inspiration (2003)