“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that [you] might have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
Sometimes, a thief comes to steal my joy. But he does it reeeeal sneaky-like. It sounds a little bit like this:
“You’re on vacation! Live your life on vacation ‘to the full’! Maybe instead of dessert, you could enjoy another glass of wine.”
Hm. A second glass of wine. It’s not like I’m ordering that chocolate torte that sounds so delicious—because these days I’m only eating desserts when I make them without refined sugar. But vacation has always meant letting loose and enjoying everything I possibly could. Especially food. Yes, it’s true that I’m trying to live my life within healthy, pleasant boundaries these days (see Psalm 16:16), and vacation is looking a bit different than it once did. But is there still an area where I can indulge safely, and make it “feel” like vacation without making myself sick? … Red wine has antioxidants in it, right? And I am on vacation! Maybe some cheese to go with it.
And then the whisper of that thief gets a little less subtle. It is more deliberately crafted to make me stumble, to make me fall into old habits, to make me look to the wrong things for fulfillment.
“You just lost a baby. Live fully in this moment. It’s okay to eat the peanut butter crackers today. It’s okay to wallow.”
Yes, friends, I lost a baby this past summer. Ectopic pregnancy. And I mourned in all the right and wrong ways. In the middle of giving that loss to God and looking for His grace and comfort everywhere, I also found some comfort in a load of peanut butter crackers. A truly huge, gluttonous amount of peanut butter crackers. Which are apparently my new weakness.
After starting down the comfort-from-food road, it was pretty hard to turn around. I look behind me all the time, back at the speck in the distance which represents my self-control and the joy of surrender to God. But I feel like there is a manacle around my neck, dragging me toward food. And I’m holding onto the chain with both hands.
I dove into the tradition of making sourdough bread after “decluttering” my pantry and discovering a box of potato flakes I had bought for just that purpose (don’t judge this if you are a true sourdough fanatic, but the sourdough recipe I grew up on is really more of a sweet-dough, and the starter is made of potato flakes and sugar. So much sugar. Still, I went for it).
And then the thief said:
“Sourdough bread is so good straight from the oven when it is hot and fresh! Have a thick, buttered slice. Heck, have another.” Sourdough is a gift that keeps on giving. Who wants some fresh sourdough once a week? This girl.
But where is my joy? It is not in the fourth slice of warm, buttery bread. The one that stuffs me so full, I have to forgo dinner because I literally can’t stomach it. That fourth slice—which quickly became a habit—is making it so hard for me to serve my family. Food is forming a barrier made of guilt and impatience and irritability between me and those I love. My stomach is so full, and my heart is so empty. And I feel so broken, so mired in my own failure. I tossed aside all the rules I had set in place to help me stay on the straight and narrow path toward the Lord, and instead ran right into the wide, weedy field of self-destruction.
Where is my joy?
It is at my Savior’s feet, where I abandoned it with a greedy gleam in my eye, chasing after a kidnapper who held up a peanut butter cracker.
I allowed my eyes to become clouded with the lies of a thief who wants to destroy me.
My track record is ruined. I can never go back to the time when my hopes were fresh, when I hadn’t yet tripped over the enemy who laid in wait. I have skinned knees.
Now I find myself at a new crossroads.
Down one lane lies more despair, sneakily disguised as truth. If I go down that lane, I will berate myself every day for my failure, getting caught in a trap of shame. Because, after all, Hebrews 10:26-27 tells me: “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” Yikes. Yikes! I have fallen, I have made mistakes and wrong choices, I have allowed my flesh to rule me, and now I must wait in fearful expectation of judgment. Nothing can save me now: it’s in the Bible.
Except—I’m pretty sure that path is full of lies.
(Please don’t misunderstand me. I am absolutely not saying that the Bible contains lies. But sometimes my guilty heart can interpret what I read in God’s word through a lens of fear instead of trust in the Almighty. This is especially likely if I don’t look at the whole of God’s word, but just the verse or two that gets my blood racing. God’s word is truth, but it is possible for me to read into it wrongly according to my own purposes if I rely on my intellect rather than the Holy Spirit.)
The most effective lies are based on truth, or contain true elements that are twisted! This makes them harder to spot. If I choose to believe there is no hope for me now, then I choose to believe a lie: that it all rides on me to be perfect.
News flash: I am not perfect.
Hebrews 10 doesn’t tell me that my failure to exercise perfect self-control condemns me, though it seems to when I look down that first lane of self-pity and defeat. Instead, Hebrews 10 should convince me of the truth: that my sins will be judged by a perfect judge, yes, but also, that my salvation is assured in Christ Jesus, that He calls me to inspire others to good works in His name, so that we may remind ourselves what we are saved from (Hebrews 10:19-21, 23-24)! God calls me to confidence and endurance (Hebrews 10:35-36). “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” — Hebrews 10:39
I must choose to walk down the second lane. This is harder for me, because I am a perfectionist. It is very hard to admit that my own perfection is not the root of my hope. It’s hard to admit to myself that I am not in charge of my salvation or sanctification, that neither my successes nor my failures can achieve eternity for me. I am only a human. I am not the all-powerful Creator. But I know the One who is.
Down the second lane lies this truth from Romans 6:6-14 (emphasis mine):
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
The beginning of this same chapter exhorts the believer not to go on sinning in order to experience more of God’s grace (see Romans 6:1). God’s grace is a free gift to us. We cannot win it by our good works, by our obedience and our willpower. I cannot win God’s favor by eating only when I am hungry, only what is nutritious.
But God does expect me to behave as though what He did for me is real: He broke the manacle that forced me to obey the passions of my flesh—all the food, all the time! Because I am “fully convinced that God is able to do what he promised” (Romans 4:21), I know that I now have a choice to obey God instead. And He wants me to do it. Let go of the chain. Reach for Him. Hold His hand and walk with Him.
But here is the kicker: I can’t do it. I can’t be obedient by myself. The simple fact that I’ve already messed up proves that willpower alone cannot result in righteousness. I require the grace and discernment of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing way in order to develop spiritual discipline.
I am still just a girl in need of God’s grace.
I am still just a girl in need of God’s power. I need Him to bring Himself to my mind. I need Him to remind me what full life looks like and where my joy is. I need Him to take my easily clouded eyes and my greedy taste buds and bring them in line with His will for me. I need Him to replace the lies I’ve believed with the truth of His word.
“The Lord will fight for you. You have only to be still.” — Exodus 14:14
I’m still here.
The Lord is fighting for me.
Maybe He will be fighting this fight for me the rest of my life; maybe I will wander through a desert, hoping to find the end of it, for longer than I would like; addiction doesn’t always fade into nothingness. But maybe in His grace, He will lead me toward still waters and restore my soul. I don’t know. But I do know I’m still here. I still want to be His, to follow Him out of slavery and into freedom. And the Lord is fighting for me.
He has come that I might have life. In Him there is fullness of joy (see Psalm 16:11). And I’ll take that every day.