Last week Isaiah was invited to a classmate’s “Bring a Friend” night at his karate class. Isaiah really enjoys spending time with this friend and was pumped to get to sit in on something new.
This is where the problem started: Isaiah assumed he would be sitting. Sitting on the sidelines comfortably and safely with his dad. Simply watching and observing and getting to hang out with his friend.
Isaiah was the only “newbie” there that particular night and he was invited to come out onto the mat with his buddy. He stood with his friend and tried to follow what the students were doing…until the instructor asked them to turn and recite part of their “pledge” that they said every week to their parents. Of course, Isaiah didn’t know it (nor did they expect him to), and he froze. Panic spread across his face, followed by a rush of embarrassment. He didn’t know what to do or how to do it. And he hated that.
So he started to cry. Right there on the mat.
The karate instructors were kind and helpful and handled the situation beautifully. Isaiah went and sat back down on his daddy’s lap. But then he completely shut down.
His embarrassment and fear of failure prevented him from interacting with anyone the rest of the time there. The instructors tried to gently get him involved again, promising to show him exactly what to do. But he wouldn’t make eye contact, wouldn’t speak, and wouldn’t participate in the fun things they had planned (which is completely uncharacteristic of my boy).
When Adam and Isaiah walked in the door that evening, I knew something had gone wrong. My question of “How was it?” was met with a cold, silent stare from my 6 year old, followed by a “We’ll talk about it later” from my wise and patient husband.
But I could have guessed what happened. And I cringed. It was a moment when I saw all too much of his mama in Isaiah.
I was the kid that was afraid to try to new things…the kid that wanted to minimize the risks – the last one to learn how to ride a 2 wheeler, the first one to sit out from an amusement park ride, and the only one to avoid the monkey bars for my entire elementary school career because I was afraid of falling again. But more than that, I was the one who despised failing or feeling incompetent. A perfectionist by nature, I’d try to calculate my abilities and if I couldn’t do it well, I didn’t want to do it at all.
This past Saturday we were out and about all day having lots of fun, enjoying amazing weather and making memories as a family. Trying to be resourceful and efficient, I threw dinner together quickly using leftovers and some other things I had on hand. I patted myself on the back, looking forward to eating a quick, yet delicious dinner before heading back outside to enjoy the evening.
I called the boys in and washed them up for dinner before realizing that the chicken wasn’t even close to being cooked through. And if I waited for it to finish cooking to a safe temperature, I’d have hungry boys and little to no time left to go for a walk (my plan) before bedtime.
To say that I was frustrated in that moment would be an understatement. I huffed. I puffed. I tore myself down. I was embarrassed and felt like a failure. As I pulled other food out of the fridge and grabbed an emergency box of macaroni and cheese out of the cupboard, I snapped at my husband. While we ate, I didn’t engage in conversation with my boys. I shut down…and then I melted down.
The tears started streaming down my face and it was my turn to give Adam the “we’ll talk about it later”. I realized that my “calamity” in the kitchen had very little to do with the chicken and instead very much to do with my heart.
In that moment, I felt completely incompetent.
I don’t have a job or a title. I’m not Supermom or Pinterest Mom or Really-cool-niche-Mom. I’m not quite exactly sure what my role in this new ministry adventure will be yet. I had been struggling with feeling like I was no longer “using” many of the skills and talents that I had used in past ministries…you know, serving in the ways I felt confident in. Ministering to and with my husband and mothering my 3 boys left me very little time to do many of the “fun” things I felt good at. Sooooo, in my irrationality of the moment, if I couldn’t handle simple things that I did know I have to do like cooking and taking care of my family, what in the world was I doing?! Who in the world am I?! In that moment, there was very little that I felt good at.
Though it’s been good and super exciting, this year has also been full of leaving the old and entering the “new”. New baby, new town, new house, new church, new ministry. I had never had 3 boys before, never bought a house before, never done church planting before. I had stepped away from the things that I felt comfortable, safe, and confident in – many of those things that I felt good at – to step out into the great unknown.
And like Isaiah, I was startled by the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing. And I hated it.
That night after the kids went to bed, I wept over my weaknesses and grew sorrowful over my fear of failing. I wanted to shut down. Wanted to walk back to the sidelines. Wanted to run back to what I felt “good” and “expert” at rather than embarking on the new tasks God has had planned for me.
In those moments, I felt very much like Peter stepping out onto the waves (Matthew 14:22-33). I had stepped out in faith, but then began questioning my own abilities, strengths, and self-sufficiency. I felt myself scrambling to climb back into the boat.
Instead, like Isaiah, I did climb back into my Father’s lap. But like Adam, He didn’t give me permission to run away or quit or act like a jerk. And also like my husband, my Father used the perfect combination of comforting encouragement and loving, yet firm confrontation to show me my immaturity and to elicit repentance, all while bringing calm and confidence to my fearful and hurting heart.
While I spent some time reading and praying that evening, I came across 2 Corinthians 9 in two completely different books in two totally different contexts. (After the 2nd time I figured it was some kind of hint and decided it would probably be a good idea to look my Bible for myself.)
When I did, I was struck by verse 8…
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
As I looked into the original Greek meanings behind the words that make up this verse, I was humbled and challenged by how fitting it seemed for me in that moment…
And God is able (“powerful; mighty”)
to make all (“each, every, any, everything”) grace (“merciful kindness through which God turns souls to Christ, keeps, strengthens, and increases in them faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to exercise the Christian virtues”)
abound (“overflow, exceed; abundantly furnished; excel”) to you
so that having all sufficiency (“perfect condition in which no aid or support is needed; mind is contented with its lot”)
in all things (“everything”)
at all times (“always, ever”)
you may abound (“overflow, exceed; abundantly furnished; excel”)
in every good work (“that which one undertakes to do; act, deed, thing done”)
I am inadequate. I am insufficient. I am horribly weak.
And on my own I will fail.
But my God is powerful, mighty, and able to abundantly furnish me with the grace, strength, knowledge, and affection in everything He sets before me. Here, I can stop scrambling to find that perfect condition when no help or aid is needed because my sufficiency and contentment are found in Him rather than in my own abilities or identity. Then, and only then, will I overflow, exceed, and excel in the things God has given me to undertake – not for my own good or glory, but rather for His.
“We tend to think of our strengths as inherently part of our identity. Strengths are our value-add; our competitive edge. But gifts connote grace. A gift does not originate with us. It’s something we receive from God and steward for his sake. Therefore our gifts are not so much our identity as our offering. And since God has given us these gifts, he’s not obliged to always put us in places where we can use them fully. In fact, God frequently places us in positions where we struggle and feel weak for the very reason that he receives particular glory by showing his strength through our weaknesses.”
– Jon Bloom
Isaiah wouldn’t have had to walk away from the mat if he had humbly let the instructor show him what to do. If only he would have allowed himself to lay down his own pride and insecurities for the expertise and proficiency of the one leading him.
I’m trying to not make the same mistake.
Because here, my strengths and my weaknesses become an offering. Here, in the abundance of God’s grace, my identity, peace, security, and “usefulness” no longer are defined by nor are dependent upon me, but on the One I’m following.
And that is one thing I can most assuredly be fully confident in.