Her round, three year-old fingers grip the kiddie scissors and with intense determination, she tells me, “I’ll do it.” I’m teaching her how to cut on my straight lines. I’ve drawn them out, pen strokes spanning the length of yellow construction paper. Her efforts are haphazard, but she’s committed to showing me how she can, in fact, do this. Today I am her teacher, but I distinctly see myself in her place, too.
When the year began, I was deeply unsettled by some happenings around me. Weekly, hard conversations and news and pressures toppled into each other. People I love were betrayed, hospitalized, slandered, mysteriously ill, misled, and grieving. I was manipulated, wronged, and severely depressed. The list could continue. This emotional whiplash provoked all sorts of wounds and terrible insecurities. It seemed God fell asleep, so I unnecessarily took on burdens and neglected to care for myself—characteristic of being among the Helpers in this world.
I fastened myself to control, leaping at the chance to have a preferred outcome in my possession. When you set yourself as ruler, defeat ultimately sets in and rules you instead. Even while self-contempt reached a new tier, I tried to hold all things. I could see the lines the Lord had drawn for me, and I called them anything but pleasant. I figured I was doing him a favor, trying to sort through the dumpster of pain on my own. “I’ll do it.” And for a hot minute, I was convinced I could.
Sitting next to her, I watch as her right hand tires at last. She has created yellow shark teeth edges and triangular slivers have dotted the carpet. Paper corners have either been bent or lopped off. Finicky, they are. This is all a slight deviation from my original instruction, but she didn’t ask for my help. Not yet.
A young child’s typical attention span has now been met. She looks over at me, right where I’ve been all along. I ask again if she’d like my help and with an eager smile, she finally surrenders. I’m handed the scissors and now jagged paper. “Would you do it?” she sheepishly asks. All resistance to my guidance has faded. I place those dimpled fingers into the scissors, my hand over hers—and together, we cut on the remaining lines. I tell her we can do hard things.
In attempting to wave a wand over my life, I strayed from keeping my eyes heavenward. I snatched those scissors and didn’t just cut corners. I ran. The path the Lord was calling me to seemed too long and too narrow. Deny yourself? Love your enemies? Forgive repeatedly? Did those things really matter? Without realizing it, I was deviating. Heading towards an off-brand, cheapened version of godly living. You know, where people say and do the Christianly things to maintain approval, with little conviction inside. A perfect gateway to hypocrisy. Gulp.
When you’ve collapsed into the arms of suffering, it’s easy to make excuses for your unfurling choices, words, and behaviors. The chaos of this winter and spring revealed flawed systems and people, yes. But it eventually revealed the slime of my own sin and inarguable faults too. The Spirit works this way—illuminating what is to change within ourselves so we might become more like our Jesus. Sometimes the truth will jolt your very core, moving you to repentance and surrender once again. Other times it’ll be a soft nudge, an opening of the eyes, a kind whisper. He never condemns, for not one of us is irredeemable. Such astounding mercy, isn’t it?
I finally looked up from myself, overwhelmingly unhappy. Emotions in a heap and fragmented pieces everywhere, I saw him there. God, by my side, through all of the jarring circumstances. I was certain he had never left, never dozed off. Oh, I want his help. I need it.
Each day is a fight to brush away paper cutouts of the old self. Each day I ask him if he would do what I, on my own, cannot. Hand over hand and with all the patience, forgiveness, and long-suffering he has to offer, he guides me on this path. He tells me we can do hard things.
Today I believe him.