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.”

Stumbling into God’s Arms

It is comforting to recognize that all of Jesus’ disciples, followers and friends slip. We flounder just after we’ve received the fresh insight, just when we think we’ve figured it out. We falter just at the time when we think we’ve come to terms with life and with God. Even those first disciples of Jesus swung between great insights and a certainty that Jesus was the Christ to the other side, of thinking that he had come to reclaim the power of a king in Jerusalem, replacing Herod. They had it together some days and others – not so much. One day they were faithful followers, the next doubting Jesus altogether. John Procotor, says of them “Enviable though their place in time may be, these disciples still flounder between insight and failure . . . their journey involves both progress and stumbling.”*

As do our journey’s. The grace-filled thing about this is that when we stumble, we stumble into God’s arms. We stumble between insight and failure. I think we feel this more, the greater our love for God is. We may see failure. God sees an opportunity for us to learn and grow. We get another opportunity to learn about kindness and grace. We are reminded of forgiveness and mercy. Humbling moments carry their own lesson on true humility.

There are times when we look to the giants of the faith, comparing ourselves to them. Yet, even they were not perfect. Mother Theresa had her moments of doubt. Others had issues with anger, relationships or grudges. Each of us carries a set of vulnerabilities. Some days we fail miserably and other we know we’ve done our best. We are frail human beings who need friendship, compassion, affirmation, love, encouragement and companionship. We need to know that we are both loved and loveable. God reminds us that no matter how high or how low our status, God loves each of us. God loves us in our fragility, woundedness, dysfunctional behavior and everything else. God loves us when we are at our worst and at our very best. God’s love never fails. But whenever we stumble, God gently and quietly draws us forward, pulling us back to places of healing and rest. For this I give thanks.

*John Procotor, “Feasting on the Gospels Matthew Volume I” Reflection on Matthew 13:10-17

God’s Limits or Ours?

There was a time in my life when I had God pretty well figured out. I knew the limits of God’s love. I was exceptionally clear on who was on the inside and who belonged on the outside. I had a clear idea of the boundaries of God’s grace. All of that crashed when life did not go the way I expected it to. The world I inhabited was shattered. Everything changed. I scrambled to make sense of the unexpected place I now lived, rebuilding my life from ground up.

I was forced to rethink my understanding of who God is, how God loves and all those limits I’d set. In retrospect, I realize that my sudden falling was good for my soul. At the time, I was more distressed than wise enough to see which of my values and beliefs needed to change. I needed a larger vision of God, a more grace filled knowledge of God. I needed to stop assuming the limits of God’s love were set by me.

Our judging others has a way of coming back to us. Criticize some parents for the way they are raising their children, and a few days later you’re reminded of your own imperfect parenting skill. Complain about a person’s lack of work ethic, only to find your own employment status change. The passing of time and a healthy dose of life experience alter our perspective. Jesus spoke to our condition when he told us to “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2 RSV) Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible uses this phrase, “That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.” I have landed in that unwelcome boomeranging spot more often that I would like to admit.

But, still there is grace. Grace comes in growing compassion for people who face challenges that we have never faced. Grace is born in an awareness of the blessings we have been given, which have empowered us where others have had difficulty. Grace is given, when we step outside our judging and reach out to a person who needs our love. For where would we be, if others had not reached out to us in our own moments of falling?