There have certainly been times in my own life when I've arrived at the mistaken conclusion that what God wanted from me was my best work. It isn't.
Six down, one or two left to go through the college application process. Our youngest son has landed with grace and by it at the next phase of his life. He's also landed one of a very few full tuition, full room-and-board scholarships at his first choice school: Massachusetts Maritime Academy. We are all so proud of his accomplishments, but even more of the person he is and is becoming.
Achievements are given a lot of importance and attention in our world. A whole lot of us seem to think that trotting out the resume, dropping that name, or managing to mention our most recent success in conversation is how we put our "best foot forward." And while we all need to feel affirmed and valued, the look-at-me-I'm-the-best-thing-since-sliced-bread culture isn't exactly helpful when it comes to living a life of Christian discipleship.
I think many of us secretly believe that our achievements can somehow earn us God's attention and approval. We tell ourselves that if we can stack up enough good and holy deeds, God will take notice. If we can impress God, he will listen to our prayers, and give us whatever we're asking for. In short, we try to convince God to think well of us.
This approach to living our faith doesn't work out any better for us than it did for the religious people in Jesus' time. Remember the Pharisee who went into the Temple to tell God how he had paid tithes and fasted twice a week? While he may have logged numerous spiritual accomplishments, his "prayer" accomplished little. It was the tax collector, confessing his sins and asking for mercy, who moved the heart of God.
There have certainly been times in my own life when I've arrived at the mistaken conclusion that what God wanted from me was my best work. It isn't. In the end, what God wants isn't anything from me, but me. And no accomplishment can take my place.
I wish I could learn, once and for all, that people who ask for God's mercy usually do better than those who ask for his applause. The truth is we all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have things we're good at, and things we struggle with. We all have something to offer, and needs we can't meet on our own. Accepting all of that doesn't come easily. But it is liberating to see ourselves the way God--and probably a whole lot of others--see us.
On a dark Friday, outside the city walls, a wonderworking rabbi was crucified between two thieves. Two thousand years later, we know one of them as the "good thief" and the other as just a thief. Neither of them deserved to share their fate with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The only difference between them was that one of them knew it. His goodness was not found in anything he had done, but in his plea that Jesus remember him when he came into his kingdom.
I'm not a saint, or anywhere near one. Asking God to take a look at my virtues or how well I have served him, won't get me very far. That is why I've decided to stop asking God to look at all I've done, and start asking for his mercy. It's never been about what any of us can achieve, but what Jesus accomplished for every one of us on the cross. I know that on a good day, and if the wind is blowing in the right direction, the best I can be is a good thief. And you know what? That's enough for me, because it was enough for Jesus. "Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
JAYMIE STUART WOLFE IS A WIFE AND MOTHER OF EIGHT CHILDREN, AND A DISCIPLE OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. SHE IS AN INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR, SPEAKER, MUSICIAN AND SERVES AS AN ASSOCIATE CHILDREN'S EDITOR AT PAULINE BOOKS AND MEDIA.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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