I work so hard to create perfect circumstances. In fact, if home school has taught me one thing about myself, it may be just that. I really like perfection and work hard to achieve perfection, whatever the circumstances. But funny thing: the harder I have worked the past six weeks to achieve perfection – the “perfect” home school schedule, the “perfect” tone of voice, the “perfect” home school day, free of distractions – the more chaos seems to ensue.
Last Tuesday, after staying up until midnight on Monday, tabbing all of my lessons, preparing all our books and supplies, re-thinking and re-writing all of schedules, I had the Worst. Day. Ever. Interruption after interruption occurred. I think four different workmen showed up at my house at varying points throughout the day. Everything took twice as long as it should have. And my patience was worn thin as a sheet because of all the chaos around me.
By the time I climbed into bed on Tuesday night, I not only ached in my body, but in soul as well.
“After all my attempts at perfection, Lord, home school is still hard; circumstances are still tough. I. Give. Up.”
And in His small, quiet, whisper of a way, the Lord responded: “Good. I’ve been waiting for you to say that. Because perfect circumstances are not the goal, but a quiet, contented heart is.”
The next morning I got up, went straight to the school room, and wrote on our chalkboard, “God is not looking for perfect circumstances; He is looking for a contented heart whatever the circumstances.”
Ever been there? Ever been knee deep in uncontrollable circumstances, and your immediate response is to try to control? To attempt to wrangle, enforce, and subdue perfection, while missing out on the joy of the holy journey all around you?
My husband is fond of reminding me of a sermon point from Tim Keller, one of our favorite pastors: To seek perfection is to seek an illusion. Because who, among those of us who actually do achieve perfection, even if it’s only for a moment, has the power to actually keep it there?
Accidents happen. Chaos happens. Life happens.
This side of heaven, perfection cannot be our goal. But a contented heart, no matter what uncontrollable circumstances arise, can be.
As the Lord would have it, last Friday I was scheduled to teach at a local Biblestudy for moms, and the passage I was asked to teach on was Luke 10:38-42, learning to have a Mary-type heart in a Martha-type world.
Martha was the ultimate perfection seeker. She sought the perfect meal, the perfect help, the perfect rhythm when Jesus came to dine at her house. But Mary. Mary chose the Perfect One over the perfect meal. Mary chose to sit at the Perfect Feet instead of setting the perfect table. Mary chose to calm the chaos inside of her rather than trying to take on the chaos surrounding her by focusing on the Only Non-Chaotic One.
And Jesus’ commentary on her will forever be burned on my heart: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
While Martha chose to allow things to hold her attention that were here one day and gone the next: the pot that boils over, the table that will need to cleared, the food that will have to be prepared tomorrow as well, Mary chose that which could never be taken away from her.
Anything I choose to spend my time on other than Christ Himself and a Christ-centered, contented heart among chaotic circumstances will be taken away from me. Meals have to be prepared again. The house will resort to chaos and messiness as soon as my children step foot in the door. The errands I run and things I check off my to do list will still be there tomorrow. My inbox will always be full.
But the time I spend at Jesus’ feet will reap eternal reward. It is a deposit for whatever is to come. Things I do not know in my finite, limited understanding, but He does.
So this week, while the quote isn’t on my chalkboard anymore, the principle is written on my heart. Perfect circumstances are not my goal (ok, let’s be honest – they sort of are, but I am working on it, really I am); but Christ is. A contented heart sitting quietly and attentively at His Feet is. No matter the circumstances. No matter the chaos. And at the end of the day, I will have chosen what cannot be taken away from me. Even if my perfect schedule was.
I’ve been doing a lot of sitting lately. I sit two days to three days a week in a chair at our home school table to teach my children. I sit in my car to drive them to and fro from after-school activities. I sit to eat meals with my family (we are together a lot these days), and I sit at sporadic moments throughout the week to visit with friends or family members.
But there’s another kind of sitting I’ve been doing, another kind of chair I’ve been sitting in. I’ve been sitting in the chair of confession.
Every morning as I make my way to sit in my chair in my study with my cup of coffee in one hand and my Bible in the other hand and I begin to settle in before the presence of the Lord, I begin to confess.
