Monday, July 30, 2012

Can God Use Your Weakness and Failure?

Dirty dishes fill the sink.  Thankfully, I've at least managed to empty the dishwasher so it is waiting to be filled.  There is flour and powered sugar all over the counter and floor.  Lemonade is waiting to be made.  My soon-to-be five year old (as in tomorrow) knocked the bowl of softening butter all over himself while trying to jump up onto the chair he'd put by the counter so he could help make his birthday cake.  This was approximately five minutes after forgetting the lid was not on his gatorade bottle when he thought it would be a good idea to make a tornado in the bottle by shaking it around.The various ingredients for the cake are partially mixed, waiting to be fully mixed.  The oven stopped preheating some time ago and is just warming the kitchen now.  I've yelled at them multiple times, have gotten increasingly irritated and angry at all of the interruptions, I have a zillion and one browser windows open of articles I want to read today, I've chased my toddler around and put him in time out numerous times for leaving the house alone, and can't believe that it is 1:00 and I really have nothing of consequence to show for my morning.  Make that 1:35.  That's how long it took me to write this paragraph (see parts about chasing my toddler).  

Mornings (and often, full days) like this make me question my sanity and make me doubt my parenting skills as well as my usual impression of myself as a fairly decent human being.  Because, in times like this, I feel anything but human.  I feel like some crazed monster who has taken over my body and mind and soul.  I feel inadequate, imperfect, and weak.

I don't like feeling those things.  I'd rather feel worthy, whole, and strong.  

The other day, Rachel Held Evans posted a video of Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking to a Lutheran youth gathering. It was a fantastic talk for many different reasons, but there was one thing that especially stood out to me.  At one point, Nadia talks about God using all of us, not just our strengths and our gifts, but our failures and weaknesses too.  

Around same the time I was watching this, I was taking a couple of Spiritual Gifts Surveys (I like to take them every so often).  If you aren't familiar with those, they are assessments that give people a general idea of what their gifts are so that one can better understand how to use them in the life of the church.  And, really, don't we all want to do what we are good at doing?  Who wants to do something he or she is bad at doing?  I certainly don't.

But in her talk, Nadia spoke about being a flawed person.  "I am a flawed person," she says.  "I should not be allowed to be here talking to you.  But you know what?  That's the God we're dealing with, people."

And then, shortly after that, she spoke the most beautiful and encouraging words:
"This God has never made sense and you don't need to either because this God will use you; this God will use all of you, and not just your strengths but your failures and your failings and your brokenness and God's strength is perfected in human weakness so your brokenness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful so don't ever think that all you have to offer is your gifts because God's going to use you too, God's going to use all of you."
God can use my failings and weaknesses?  God can use my irritation and my anger and my yelling at my kids?  God can use my messy house and my messy thoughts and my far-less-than-perfect life?

Today, one of the windows I had open was from a church in Minneapolis, Jacob's Well, where my friend Andy spoke recently.  I'd asked him if it would be online so I could listen and he'd told me they'd had a lot of technical issues so probably not.  I checked again today, and there it was.  I listened sporadically (see previous comment about toddler, plus the five year old kept needing things too) and at one point Andy started talking about the song "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong.  As the music played, for the first time today I smiled and felt some joy returning (I'm sure it helped that it was combined with one son playing outside, one son napping, and the spoonful--or two or three--of chocolate buttercream frosting that I had to make sure was ok to frost the cake with) and felt the irritation and anger leave.

Early in Nadia's talk, she said "God always comes to us and makes us new, and than makes us new again, and then makes us new again.  It's called death and resurrection."

I don't know how God can use my failings and weaknesses from today.  Maybe it is just in such a simple way as to remind me--and to let you know--that new life is always possible, not just once, not just at one time in your past, not just something to look forward to in your future, but right now, and every minute of every day.  We can continually be made new. The horrible person I was this morning does not have to be the same person I am this afternoon.  I don't have to wait until tomorrow to start over (although, I'm sure I'll have to do it then too...and the next day and the get the idea).  With God's grace, I can be a new person, right now.

What a wonderful world.

Edit:  After I wrote this, I thought it would fit in the "Life Unmasked" Series at Joy in This Journey.  You can find others here.
Life: Unmasked


Jim Fisher said...

Kelly - Your post and Nadia's talk has added some tasty new ingredients to my gumbo.

And as I stir them in, folding them over and over, I think I am starting to realize that if we focus on our strengths, our Enneagram, our Myers-Briggs, or even our Strengths Finders, we are using our logical, deductive, if-then, left brains to try to discern the ladder that we are to climb to reach God. We are using our own effort, outside of God. We are using our "flesh".

And God is saying, "I am already within you." We don't need to reach up or reach out somewhere. We need to reach in. We need to rely on the Spirit to make us new again each day from the inside.

And maybe what that means is a word of Knowledge or a word of Truth that unexpectedly leaks out of our mouths and into the souls of our children. Maybe what that means is a well-timed snack on the Spirit's Fruit: a spoonful of patience here, a dash of peace there, an outpouring of love and empathy when we were about to explode in anger.

Maybe what that means a new spiritual gift that is given to us in response to our humbly accepting an assignment, even a small one, from the One who created us -- a gift we have never been given before, but one which can redeem what was broken, buying it back and creating something beautiful out of our messiness. A new herb to add that softens the bitterness ... that spices up the dullness and breaks out of the routine.

This new gumbo is still simmering. I am not ready to make a meal of it quite yet, but I am looking forward to the days ahead when all of us ... bloggers, writers, poets, lyricists ... bring our contributions together. A pot-luck for all.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Those are some great thoughts. I especially like the last part about a pot-luck for all. As much as I enjoy writing this blog and reading others, sometimes it gets wearying with all the controversy and arguing. I don't know the answer as to how to fix it--maybe more true humility all around.

A spoonful of patience--that's a lot easier for me to think about than trying to be patient all the time! And, now I have Mary Poppins "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down" in my head!

Jim Fisher said...

Kelly! Sorry about the earworm ( I hate those!. As for the arguing, I chose on my blog to not allow comments, to not try to create a community centered around me, and to not have advertising. I just write stories people can consume quickly before their coffee gets cold. My goal was to create a right-brained oasis in a left-brained world -- to focus on matters of loving hearts and souls in a world of embattled minds.

This new gumbo with all its new wonderful flavors is still on the stove. I'll post a link to where I end up with it here in a few days.

Paul Sims said...

Hey Kelly! I found you through Joy in this Journey. I've stopped on occasion and asked how and why God would want to use mess-makers, rejects, outcasts, etc. to represent him. The simple answer is that we won't be able to claim we had it all together and sewn up. The clear credit will have to come from the one who renews and shapes us.
As a family, we've had a number of circumstances this year that have created setbacks and emotional hardships. My wife has a tattoo on one of her wrists bearing the Hebrew word for redeem. She says it reminds her God can redeem anything if we let him. It is my prayer that we all go deeper and lead others into that realization.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

I think that we can't claim we have it all together is a huge reason too. However, it also seems that we sometimes act as if all that stuff is in the past and that because we are Christians we don't do anything wrong anymore. I'm probably oversimplifying it but it seems we talk grace and then tack on all the things "good Christians" DO.