“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” says the Lord of Hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)
Weakness and failure, our world looks down on these and on those who display weakness and failure. Yet, we love the story of the underdog, the hero who rises above his past; stories of redemption, of overcoming failure and achieving success.
There is a different story of redemption that hinges on our admitting our weakness and failure, our need for a Savior. It is so easy to fall into the trap of self-sufficiency, hiding our weaknesses even from ourselves, from myself. When I stop hiding, I can actually begin to love those around me, and not worry about me. When we are worried about our position or power, or place, we have no room to love those around us. I cannot know that “His grace is sufficient for me,” if I do not admit I need God’s gift of grace.
This past month, I watched a cyst that had been on my back for a long time, begin to double and triple in size. It became painful to move my left arm. I do not like to rest and ask for help. I do like to act and do. I had to acknowledge my need to seek help from doctors, ask questions, rest at home. It was a long ordeal involving several weeks, trips to the doctor and the emergency room. I had x-rays, an ultrasound, and even an MRI before they were ready to do something and by that time it was heavily infected, and I had spent almost two days at the hospital. I am on the mend now, and both the wound and the infection are healing, and I am grateful to God and the doctors for their work.
With all of this I recognize that I do not like to be ill. It was a struggle to not feel guilty while resting, my “to do” list is long. I get sore and tired still. I feel like a wimp. Where did that come from? I think I need to accomplish something to be fulfilled. God isn’t waiting for me to accomplish something, or become great. God is inviting me to be with him, to walk with him. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” Why is it so hard to let go and just trust him?
I have been reading slowly through Madeleine L’Engle’s book, The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth. She wrote:
“It is only when I am able to acknowledge my own failures that I am free to be part of a community, and part of that freedom is to be able to accept that the community itself is going to fail. At the very least, it is going to change, and it may die, and this, in worldly terms, is failure.
The church in our village offered me community and so redeemed my failures as wife, mother, writer.”
It isn’t just God whom I need to trust, but to be willing to open myself up to others around me in my community. As Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
I have been working on a different painting this summer, Redemption.
Last month I wrote from the Oregon Coast. I shared about the funny sea lions and their antics and compared it to myself and my faith journey and I shared the painting of Jesus with his arms stretched wide. If you missed it you can read it here: Sealions Reaction to an Umbrella.
What I didn’t share was my struggles with vision this summer. As a visual artist, sight matters to me. I had three separate cysts on my right eyelid, so I have had to take the time to put warm compresses on my eye to aid the healing/draining of the cysts. Apparently, I am also starting to get a cataract in my right eye. This all causes a blurriness in my vision. I am right eye dominant, so it has also taken time to retrain my eyes to see left eye dominantly. Add to that the numerous trips to get the correct prescription for my glasses. This morning I see more clearly than I have in a while. The last lens for my glasses came in on Wednesday this week. I am thankful.
Not being able to see is discouraging, and disheartening. Not seeing well affects other things too – like balance. I had a biking accident and my left hip has not been the same since then. I have been sitting wrong in my computer chair because I have not been able to see the screen – which affects how my body feels at the end of the day, too. As I was finishing up the painting of Jesus (Painting: I am Loved) one morning, I stood and painted 5 hours straight without taking a break. (I was concentrating too much to notice.) I realized afterwards, as I could hardly walk, that I had hurt my left leg, again. My friend pointed out the irony of working on a painting to portray Jesus’ love for me, and hurting myself in the process. I have about 45 min of exercises to do from physio. This learning to take care of myself is time consuming. Yes, I want to feel better, but it doesn’t feel like I am accomplishing anything. I have had to tell myself that “no one is going to do this for me, I have to do it for myself.” I feel broken, like my body is failing to live up to my expectations and getting in the way of all I want to accomplish.
