For much of my life, I have been pretty good with formulas. Following a prescriptive set of instructions has generally turned out well for me: work really hard, make the team; study a few hours, pass the class, you know the pattern. But God has recently given me a gift— a life-changing gift— something that not only turns the formulas on their head but completely shakes up all of the things I used to cling to for confidence. The gift is this: a beautiful, vulnerable, completely real awareness of my insufficiency.
Growing up in the church, I knew all about the vine and the branches metaphor, and I’m sure I responded to the part where Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” with something like, “Sure, sure, Jesus. Love that verse and I’ll grab its truth every now and then when I’m really praying for some big blessing to rain down on me. But surely you don’t mean nothing. Look at how hard I’ve worked at life. I [mostly] avoided sexual sin and drinking and drugs and diligently prayed for a husband and a family. I mean, I’ve been a pretty good girl, don’t I deserve some credit? I go half way with hard work, you meet me halfway with a blessing, isn’t this how faith works?”
(I think that could be called something more like karma, or the white privilege side of the American Christian Dream, but it’s definitely not called following Christ).
Apart from me, you can do nothing.
If I’m being really honest, for thirty-one years of my life I have harbored just the slightest bit of an I deserve a good life mentality and combined it with the words Yeah, but I did... Only now that circumstances are so far out of my control do I see the story of faith I have been living is not the story of faith modeled in scripture. Faith in my life has been the fifty-fifty kind of faith, at least a little bit dependent on how awesome I can be. But faith in scripture doesn’t really have that precedent, because scripture makes it real clear that we are, in fact, not that awesome.
Faith in scripture looks like standing at the edge of the sea knowing there is no way you’re getting across it unless God makes a path—and then he does. It’s marching around the fortified walls of a city knowing there is no way you’re getting in unless God breaks them down—and then he does. It’s mourning at the grave of the most important person in your life, knowing there is no way you’ll have hope again unless God walks out from that grave and says, “Woman, why are you weeping?—and then he does.
Scripture is crystal clear about who the Author of our faith is. (It’s Jesus). It’s brutally honest about who assigns the work of our lives and who equips us to do that work (It’s Jesus). And there are zero mixed messages about who justifies us (It’s Jesus). Yet somewhere along the line, I talked myself into believing it was mostly me and a little bit Jesus. And then I got married (stop one on the humble train), became a mom (stop 2), and am raising children that stretch my arms like a Gumby doll in opposite directions (a very good confirmation that I am never getting off this train). The mostly me theory has fallen apart in every way. I would never have said this out loud before; you would only hear me say the good girl answer that I could take no credit for my success and I give all the glory to God. Oh, but I was always taking some credit. Just ask my heart.
One of the many blessings God continues to reveal to me about raising a child with special needs is that needing Him each day is truly far more life-giving than relying on myself. Before Cannon’s struggles became apparent, I held on to the illusion that all of this depended a whole heck of a lot on me. But as the challenging journey ahead came more clearly into view, I learned—and am still learning—that the only thing that depends on me is my response: to give Cannon and my whole family my very best, diligently learning and trying and exploring options, praying for wisdom and discernment, and then resting— knowing that the outcome is the Lord’s, and fighting to believe that he will work that outcome for his glory. And our good.
But that outcome will always be in spite of me, not because of me.
And what I know with a new kind of faith now is this: without the hope of Jesus on the throne, I will fall apart. I will treat a certain therapy or doctor or special diet as our savior and be devastated when those things prove to be what they are: imperfect and fallen. I will find a way to blame others for not pursuing me when a phone full of text messages sits unanswered, because pity has a way of blinding you to blessings. I will take a season of challenge and turn it into a season of contempt, because while challenges are fertile ground for the glory of God, they are equally fertile ground for entitlement. I will slip into thinking this world is home, because one of the great battles for our faith lies in the moments we think earth can be turned into Heaven if this one thing could just happen for us.
And in the end, the mostly me mindset will leave me with, well, just me. In the real, raw moments of life, times I want to mourn or times I want to celebrate, I’m pretty terrible company for myself.
But when it’s all Jesus, y’all, the hope abounds. Anything good turns into a chance for genuine praise, and anything hard turns into a chance for genuine faith. When it’s all Jesus, I see every little thing as an opportunity for the gospel to be shared more, known more, and lived more. When it’s all Jesus, I know that I don’t take one breath outside of what is a gift from him, and my posture of gratitude changes completely. The work of my hands, the words from my mouth, everything I do becomes that response to what he has done for me.
I cannot heal my son, tend well to my marriage, craft words worth reading, love my friends, understand scripture, work for justice, or do anything apart from the provision of God. I can pray for those things, and certainly give them all the effort I have. But I never want to forget that, in the end, my best is merely offering a colored pencil drawing of the earth to the Father who actually created it.
Apart from me, you can do nothing. Words that I used to qualify are now the most freeing, hopeful promise of my life. Jesus is our confidence, and his sufficiency never changes even though our circumstances always do. And isn’t that the best news you’ve ever heard?