Romans 2:4 – The kindness of God leads you to repentance. (NASB)
It is New Year's Day 1998 (yes, 1998) and I feel like a mess. Lately I have been slipping into old habits that I know aren't pleasing to the Lord. I have a rotten cold, the house looks like the Tasmanian Devil whirled through it, and I have a thousand and one little tasks and chores to do and I don't want to do any of them.
This is not how the New Year is supposed to begin. To start the New Year, I'm supposed to have a house that looks like Martha Stewart is about to make a visit. I'm supposed to be in a good mood of expectation. I'm supposed to eagerly jump into my New Year's resolutions. But I just feel gross. I want to crawl back into bed with a box of chocolates and pull the covers over my head. Why is it so much easier to feel sorry for myself than it is to turn to the Lord?
One of my resolutions is to be more consistent about morning quiet times. That was the last thing I wanted to do this morning, but I knew it was the most vitally important. So I did, and I was blessed.
In my Bible reading, I stumbled across a very personal promise the Lord had made to me earlier. This reaffirmed His will for one area of my life. I was entirely grateful. If I had skipped quiet time, I would have missed out. It seemed extra-special because this promise is for the year ahead, and the fact that I stumbled upon it again (no coincidence) on the first day of the year is an extra delight. It's like the cherry on top of the sundae, or a kiss on the nose, or a secret wink between friends. I feel unworthy of the Lord's goodness, of His attention. Why should He pay any attention to me when I feel like I'm such a mess? I don't even want to be around myself this morning, so why should He want to even look at me? I want to be all cleaned up, like a picture of one of those little girls wearing her first communion dress. I want to be all bright and neat and full of sweetness. But I know I am incapable of this. I've tried that ruse before and all it means is continual avoidance of Him, because I can't get myself in order by myself. Past experience has shown me that my efforts to present myself to Him as clean and efficient, the person I want to be rather than the one I am, is utter vanity.
As I pray, I ask the Lord to clean me up.
I imagine a two-year-old who has been caught playing in the mud, a two-year-old who knows better, who has been told not to play there, but who has done it anyway. This child is covered in dirt, with a runny nose, crying and afraid. Yet this child knows where to go. When the mud has lost its lustre and has grown cold and clammy, she cries out to her daddy. She doesn't wait until the mud dries and crusts around her. She knows when she is tired of it. She wails and knows he hears. She turns her face away from the muck and sees his strong legs next to her. He gives her that look, eyebrow raised, that acknowledges where she is, and yet speaks love and forgiveness at the same time. Her arms are outstretched and he picks her up, not worrying about his clean white shirt. He takes her inside and wipes away her tears. He holds up a hanky to her nose and says "blow" and laughs at the funny sound it makes. He takes off her mud-caked clothes and puts her in a warm bath. With his gentle hands he washes away the dirt. She shows him all her little scrapes and cuts. He makes soft sounds of comfort and kisses each wound, making them better. He dries her off and dresses her in clean clothes. As she tells him about her day, he listens and talks with her about things she can understand. He brushes out the tangles in her hair and just for fun tickles her to hear her laugh. He gives her something good to eat. Then he holds her on his lap and rocks her into sweetness.
I sense the Lord's forgiveness. I wonder why I have waited to cry out to Him.
I consider the two-year-old who behaves as I sometimes do. She is playing in the mud and is tired of it. She cries because she is so uncomfortable and sick of it, yet when she knows her daddy is there, she won't let him pick her up. She wants to appear pleasant to him, so she turns her back on him and tries to wipe the mud off with her own hands. This only makes a worse mess of it. She begins to realize the state she is in. There is nothing she can do to make it better. Sadness and anger at her helplessness make her cry louder. She has a temper tantrum. All she can see is the mud. She is cold and dirty and hungry, and too stubborn to let her daddy reach out to her. She imagines he is angry, that he is just waiting to say, "I told you so." She thinks that he is going to enjoy giving her a resounding smack. She doesn't understand the nature of her father. She forgets that he loves her, that he gave her life. She thinks he is mean. So she continues to sit in her own misery. But all the while, he is longing is to take care of her. He wants to pick her up and hold her close, to take her into his arms and clean her up.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for being the good father. Thank you for your loving kindness. And thank you that you love even stubborn little boys and girls like me. Amen.