And there is quite a lot to confess to confess these days. Home school has a way of bringing out the very best sinner in me. The tone I use with my children. The impatience that edges in when certain subjects are taking too long. The self-pity that worms its way into my heart when days are tough and the road at home seems never-ending. The covetousness that creeps in of other people’s schedules, other people’s kids, other people’s seasons. The slander that slips through my lips under the guise of getting advice. The lies I tell to myself about myself to make myself feel better.
While sitting in my chair of confession, words like hypocrite, liar, slanderer, murderer, and idolater tumble from my lips to the listening ear of the Lord instead of my usual church words like holy, wise, patient, kind, humble, and sincere.
That’s what Home School has done for me so far this Fall. It has stripped away the outer veneer of “great mom, good wife, wise daughter, faithful friend” and showed me, instead, the true color of my heart. I have learned, to a greater degree, who I really am and not who I most often pretend or want to be.
But can I tell you something? I needed some stripping. I needed to take a good, honest look at myself and not the usual half-hearted, fingers crossed, wish-upon-a-star glance I usually take in the mirror.
And what I have found is that in the chair of confession, true freedom and liberation comes each and every morning. Because what I have found is the more honest I am about my sinful self, the more fully I can hold onto and believe my true self. The person God tells me I am in the pages of Scripture.
Just look at the character of Jacob in Genesis 32. The ultimate post-modern man stuck in ancient Hebrew sandals, Jacob wrestles with God, for a different kind of identity than the one he has been stuck with his entire life. Jacob was a deceiver, a liar, a cheat, a hypocrite, a spiritual failure in every sense of the word, and he spent his life on the run, looking for an identity and a blessing that went beyond what he actually deserved.
So when a stranger attacks him in the middle of the night and wrestles with him by the River Jabbok until the break of day, Jacob instinctively knows this wrestling match isn’t about getting new strength. This wrestling match is about getting a new name. And his opponent isn’t a mere man; it is God Himself.
“Then the stranger said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ So the stranger said to Jacob, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ And the stranger said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:26-27).
Before the wrestling match ends and the blessing begins, the stranger, God Himself, asks Jacob a question: “What is your name?” God knew the answer to that question; He just wanted to make sure Jacob did as well.
The Hebrew word for “Jacob” means “heel-catcher, supplanter, deceiver.” So in giving his name, Jacob is not only naming himself, he is confessing, before the face of God, who he really is: heel-catcher, brother-betrayer, father-deceiver, liar, hypocrite, cowardly runner.
And this is the moment God says, “Now you are ready to hear who you really are: you have always been one man on the run, searching for a purpose, searching for significance, hungry for greatness. So say good-bye to Jacob. Your new name is Israel: a nation of many men, destined for greatness, primed for significance; a nation who will give the earth her Savior, One who will change the identity of all those who wrestle, confess, and believe that He is Lord.”
I looked up the definition of confess the other day, and it means this: “to agree together with God or one’s own conscience, and to externalize that which is inside of one’s self; to profess, express in agreement with, to confess as the truth.”
I don’t know how much sitting you’ve been doing lately. Maybe you spend most of your days on the run, on your feet, wishing you had a chair near by to collapse into more often.
I can’t necessarily recommend doing more sitting in the physical realm; personally, I think it’s good to be on one’s feet. But I can recommend doing some sitting in the spiritual realm.
Because it is only when I confess, it is only when I externalize that which is inside of myself, it is only when I come into agreement with God about who I really am and what I have really done that I am free to receive and accept who He tells me I am in His Word:
• Yes, I am a hypocrite, but when I confess, I am free to step into the truth and live in the light instead of cowering in the darkness.
• Yes, I am an idolater, but when I confess, I am free to hear the word and feel the embrace of “daughter,” one He died to save and who He will never let go.
• Yes, I am a slanderer, but when I confess, I am free to wash my lips clean and embrace the identity as “healer,” healing first my heart and then the one whom I hurt with my words.
So today, or tomorrow, get up a little earlier or stay up a little later and sit in the chair of confession before a good God who is waiting to trade the old identity for the new. All He is waiting to hear is…your confession.