One fact of Christian life that I keep coming back to lately is the need to learn and re-learn the same lessons over, and over... and over again. There was a time when this drove me crazy. I wanted to learn my lesson once and be done with it. It is kind of like when I take up new hobbies. If I don't catch on to something right away, I am likely to quit altogether (like playing the flute, crocheting, or sewing clothing.) However, learning to follow God is so much more than a simple hobby. It is definitely not something I can just give up on.
Over time, as I have devoted more of my energy to studying God's Word and learning to apply it, I have come to see what a beautiful gift it is to be able to receive only what I am ready to learn at any given time. I realize that if God had shown me the enormity of my shortcomings at the very beginning, I would have likely felt too overwhelmed to even take a small step forward. Instead, He is gentle with us, helping us to focus on those small steps instead of placing a giant cliff in front of us and expecting us to leap.
The fact that I am still learning so much in many of the areas I have been working on for years now means that I often finding myself coming back to the same passages, and even the same books. Right now I am reading Abundant Simplicity by Jan Johnson for the 4th or 5th time. It is kind of the book that started my journey about 5 years ago, and I find that it is one I need to keep coming back to. Each time I pick it up again, there is that nagging feeling that I shouldn't have to keep reading the same thing. And yet... there is also a beautiful comfort in recognizing these words and how far I have come since I first read them. I can see how God has been working in my life, and it is pretty spectacular. I know that on my own I would still be the same girl I was 5 years ago. Yet, through the work of the Holy Spirit, I am most definitely a new creation. I am more aware of this with each passing year, as I learn to more fully appreciate the true gift of absolute grace and what it means for me.
There is a passage in this book that I just love. Jan writes,
"As we're ready, God allows basic issues to resurface, but each time he lets us see ourselves more clearly so that better and deeper pruning work can be done."
We live in an apartment with a beautiful back yard. Matt and I talk all the time about how much we love it here, and what a blessing it is to have a wonderful outdoor space. And yet... we have also spent a lot of time talking about how much we hate the big evergreen bushes planted just outside our door. When we first lived here, pruning those bushes was always taken care of by our property owner or her children. However, at some point that stopped. And for a good long while no care was given to these bushes at all. And they got enormous. Seriously. When Matt finally decided that enough was enough, we had no idea how to properly prune these hedges... we just wanted them gone. So, he just started hacking away. Don't worry, he didn't kill them! He did, however, probably prune them more that we should have at first. After some time, you could see a lot of the dead brown branches mixed in with the healthy green ones. It wasn't particularly pretty, and it took some time to learn how to prevent that from happening.
I can see now that the same thing happens when we try to force ourselves to tackle issues we are not ready to face, or make changes that are too extreme for our current progress in our journey through life. It is only when we are very intentional about how we face things that we can see the pace God sets for our growth as His beloved children. His timing includes a whole lifetime of growth opportunities with the knowledge that we will still fall short. I always come back to the Max Lucado quote, "God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus."
Of course, as much as I love books by Christian authors, there is only one book I can fully rely on for God's own word. So I turn in Scripture to Romans where I find the verse that echos in my mind when I start thinking about this process of growth...
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4
There is a process outlined here, and it is one that I fully trust. I know that God continue to work on my heart, and my response is to continue working on my life. However, I also rest assured that the final step of this process... that hope that we I desperately need... is already mine. No matter how often I fail or how many times God needs to teach me the same lesson, my Hope is secure. It was earned for me not by my own merit, but by the precious sacrifice made for me by God's own Son.
So, once again, I rake out the dead brown branches left by my failed attempts to prune things on my own, and I start taking small steps to continue the journey God has laid out for me. I can see the progress being made. I can appreciate the new growth that is visible where proper pruning has happened. And I can trust that in the end I will be made beautiful, not by the work of my own hands but by the gentle pruning and tender mercy of my Creator.
Linking up with: Titus 2 Tuesday
Linking up with: Titus 2 Tuesday