Steadfast Love Transforms all Failure

Though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand.” (Psalm 37:24) writes the Psalmist. I’m not fond of falling headlong or stumbling along life’s journey. I would much rather be the person who always has it altogether, with no detours along the way. That may have been why it was so difficult for me when my marriage fell apart. Back in those years, I was convinced that a Christian ought to be able to make his or her marriage work. Failing at that, I had serious questions about God’s ongoing love and care . I wondered about God’s willingness to accept me and forgive my failure. I’m not sure quite why the assumption was so embedded in me that divorce was an unforgivable sin. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that.

From the vantage point of years, I suspect that I was projecting my own sense of judgment on God. Failure pulls us up short. Personal failure can be devastating. We don’t like to fail. Failure forces us to admit our human limitations. It causes us to acknowledge that we do not know everything we thought we did. In failure, we find ourselves eating words we once glibly stated and wincing at judgments we freely gave. We find ourselves in a humbling place, without the familiar certainty of yesterday.

Big failures carry with them fear of judgment, loss of confidence, and a disturbing anxiety about our future. I don’t know what failure Dietrich Bonhoeffer was referring to when he wrote these words. I do know that he was in prison in Germany during the World War II charged with treason. He writes, “Time alone distinguishes . . .when the creeping hours of the day first reveal the true outlines of failure. This is the hour of steadfast love, the hour of the mother and the beloved, the hour of the friend and the brother. Steadfast love transforms all failure, and gently cradles it in the soft radiance of heavenly light.”

If today, you are feeling yourself to be a “failure,” be assured that God has not stopped loving or caring for you. God is far more concerned about your personal well-being than about the mistakes you have made. God wants you to know that you are not alone.  You are in fact  surrounded by the steadfast love of God . A love so rich and pure that no words can adequately describe the power of that love. Looking backwards I can name the people God put in my life during that painful, questioning time.   I see how God was using them to reach me –  to remind me that God’s love never fails.

The scripture says, “Being rooted and grounded in love, may you have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19)
The day of failure really will pass. Up ahead will be moments of joy and celebration. But for today, be assured God’s grace and love are surrounding you.  Someday you will see how in this uncertain time, you have truly been “cradled in the soft radiance of heavenly light.”

How Wide the Heart, How High the Soul

One of my favorite poems is by Edna St.Vincent Millay. Whenever I read it, I’m reminded that we each hold in our hearts and minds the extent to which our lives are stretched into meaning and significance.

She writes: “The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky”
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.” Edna St. Vincent Millay, Renascence and Other Poems

We make choices every day in how close we’ll let another person get to us. We decide ourselves if we will share the deep thoughts of our hearts. We make decisions about generosity of spirit. Will we express care for a person going through a tough time, or ignore the impulse to reach out? Will we volunteer for a cause we believe in, or be an observer? Will we risk a new direction or cling to our security? Will we pull into ourselves, when life is tough, or will we let others into our hearts? Will we let go of our fears and skepticism long enough to do some good in this world.

Walter Brueggeman in his book, “The Threat of Life” says: “When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God . . . Life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to give and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined.”

How wide is your heart today? How high the soul? What is God nudging you to do? Are you willing to allow your spirit and soul to stretch to the sky – enough to let the face of God shine through?

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,   and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19