One of the curious things about getting old is that while I may not be able to tell you chronologically the things I did last week, I can remember tiny details of incidents that happened more than seventy years ago. One good thing I remember is Sunday School: all the children sitting in neat rows in the basement of the church as we gathered together before we divided off into individual classes. We would recite Bible verses, get attendance rewards, sing choruses and hear the announcements. New people would be given a colorful pencil with a Bible verse on it to welcome them. We had many favorite choruses, and I can still hear the strong baritone of Mr. Patterson, the Sunday School superintendent, trilling every “rrrr” as he led the singing in his rich Scots burr: “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before – Every day with Jesus, I love Him more and more”…
Over all, the little song speaks truth, but as I look back over my life I wonder at the simplicity, the naïveté of our belief that what we were singing was easy. I only wish it were so. My problems are never with the Lord; they are always rooted in my own inability to be like Him.
Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before? There have been many days when I was pushed hard to remember why I had begun this journey; when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong; when no matter how hard I tried to put a positive spin on things, it was still awful. There have been relationships that soured, in spite of telling myself that I was to love everyone, no matter what, and forgive as I have been forgiven. I have sometimes been treated unjustly, and it hurt when it happened, even though I told myself that I was to turn the other cheek, and go the extra mile. There have been those many terrible moments of self-revelation when I saw my own lack of compassion, my indifference, and my self-centeredness. Sometimes, no matter how fervent my prayer, I could not hear God speaking to me, and had to go on a rather shaky faith that He was still there, in spite of my not sensing Him. To live a life of 100% total trust, of 100% complete peace in Him, has not been my real experience, no matter how much I might wish it were so. Instead, it has been more two steps forward, one step back. I look at those people in my life who tell me, with faces glowing idealistically, that they have never had doubts, and I smile encouragingly…but behind my eyes, I am struggling with questions. How have they managed to maneuver through the Christian life with no questions, with no struggle? They must be much better Christians than I.
Do I love Him more and more each day? If I am truthful, I must say that I still have many days when I find myself static and unmoving. I have struggled with accepting spiritual growth and wellness as He deals with me, and have seen my stubborn refusal to let go of the bits and pieces of me which He is telling me He wants. It has often been a rocky climb. When I see my own inclination toward selfishness, defensiveness, and occasional indifference toward the needs of others because I am so wrapped up in myself, I am amazed at the purity of His motives, the clarity of His focus. No mixed motivation there; no wavering, or subtle attempts to walk with one foot in heaven and one in the world, and hoping no one will notice.
As I get older, I believe one of the best things about heaven will be I will finally, once and for all, be rid of this old nature which I carry with me like a millstone around my neck, keeping me from that same purity and clarity which I find in Christ. Overall, though, I see that I have come to love Him more. I was astonished when I first came to know the Lord; astonished that I could be loved unconditionally, that my sin could be forgiven, and that He cared enough to provide all this grace. Since then, my love for Him has changed and is of a different quality now. I love Him not just for what He has done for me, but for Who and what He is, in Himself. There is a depth of relationship which has come through trust in Him that has never been betrayed. Even so, I still sometimes find it hard to trust completely. It is discouraging to realize that I am so thick!
I am not alone. Why do we try so hard to project this public image? I am sick of wearing masks; tired of trying to project a façade of complete peace in Christ when I am going through trials and the truth is, sometimes I have peace and sometimes I don’t. Although I have learned that no matter what the trial, God will stay with me; that the Comforter is always in my heart, to guide and strengthen me – I still want to avoid pain if possible. I know that the Lord will get me through it, but there are moments when I wish I didn’t have to go through it at all. That is not perfect peace.
I believe that others are having the same kind of struggles, but we are all so caught up in projecting our masks, of trying to convince everyone else, ourselves, and maybe even God that we have it all under control, that we have lost the directness and authenticity that God wants from us. I think about David and his relationship with God. When David prayed, he laid it all out there. He told God of his love for Him, his absolute belief in God, but also his fear, his anger, his self-pity and desperation, his desire to have God bring down fire on the heads of his enemies. He usually ended with telling God again of His trust that God’s will would be best. God loved the genuineness of David’s love and faith in Him. There was no pretense; no posturing. David believed God, and spoke to Him on the basis of openness and ingenuousness. Do I have that same kind of authenticity? Can I trust God with enough of me to be able to hang out all the fear and anger and pride and envy and all the rest of my uglies on a kind of clothesline before Him, and say, “Please look at this, Father. This is who I am, and I am sorry. I want and need your help in dealing with it.”
Over the course of my life I have come to trust that I can burden God with all of this, but I often seem unable or unwilling to let my fellow believers see that I am not perfect, that I struggle; and so I hide behind my mask of perfect control, perfect peace. Why? I think it is because I am still trying to make faith into some kind of competition, and I want to win. It is being back under the Law, not grace.
The secret to living a life under grace is in being genuine. The reality of grace is that we can’t earn it. We talk about how we are free from the Law, and live under grace, and yet we still unconsciously keep trying to earn Brownie points with our good deeds, living in fear of looking as if we don’t have it all under control, striving for perfection in our own strength, being unforgiving toward ourselves.
I need to look deep inside my own soul, and try to see myself as God sees me, and then I will have a much better chance of keeping things in perspective. He knows my limitations far better than I. I am not a sinner because I do sinful things. I do sinful things because I am a sinner. It isn’t by keeping the rules, and striving to be obedient that I overcome. It is by recognizing that I am a sinner in process; that I can be forgiven when I mess up; that I learn by leaning harder and harder on the grace of God to instruct and guide me. It is through this process that I learn gradually what it means to live practicing the presence of God. Living a life under grace is the key to take me to the reality of “every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before”. Every time I see His patience, His forbearance of my occasional doubts, His way of leading me one small step at a time toward Him – I am finally able to sing with sincerity: “Every day with Jesus I love Him more and more”.
I am a 77 year old who has been a believer for over 60 years. I have been writing fairly intensely for the past six years. I wanted to discover, with God, the answers to many questions: solitude vs. loneliness; how to be old in a world driven by activism; how to be content in whatever circumstances the Lord allows, and so on. I have found the bottom line of all my inquiries is the same: trust God, and obey what you understand of His will. Through submission to His Word and His will, growth and understanding and peace will happen. It is my hope that sharing what I have found will encourage others in their own personal searches.