Seven Things I’ve Been Slow to Learn

It’s said that “Nobody knows the age of the human race, but everybody agrees that it is old enough to know better.” Most of us, whether chronologically nineteen or ninety, frequently look in the mirror and voice the same indictment: “You’re old enough to know better!” Ask the average crowd of adults who has at least one bad habit they can’t get rid of or one stupid thing they keep doing again and again, and 80 percent will raise their hands and the other 20 percent are liars.

Many people would go further and agree with the statement, “All I’ve learned from experience is that I’m hopeless.” I have felt that way myself all too often. I have my record of goals unmet, good intentions gone to naught, responsibilities perceived and never achieved, careful plans spoiled by my own actions. With St. Paul I cry, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18b-19, NIV).

I don’t know how much trouble Paul had making the transition from “miserable failure that I am” to Romans 8 on “no condemnation” and God’s power overcoming our hopelessness, but I know have a long way to go before appreciating that to the core of my being. I could even confess that of all the things I am “old enough to know by now,” the ones that deserve highest priority are all related to God’s perfection against my imperfection.

  1. It’s impossible to control everything. A popular line of thinking today, even in “Christian” circles, is that we consciously or subconsciously “invite” literally everything that happens to us, even accidents and twists of fate. If we could just be adequately optimistic and have enough faith, everything in life would finally fall neatly into place and stay there. I would love for this to be true; it perfectly describes the life I crave. And many expectations of the best (or the worst) do become self-fulfilling prophecies. Nonetheless, the Bible is clear that only God has full control over whatever happens, and that aspiring to become His equal is the height of sinful arrogance.
  2. There is no magic formula that, if carefully followed, will take me to the point where life will flow easily from then on. Closely related to the previous point, the search for such a formula plays on the natural human longing for “perfection” and “completion”–and deludes us into thinking both are achievable in this life. I love order, clear instructions, and obvious progress–and I know how it feels to seek the “magic path” over fifty rabbit trails and come up empty. To paraphrase St. Augustine, the cure for a restless heart is not to plan our own route to rest, but to take rest here and now as a gift from God.
  3. Surprises and interruptions are inevitable. This is perhaps the hardest one for me to accept. I like to know exactly how things will go, down to the exact minute lunch will be served and how many e-mails will come in today; and I can raise my blood pressure 20 points over an unexpected computer crash, even if it’s resolved in five minutes. I suspect that the number of time things go “wrong” in my life are a perfect example of how “the Lord corrects those He loves” with discipline that hurts (the pain in no small matter due to our impatience), cf. Hebrews 12:4-11. And, whether I like it or not, He cares enough to send interruptions and delays for my own good.
  4. It’s possible to think too much. “Not letting your thoughts rule” and “staying in the present” have gotten bad press in some Christian circles, due to certain popular schools of thought that use those concepts to reinforce the pantheistic theology “clear your mind to become one with the universe and God.” Nonetheless, Jesus Himself said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow … Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt. 6:34), and the Bible warns repeatedly about the dangers of fretting and letting “what will I do?” thoughts dominate. Even secular medicine tells us that constantly second-guessing ourselves and worrying if we’re getting everything just right will ruin our health. I can attest from too much personal experience that it can give you sleep deprivation, headaches, stomachaches, and various pain spasms–and can be quite the distraction from prayer and faith.
  5. It’s no sin to be optimistic. That said, resigning ourselves to failure being inevitable and “the worst” always happening isn’t healthy–or Christian–either. Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV)–but not “nothing BUT trouble.” God never says that no Christian will ever “succeed” in worldly terms–He only tells us not to worship that drive for success. It does not honor Him when we neglect our gifts because we’re afraid to try for great things lest something go wrong; He can do more with the person who aims high and falls short than with the one who aims low and hits it every time.
  6. When God says “Let Me take charge of everything,” He means EVERYTHING. Not “everything except what’s already on the calendar,” not “everything except your reading list,” not “everything except the two or three things you’re most attached to.” My own struggle here intermingles with point #4 above, in that when I try to pray wholeheartedly, “God, take full control of my life,” my thoughts immediately try to rush in with, “What about this? And this? Could you cope with giving up this?” Rarely are we given an immediate comprehensive list of what has to go; our part is only to keep surrendering daily, and to obey direct leadings as (not before) they come.
  7. God is not disgusted with me. Looking at all the failures I’ve had with the above and other aspects of life, it’s easy to project my own perfectionism onto God and think that His patience must have long since run out. The Bible assures us, “[God] knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. … He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. … [His] power works best in [our] weakness” (Ps. 103:14; Mt. 12:20; 2 Cor. 12:9). When I fall, He doesn’t kick me or stomp off and leave me; He stands ready to help me up as soon as I ask, 1,000,000,000,000 times if necessary.

What lessons are you still trying to learn about God’s omnipotence and unceasing grace?

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6 Comments

  1. Margaret

     /  September 4, 2015

    Well said Kathy! Mom

    Reply
  2. Jo Swank

     /  September 4, 2015

    Amen and amen! I’m praying that these truths travel from our heads to our hearts! : )

    Reply
    • And also to more people. Every time I read Katherine’s blog I so much wish that she achieves success in her writing career and her beautiful words reach as many people as possible

      Reply
  3. A great thoughtful piece. Thank you so much! You’re wisdoms is always so soothing.
    Control and thinking to much are on my list, but the last point, perfectionism, is an absolute winner. Also, one of the other lessons I’ve learnt is that I have the right to enjoy the life. For some reason, I’ve spent years thinking that I need to earn happiness by suffering, even when there is no objective reason to suffer.

    Reply
    • *your wisdom is always so soothing.
      Forgive my lack of attention and the persistence of my spellcheck 😊

      Reply
  4. Don’t worry about it, Olga; with blog comments, it happens even to professional writers all the time.

    Reply

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