“How would your life be different without Jesus?” This was the question put to us at our Tuesday morning Bible study. I was not in a good mood, feeling anxious and a bit recalcitrant as I thought glumly, if it weren’t for Jesus, I could be a pharmacist and making a lot of money by now. Such a profane answer was not expected, I was certain, and so I sat quietly, keeping my thoughts to myself.
It made me angry that I would have such an answer. I was angry at myself for thinking such things in the middle of Bible study. And I was just a little angry with God for not leading me to choose the path of a well-paid pharmacist in the first place.
Other people had more appropriate answers. Growing up in Michigan, the person sitting next to me had been a sullen child and a failure in school. Participation in church was the one bright spot for this troubled child, and it literally became a saving grace. I may have grown up in Michigan too, but just 100 miles to the north, my childhood and adolescence played out quite differently. Except for that A- in algebra, I was a straight A student, and I was a good girl, too. I knew the rules, and I played by them. I didn’t need the saving grace of the Church. Of course, I went to church. (That was one of the rules, after all.) Of course, I knew that I was a sinner and saved solely by God’s grace and Jesus’ death on the cross. Beyond that, I was pretty self-sufficient. I trust in God, but I still need to study. That was my motto, as I was all about those marks on my report card, and I must say, it seemed to serve me quite well.
I became proud. I didn’t see it in myself, but my friend did. She would become so exasperated with me that we wouldn’t speak for months. Now I understand why.
Throughout my high school years, I continued to worship at the altar of perfectionism, and when graduation came, I had a variety of options available to me. My mom wanted me to become a pharmacist. Perhaps this was a sensible choice, but all of those chapel services during my parochial grade school years had left an impression. I had become convinced that I needed to tell children about Jesus, and so I became a parochial school teacher. Not only did I become a parochial teacher, but I also married a seminarian-would-be-pastor. Surely a good girl like myself would make a fine pastor’s wife.
My husband and I embarked on our journey into adulthood with all the idealism of youth. I’m pretty sure I felt that I was doing God a favor with the path I had chosen, but that path was not without its challenges. I found my job as a teacher to be very stressful, but I soldiered on, still relying on my own self-sufficiency. I had no grace for myself and no grace for my husband. I was relieved when he took a position at a church and I could become a stay-home mom.
Relief was short-lived. A life built on perfectionism and self-sufficiency can easily crumble, and that’s exactly what happened. In 2005, my second son was born with a birth defect. His tethered spinal cord was surgically corrected, but my emotions had come undone. During this time, my husband was also struggling in his ministry. We began to unravel, and I began a steep descent into depression and anxiety. I felt as though I were drowning.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2
I was not burned, but I was broken. My facade of perfectionism and self-sufficiency shattered to pieces.
I went to the hospital for a total of four weeks in the course of eight months, and other people took care of my children. Recovery was not complete, nor was it immediate, but I believe God used those years in the waters and fire to refine me. He used those years to humble me, and to make me trust in Him for more than an A on a test.
I come to Tuesday morning Bible study not as one doing God a favor, but as one begging for grace, hoping to learn to better trust in the One who gives it. How would your life be different without Jesus? All at once I am thinking back to my days of perfectionism, wishing to be self-sufficient, rather than praying for a posture of humility and trust.
I am still broken.
There is a little more discussion, and then we prepare to take the Lord’s Supper. The pastor travels around our little circle offering us Christ’s body and blood. “The body of Christ, broken for you.” His body, broken for me. God knew that I was broken, that I would be broken, that I am broken, and He gave his Son to be broken for me. By His brokenness I am made whole.
Without Jesus, I would still be relying on myself. With Him, I can rely upon grace. It is not easy to humbly trust, and I do not do it well, but the grace is there. God is always there, even in my weakness, ready to bless me with His undeserved love.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
As I am leaving to go home, I am stopped by another member of the group. She gives me a Christmas card. Inside there is a check to use for my family just because “God placed me on her heart.” As if Jesus’ very body and blood were not enough, I am now reminded that God is taking care of my earthly needs as well. I have more than enough. I have been given grace upon grace. I never really wanted to be a pharmacist anyway.