Sometimes I think I should have joined the military. Granted, while I adore forests and beaches, I am a city girl through and through, and the life of a grunt probably wouldn’t suit me. However. I am the poster person for discipline, duty, and obligation. Perhaps I could be a drill sergeant? Hm. At the very least I could be counted on to be where I needed to be and do what I needed to do.
Discipline, duty, obligation…admirable traits, right? Wrong. Not when they dictate your entire life; not when the use of the traits prompts your friends to ask, “Do you ever do anything just for the fun of it?” That’s a problem, my friends. It isn’t, of course, life-threatening in the severest form of the phrase, yet it is a cause for concern.
The last time I was asked this question (yes, I’ve heard it more than once) caught me off-guard and I answered before I could catch myself, “Actually…no.”
I was inspired to spend the next week(s) repeating the question, hoping to find the root cause of my answer in some facet of my being. Did my “Everything I do in my life I do because it’s expected of me” lifestyle come from being a first-born? Or is it perhaps driven by my general dislike and avoidance of emotions? Or is it maybe spawned from a task-oriented, performance-focused mindset?
The cop-out–though nonetheless likely correct–answer is “all of the above.” I like to earn things, plain and simple. Perhaps it’s pride. I, for example, delight in being able to say that I put (and am still putting 🙂 ) myself through college. I earned my degree — no one handed it to me. I did what I had to do when I had to do it, and that was how I acquired my degree.
And then Grace entered the scene. I knew Him all along, but I didn’t know Him with my “knower” (I forget who originally coined that). The God I knew was there and involved at some level, but He was a demanding God, full of mercy and grace only at the point of salvation. Once you are saved, He turns into the Ultimate Taskmaster. Then your daily motto is:
“Do your duty, that is best
Leave unto the Lord the rest.”
And, of course, the ever-popular:
“God helps those who help themselves.”
So I spent my life striving, straining, beating myself up for failures, and at last collapsing under the weight of guilt, shame, and letdown. I saw God frowning and shaking His head at my shortcomings. Why wasn’t I perfect? Why couldn’t I get my act together? Why wasn’t I making Him proud? On the flip side, the best days were days when I was able to keep up my end of the bargain so that He could “do the rest.” The partnership was that I did everything I could think of (including worrying my way to an ulcer), and when that didn’t work, throw up a Hail Mary to the Big Guy and hope He felt like coming through for me.
What I didn’t realize was that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Ro. 5:20) I couldn’t “out fail” His grace, love, and forgiveness. Whatever the law threw at me, grace obliterated. And really, by insisting on playing by the rules of the law, I was stripping grace of its essence and power! “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Ro. 11:6)
But wait…there’s more! Clearly, grace does not mean we veg on the couch for the rest of our lives. What it does mean is that the work we do in this life is by His efforts and not our own! We were each given specific gifts and specific purposes for those gifts with the promise of God’s help through it all:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
Discipline, duty, obligation…they are now eradicated from life. Or should be. Just today I am wrestling with it, debating whether or not I should attend an event. I asked myself every question under the sun–Is it my duty to go? What would people think if I didn’t? If I don’t go, does it mean I’m a bad person?-except for the most crucial one: Do I want to go? Huh. You mean I don’t have to pull up my boot straps and bite the bullet every day and for everything? That it’s ok to say “no”? That grace motivates by love and not obligation? I must not abuse the grace, but it is equally wrong to take that grace in vain:
“As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:1-2)
He desires for you and for me an abundant life (John 10:10) full of joy, fun, and laughter! Ask God what He would have you do and then do it, knowing that with it comes His abundant grace and joy!