As all this has been going on this summer, I have been slowly reading through Ezekiel. I usually like the prophets, I can see God’s yearning heart for his people and my heart aches with his. I have not seen that as much in Ezekiel, but I am only up to chapter 14. Ezekiel takes place during the exile – but before the fall of Jerusalem. The judgment is upon them. It has stirred up all kinds of emotions in me. Ezekiel not only speaks prophesies from God, he lives the metaphors and prophesy. For example in chapter 4, Ezekiel lays on his left side for 390 days for the punishment of the house of Israel and then lays down on his right side bound for 40 days to represent the punishment of Judah. He acts out the metaphor of what God will do to the Israelites. I would not like to be Ezekiel. Did he really even have a choice? Can a prophet really not speak what God has given him to speak?
Then I thought of how I started about 6 or so years ago to work on a series: Waiting on the LORD. In the last 6 or so years I have had a number of things happen that have been teaching me what it means to really wait on the LORD. This summer was no exception. God has been using these metaphors in my life to show me about trust, letting go, riding the airwaves with Him, learning to rest in Him, I am valued because he loves me not for what I can accomplish. Do I object to Ezekiel, because I am seeing the parallels in my life? Have I had any choice but to go through this? I suppose the choice I have made is to seek God and what he is teaching me through it, growing my spirit. The alternative would be to shrink my spirit with complaining and poor attitude. Have I been living in metaphors, too? Is that the only way I would be able to understand what it means to really wait on the LORD?
So as I reflect on the summer, on my fears and frustrations with my eyesight and hip, can I learn to love the parts of me that have failed? Like the painting of transformation, I have thought I have to become something fresh and new and leave the failed parts, the garbage, the pain, and the dysfunctional parts of me behind. I have failed in my own eyes, when I cannot do what I think I should be able to, when my body feels like it is falling apart and preventing me from doing things, when I have made mistakes, or made people upset with me. Yet, God loves all of me, redeems my garbage. Can I love myself enough to take care of myself? Can I accept my failings and brokenness? I wanted to see if I could paint Jesus reaching out to embrace me, to love me. Can I truly accept his love and embrace, and love myself as he sees me?
(Painting: Redemption, Acrylic on Canvas Paper, 20in x 16in)
I like reading stories of redemption both real and fiction. I was reading one this morning. And as the lost soul in the story was brought back into the welcoming and loving arms of those who loved her, I was struck again of God’s overwhelming love for me. My heart did a happy dance as I read.
As Easter and as spring approach, I think about redemption, transformation, new life and resurrection. I see it echoing in the stories I read, in the buds swelling on the trees and plants beginning to push their way again to the surface.
I have been closely watching what looks like a dead poinsettia to see if the tiny leaves will indeed spring forth and the plant will come back to life.
A few years ago, I painted this painting of transformation. A pile of garbage with a plant growing out of it. I have found it interesting to hang it at the art walk, because it invites conversation. A lot of people have thought it was about the garbage in the ocean. It has made people feel sad or depressed, irritated or caused them to laugh.
As I painted it, I was thinking about myself and all the things I do not like about myself, the things I would consider my garbage. So, I put on the painting items that should have gone into my art room garbage or recycling bins. I was thinking about redemption and how God redeems these parts of me with his love. This was then represented by the plant growing out of the garbage.
But as I thought about and even shared it at one of my art and faith retreats, I realized I expected to be transformed; that redemption was about change and becoming new. What if redemption is not just the transformation?
No matter what I do I cannot see past the image of garbage. How can garbage look redeemed? But, what if it is a new perspective or looking beyond the surface?
What if I can learn to love those parts of myself that I see as garbage? God loves me, all of me. Can I learn to love all of me too and see myself with his eyes? Like the dead Poinsettia, if i am patient with it - and really look, I can see tiny leaves emerging from the stem. I am thankful that God is patient with me and is helping me see things better in my own self.
This new awareness is slowly bringing redemption to new parts of me. Failure – learning to trust God and others, as well as to accept my own limitations. Feeling lazy or unproductive – learning to rest and take care of myself is important work too.
As I look to all the signs of redemption in the world around me, it reminds me mostly that God is redeeming all of me too. He loves me! And that makes me want to dance and sing.
In what ways do you see God’s redemptive work in your life?