I look at my oldest son, who won the Impeccable Manners award at his school, who gives away all his money before he can spend it, who is always ready to share any dessert, who protects colonies of ants at school. I admire his generosity, his kindness, his courage, and I want to be more like him when I grow up. And yet, any lapse of behavior on his part, any perceived sin, and he is convinced that he is the worst person in the world. He can't stand his own imperfection; he seems to believe that being perfect is the only way to live faithfully in the world.
I understand how he feels. It is easy to give into guilt living in Zambia, easy to see the ways I don't measure up...The times I choose to eat at an expensive restaurant, knowing that my neighbors are going to bed hungry. The times I give into anger over a towel on the floor, when I should be angry that my friend is struggling with a disease that should have been eradicated a long time ago. The times I am just too tired to visit a struggling colleague, knowing that if I am struggling, fifteen people will come with prayers. The list goes on an on of all the ways I fall short, all the ways I choose what I want, instead of ministering to the very real needs of people who I love.
Around me, I see Zambian colleagues who have given up so much. My boss was a successful art teacher. He was offered a job at a school in Botswana, and received a decent salary. He was even able to afford a car. But he felt the call to go back to Zambia, to enter ministry, and he took an enormous pay cut to move into a small, leaking parsonage in a remote rural area. He suffered, his family suffered, but he helped move the denomination forward in powerful and world changing ways. I look at him and I listen to him, and again, I see all the ways I fall short.
I think many of us are like that. It is harder to hear that we are loved, that we are cherished, that we are beautiful, as we are, than it is to hear that we have work to do, we are not enough, that we had better just step up. But I think God looks at us the way that I look at Frankie. "Oh, sweet, darling, beautiful child," God says to you and me, "If only you could love yourself half as much as I love you."
All the brokenness inside of us, all the sin and shortcoming, all the pain...none of that is even remotely as big as the power of God's redemptive love. We are redeemed, we are chosen, we are enough. We are called, we are empowered, we are sustained.
In the liberal church, we often skip prayers of confession in our worship services. We resist conversations around redemption. We hush any whispers about sin. But it still clings to us. It is still there, and we carry the burdens of our imperfections, because we are not told over and over and over again that we are forgiven. And we need to hear it. We need to know it. We need to talk about sin and brokenness, because otherwise, we are like my little boy, sobbing on the floor, hitting our heads, trying to take away the pain ourselves. We forget that God is already there to take away the pain, that God is already there to forgive us, that God is already there to tell us that we are beloved, we are cherished, we are redeemed.
There is a lot to do in Zambia. And while I am there, I will do some ministry that matters, by the grace of God who can work in and through broken vessels. But I will also make mistakes, I will also fall down, I will also spend too much money at a restaurant. And that will be okay. I will be okay. And so will Frankie. And so will you. We keep on moving forward, keep on loving God, keep on caring for our neighbor, keep on trying. And we must know that it is enough. Because redemption is everywhere we look, because God is bigger than our imperfection, because God loves us even more than I love Frankie, and that is so, so, so very much.