Not "by myself"
"Yes, Natalie, what's up?"
"Grandpa, could you help me do this... by myself?"
"Sure thing, Natalie!"
Well. That was a bit of an exaggeration. Even setting aside the logical challenge, there was nothing "sure" about it. Grandpa was working hard to keep from bursting into laughter, and it was making the stairs more challenging for me to manage, too. But, by the grace of God, Grandpa was able to stifle his giggles and provide a steadying hand, so Natalie could navigate the stairs to the basement "by herself."
Out of the mouths of babes....
Thank you, Natalie, for such a clear glimpse into my soul! How often have I prayed like that?
Not, of course, with the guileless honesty of a two year old. I would never actually call out to God with a sincere "help me do this by myself." Even if Holy Week had not just reminded me, I know that Jesus gave us the model of how to pray when facing something really tough: "not my will, but yours be done." So, I have the language down.
But, far too often, when I pray "thy will be done," there is an unexpressed-but-real "and I have a pretty good idea what that should look like" lurking nearby.
The Gospels make it clear that this habit is not just mine. It seems to be pretty deeply ingrained in human beings, even the ones who dream of and pray for God to intervene in the world. As John puts it in the opening lines of his Gospel, the Word "came to his own people, and even they rejected him" (John 1:11, NLT). Even they. In the final hours before Jesus' death, even his closest friends turned on him or ran away. Even they. They rejected or opposed or fled because they already knew how the story was supposed to go. If they weren't exactly saying to God "by myself," they were certainly saying "my way."
The Gospels don't actually introduce anything new in that regard, though. However much we humans may long for "God, with us," the Biblical record suggests we've been a "by... my... self!" bunch since the beginning. Genesis 3 suggests that we are even willing to sacrifice a pretty good gig to satisfy that urge.
So, as I am amazed and amused by the transparency of a two year old (now three... it has taken a while to get around to writing this!), I am also reminded just how much we adults tend to do the same thing (with more subterfuge).
I, personally, am undoubtedly as guilty of this tendency as the next person, whether or not I'm always aware of that. So, over and over again, at ever-increasing depth, I am challenged to make Jesus' prayers my own: "not my will, but yours," "may your will be done on earth, as in heaven."
Just at the moment, though, I am on a different wavelength. Far from seeking to do anything "by my self," I am instead acutely aware of, and deeply grateful for, the fact that I am not "by myself." I have been immersed in teamwork at IM's home office and around the world, making small contributions to events, processes, ministries and relationships that I did not create, do not sustain and cannot control. And it is amazing. What a privilege!
- Teaching and encouraging Bolivian pastors in December...
- celebrating the amazing story of God's work among the Telugu people in India in January...
- growing in faith with Mexican pastors and seminarians in February...
- learning with and from theological educators from the length and breadth of Latin America a few weeks later...
- and working on Responding to the Call throughout the last couple of years (to say nothing of the daily participation in the support of others' ministries at IM's home office!)...
- and as I write, I am in the air, on the way to speaking opportunities in Thailand and India--privileged to contribute to ministries of whole teams of deeply dedicated folks.
None of this has been "by myself." In fact, none of it would even have been possible "by myself."
I am thankful to God and to be able to serve together with many, many partners in mission--including you! Thanks for your friendship, prayers, gifts, words of encouragement and inspiring examples.
May you be blessed as you let God make you a channel of blessing to others, even-or maybe, especially-when you get to bless them by helping them do things "by... my... self!"