What Is Wrong With You? You Should Be Better!
At a recent church event, I was praying for a friend with a few others when the focus shifted suddenly to me and my struggles. What prayer did I need? What was I grappling with?
I wasn't expecting the questions, but I was ready with an answer. See, that night, I was struggling to focus. I wanted to worship; I wanted to dive into that place of passion for Christ where everything else becomes minute next to the infinite greatness of Jesus. And yet . . . my heart wasn't focused. And when my heart wasn't focused, my mind attacked, throwing grenades of guilt from the first song.
You should be focused. You shouldn't be distracted. The fact that you're distracted means that you don't truly love Christ. You must be halfhearted. You are a sorry excuse for a Christian.
And I believed it. I took the blasts and let my mind assault me with guilt until I was a crippled casualty in the pews. Praying for forgiveness but unable to receive it, barely able to look up to heaven.
The mind can be a cruel thing. Sometimes, our own worst enemies are the voices in our heads. While I was berating myself, trying to wrestle my goldfish attention span into submission, heaping rebuke after rebuke on my own shoulders, what wasn't I doing?
I wasn't worshipping.
There is a misconception among people whose brains tick like mine—a misguided belief that unless our minds or hearts are in an utterly ideal, 100% perfect place, whatever we do means nothing. If I am singing without feeling every word, I must not be singing from the heart. If I zoned out for ten minutes of that sermon, I might as well have missed the whole thing. If I struggle to bear some of the most low-hanging spiritual fruits some days, I'm a good-for-nothing tree that Christ should probably just take a chainsaw to.
It is important never to lose sight of our flaws: that's how we remember our need for Christ and it's how we hold on to our profound gratitude for everything he has done for us. But thinking in extremes as a form of self-punishment—trying to beat ourselves into shape with the hammer of what is wrong with you? You should be better!—is not only unhealthy, but pointless. We can't change ourselves by singlehanded force of will. I can't rewire my brain to not chase random thoughts like golden retrievers chase, well, everything. Jesus Christ is the only one who can, which means that I must bring my struggles to him—all of them, including my self-inflicted shame when I don't feel like I'm up to par.
I'm not up to par. Honestly, though, who is? And do we really think Jesus didn't know exactly what he was working with when he picked you and me and promised never to give up on us? Promised to take our brokenness and bring us up to his perfect standard?
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He adores us, and to him, our struggles are just squeaky wheels that need adjusting. And he will adjust them. He is a craftsman and a healer and a king and yes, he wants us to be perfect, but he's going to do that work. Our job is to be receptive and cooperative and obedient, to look for his guidance and strive to do his will, to focus on Christ's perfection when we're tempted to obsess about our flaws, and to come to him with failures when failures happen . . . because they will.
We shouldn't be surprised by our imperfection—Jesus isn't. So the next time I find myself in the pews, struggling to worship single-mindedly and tempted to focus on that instead of on Christ, what will I do?
I'll worship anyway.