You know the old adage – “How do you eat an elephant?”
One bite at a time.
It makes sense in theory, that the only way we’ll accomplish anything is with one step and then another. One page, one sentence, one word, one letter … and then another. But the reality is that our culture and our generation (and our greedy prideful hearts) wants it ALL, and we want it BIG and NOW!
I’ve jokingly told my friends and family that I only do the things I’m good at. The joke is though, that I’m not joking. I know what I can do successfully and what I’ll fail at, and I always choose the former.
It’s not because I’m competitive, it’s because I don’t want to take the time and energy to practice something new. It’d slow me down. And I’m a millennial American, I don’t go slow.
Wouldn’t it be swell if I could check off “grow in grace” and “forgive” and “be content” on my To-Do list as fast as I can check off “order sneakers online” and “write blog post”?
But God’s goal isn’t speed (and how thankful I should be that it isn’t.) His desire is our pursuit of holiness. Our lifelong, sometimes painstaking and slow-as-molasses pursuit of holiness.
Think about a world-renowned chef and all the hours logged in a hot kitchen dicing and whisking and chopping – over and over and over until they perfected just one signature dish. How much more will we have to practice to perfect just one fruit of the spirit?
Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control aren’t set to auto-update in our souls.
And so we, setbacks expected and included, beg for His aid as we take one step. And then another. We know His plan is one for careful and methodical intention affirmed in Psalm 119:105:
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
A lamp unto my FEET?! What about a floodlight over my football field instead? Nope. Enough light for one step at time. It’s what He’s offering because when we can only see enough for the next step … and then the next … and the next … we have to stay dependent on HIM! Oh how He knows us well.
The lantern He’s swinging by my sandals currently is one of contentment. Step by step. Bit by bit.
There was a night not long after the love of my life had left that I sat sitting in the parking lot after a teeth cleaning, sobbing, because a mutual dentist was just another thing that we shared and that reminded me of him. At that moment, no one and nothing could’ve convinced me that I’d ever be happy again.
But ‘happy’ isn’t the ultimate goal, is it? There’s a wide chasm and a vast difference between temporal happiness and eternal joy and I think it’s safe to say that the fight should be for contentment more than just the feel-goods.
As the months and now years have passed, I’ve come to realize that not only is much of that contentment a choice, but it’s a slow slow process. And that’s okay.
What we’d all love is a snap of the fingers that healed a minute after the scary diagnosis or a windfall of cash immediately after the open envelope reveals an unexpected expense, pregnancy the month after a miscarriage and Rapunzel locks grown after a bad haircut. Our patience is further shrunken by the immediacy with which we receive most things in life these days. Texts and Amazon Prime and pizza delivery – there isn’t much we can’t have right when we want it.
But God doesn’t offer overnight shipping. He operates outside of time, because as God of the universe – the eternal creator, time simply doesn’t apply to Him. His goal is our heart and our formation in His likeness, however long it takes is not His concern. So He offers Himself and His word and His light for each step; rolling His eyes (I imagine) as we run off in the darkness with no plan just because we wanna go fast.
So, in this fight for contentment there are intentional steps I can take: prayer, filling the day with good work and good rest and good conversation and lots of love and service, seeing the value in events and others regardless of my financial or marital status, pursuing others instead of waiting to be pursued, etc.
There’s also a lot of grace needed when sometimes just one minute to the next hurts or when I’ve wrestled with selfishness or sin and it seems the day’s almost a total waste.
And accepting that grace is another bit-by-bit, inch-by-inch lesson for me because my guilt can keep my hands and heart afraid to receive that which He’s freely giving.
Remember how Mr. Miyagi frustrated Daniel with menial chores… and all the while Daniel never realized he was being prepared to fight?
I have to imagine that in a similar way (and with less waxing on and waxing off) God is doing much the same in our little steps. As we walk slowly toward one fruit of the spirit or away from one temptation, He guides us closer to His will in ways we, as finite kids, never could’ve imagined.
Maybe we can encourage each other in the counter-cultural fight to celebrate the small, praising the Lord that He works in His own way and His own time.
(Someone remind me of that the next time I want to skip to spiritual victory faster than swiping right, ok?)