Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
It’s hard enough, at times, to struggle with life, with the challenges that we face, with the difficulties that it can bring. It’s all the harder when we have to struggle with ourselves, and the person that we are.
There’s a verse in St. Paul’s Epistles to the church in Corinth where he says to the believers there, ” For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) The King James Version, it leaves out the word “Reflection” but it tells us, “…we see through a glass, darkly…” How true, and yet how difficult both translations can be for us. So often there’s a comfort in knowing that others go through the same things as us, that we’re not necessarily alone in our struggles, that, as Paul would say earlier in that letter, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” In many ways we know that this is how “…God is faithful,” because, in those moments, we realize that, “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Yet when we see our reflection in that mirror, when we see it so darkly, it’s little comfort or solace to know that all temptations and trials are common place. After all, it’s not life that’s the problem, it’s not the world or the struggles that it can bring, it’s nothing short of ourselves. We are the reason life isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, we are the cause of our own setbacks. In those moments, as we take that deep breath, feeling the weight of the world pressing down on us, crushing us under its power and strength, as we feel the tears well up deep inside and the darkness inside of us growing, the despair surrounding us as it pushes us further into the pain and the hurt, or the stresses and the overwhelming strain, the depression or the anxiety, the sorrow or the temptation, we know there is nothing else, there is no one else to blame but ourselves.
In these moments even God’s love seems far distant and removed from us as wade those waters that feel like they are dragging us under. But then, how could that be terribly surprising, if we can’t love ourselves, if we can barely even stand to look at ourselves because of the hopelessness that surrounds ourselves, how could we expect anyone else to, even God Himself.
Yet, for as hard as it may be, for as hard as it may seem, the truth is that the path to peace, to comfort and solace, to hope and to grace, we don’t pave it with perfection, we don’t even come close. If peace and understanding, love and acceptance only came from God through our own flawlessness, or our own fulfillment then no one would ever find any of these things on this side of Heaven, leaving the other side of it forever out of our grasps. It’s not about being better than we are, or even never having the feelings of being good enough, it’s not about never being depressed or feeling overwhelmed, it’s not about never being unhappy, even when we are unhappy with ourselves. It’s about realizing that each and every one of us, for all the good and all of the bad, for all of our strengths and all of our weaknesses, are a work in progress, moving towards a completion that comes only in the wondrous and glorious resurrection.
The beauty of the reminder we receive in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the one that tells us that, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) lies in the words that lay just before, ” For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Here we are reminded that though we are created and crafted by the hand of God, that we were formed by His love for His works, it each of us never reach full perfection, we never reach full completion on our own, it comes by and through grace, a gift of God that comes in spite of ourselves, not because of ourselves.
Yes we should always strive to do more, to be better than we are, but it also tells us that we shouldn’t be dissatisfied with who we are, nor should we let ourselves be overtaken by our own difficulties with ourselves, we need to be careful not to be the reason why we ourselves stumble as we let ourselves slip into the pits of our own despair, self pity, guilt or depression. It means that to find our peace and our comfort, to find our hope in this world, we need to let go of it all realizing that we are just holding ourselves back from being who we need to be, from being who God intended us to be. Sometimes it’s a matter of recognizing who we are and letting go of the notions and the thoughts that we have, understanding that, even in these times, even in these struggles, God, who loves us, who cares for us, who lifts us when we have fallen and heals us when we are wounded, has a plan for us. Who we are and who we are intended to be, they are in His hands, and, if we let Him, He will reconcile the two together in ways that have the ability to show us a light we never saw before.
In this sense it’s about realizing there is more to us than eve we ourselves understand about ourselves. It’s not about how the world around us sees us or about. It’s about how God sees us, it’s about the designs He has for us. The God of redemption, He doesn’t leave us just as something unfinished, flawed and failed, He is constantly and consistently changing us and the world around us so that we can grow, so that we can make good use of the gifts that He has given us, so that we are able to see ourselves clearly the way that He sees us with that devoted and steadfast love that reminds us that we are His children, born anew each day in the righteousness and the virtue of the Christ. This is the wondrous trust that we need to dwell in, remembering that, above all else our Heavenly Father is there for us, is there to make us what we need to be in Him.
Self-examination and exploration, it isn’t bad. Taking a good, long look at yourself and wondering if there is anything you can do better, if there is anything more that you can do with yourself can be one of the best things in the world that you can do, driving you to excel in ways you had never considered before or to try new things that might make you a better person. We just need to view ourselves rightly, and without the fog of depression or stress or anxiety, without the cloudy sight of guilt, of fear, longing, hurt or pain. These have a way of making the reflection come across as something vastly different than what it is, changing who we are into the pale image of what we could be, or what we might be if we give it too much power over us as we end up letting it make us into who we fear it will be as it defines who we are.
Remember, you are created in the image of God, formed by His hand, nothing in this world or of this world, no experiences, no feelings, no pain or doubt can take that away from you. When times are hard, and the road ahead is tough, grab hold of that tightly and never let go of it for who knows the miracle that God has waiting just around the next corner for you in the grace and love that He has always had for you.
Lord, grant this unto us all
Now may the peace of the Lord, that peace that transcends all human knowledge, understanding and wisdom, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus even unto life everlasting, Amen.