My one year old teaches me about finding satisfaction in a process. She loves to sweep. She takes a little hand broom and struts around the house stopping now and then to tap the floor with much gusto. Then she moves on to another area where she again taps the floor and groans to emphasize the effort.
She has no idea about clean or dirty floors or that there is a object to be gained by sweeping them. She is just filled with delight in the task itself.
Of course the joy being in the process and not in the product is not limited to sweeping. If you’ve spent time with any toddler you know what I mean. They pull all the dishes out of the cupboard and if you come along they will be quite happy to help put them back where they belong, but just as you are putting the last item back, thinking, “phew, task complete” they are pulling them out all over again with joy and alacrity- like: “Mom, that was so fun. Let’s do it again”. We could empty a cupboard and fill it again a dozen times without any lack of enthusiasm.
I suppose, I, at one point, was like my little girl. Perhaps, I too enjoyed a project not for the reward at the end but simply for the pure pleasure of doing it. But somewhere around my early double digits I remember deeply desiring to skip the learning, the ups and downs in my life and just get to perfection. Why did sanctification have to be the work of a lifetime? That thought just overwhelmed me and was a bit discouraging.
I chuckle at my 13 year old self who set about to figure out how to be perfect. What ensued was a bit of a mechanical, checklist religion. It didn’t take me long to figure out that regardless of my good intentions I would still fall splat on face and make a mess of my situation. And so I learned that I needed a relationship. I needed Jesus. But honestly, it’s not as straightforward a route as I’d like sometimes. No checklists. Nothing to pat myself on the back for and say you’ve made it today.
13 years later, I’m a wife and a mama still learning this. This week I was out on the hillside while baby was napping in bed with her aunty near by to listen for her to waken, and I was really pouring out my desperate heart to God. I’ve recognized some serious propensities and weaknesses in my character that, if not uprooted by God, will impact my children. “Lord, help me never to struggle with this again,” I moaned. Then I stopped. “Why are you praying this?” I believe that God is fully able to take a weakness or temptation fully away from me in an instance. Sometimes He does. But I recognized then, I wanted a quick fix. I did not want to be bothered with effort or failure or guilt or shame, so I wanted a direct route.
Recognizing my selfish motives, I revised my prayer, “Lord, can you lead me in the upward way, however you see fit?”
I’m learning something about relationship. True intimacy and depth of friendship comes not through putting on our best and being perfect for the other person but from opening our heart and sharing both the joys and the icky sticky, what we’d like to pretend is not there. That’s when communion happens.
And perhaps, that’s what God wants from me too. I’ve struggled over this concept though. Shouldn’t I just get to the place where I am truly joyful in all things? Shouldn’t I get to the place where I never end up in a little puddle at His feet with failure or discouragement or grief? Perhaps. But today I’m not there. I need to land in a heap at His feet and pour out my needy heart.
But, that’s the place where I’ve found more fullness of joy than I could anywhere else while I pretend that everything is all right in me.
Out there on the hillside, I opened my Bible to Isaiah.
“ Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
So now, I’m learning to be like my daughter again. I don’t have to have arrived yet. I can rejoice in the messy unfinished work of God in me, in the journey that He is bringing me on in relationship with Himself. And in that surrender, He does His work of making joy abound in my soul.