the gift of feeling useless: Romans 5

read Romans 5.  Some days we don’t feel ourselves.  We feel blechy.  Our bodies don’t want to function at their peak capacity.  We need a vacation, but the only thing outside is a grey sky.  We feel restless.  Feeling useless can feel almost like hunger, but eating doesn’t make it go away.  We wonder what’s wrong.  Usually we can bounce out of the feeling by achieving something.  But when we feel less than zippy, it’s hard to achieve anything.  Those are the days we feel our worst, and yet they’re the very days that can be our best.  Why?  Because those days are opportunities to explore what it means to be just us.

Who are we when we’re not achieving something?  Who are we when we – gasp – don’t get to brag about anything because we can’t think of one thing we’re good at?  Who are we when we don’t have the energy to remind ourselves of what separates us from the crowd?  Who are we when there is no crowd?

We just are.

And that’s enough.  Except we forget that.  We thought we had to prove ourselves not just to other people, but to ourselves.  But really?  What exactly are we trying to prove?  Who is the one setting up this standard?  Where does our idea of perfect come from?

Perfect comes, by definition, from our perfect God.  And we somehow get it all backwards.  We think WE have to be perfect, but the truth is, He is the only perfect one.  And in His perfection, He loves us no matter how useless we are or feel and He longs to cover us with Himself.

That’s why those days when we feel under the weather are blessings.  Those days we want to crawl right back into bed are opportunities.  Those times when we don’t want to work out – or work –  are gifts.  Our weaknesses are a door.  They’re a way into a place we would never willingly go on our own.  The more we are stripped of our own gifts, the more we are forced to ask for God’s help.  To ask for help means we don’t have it all in ourselves.

That was true all along.  We just forgot.

If we ask for help from the one who loves us just because, we discover that our weaknesses open us up to the world of grace.  They unlock the closed barren places in our hearts that can only blossom in the presence of unconditional love.  We move from the emptiness we feel when we can’t achieve, into a fullness we couldn’t have even imagined.  We discover a new joy and a confidence that “lasts”.  Romans 5:2.

It’s this kind of experience of learning to depend on God, I think, that informs these seemingly difficult words of Paul about how we “can rejoice… when we run into problems and trials.”  Romans 5:3.  It’s not just because, as Pink sings, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  It’s that the strong you discover when you rely on the Lord, is the most beautiful strong of all.  When Paul here talks about endurance, strength of character and hope, he’s not using these words the way we usually do.  It’s not a white knuckle grip on our humanity.  He’s talking about enduring anything in God’s presence; about a strength that comes from relying on God’s strength instead of our own; about character honed in the furnace of humility, where we yearn for a godly character and discover how short we fall; and a hope in God rather than in a change in our circumstances.  Romans 5:3-4.  This is not the mantra of self-reliance or a muscular kind of Christianity.  It’s the tearful grateful joy of the one who relies on the cross alone.

We often think the cross is a symbol of condemnation.  Paul reminds us it’s really a symbol of how God loves us even at our weakest.  God died to restore his “friendship” with us when we were “helpless.”  Romans 5:6, and 10.

So our weaknesses are an opportunity to walk more closely with God.  They’re an opportunity for us to let God do what He longs to:  “to fill our hearts with love”.  Romans 5:5.  We discover in our helplessness something glorious.  We find the power of our “wonderful new relationship with God.”  Romans 5:11.  It’s the power of a love based only on God and not on anything we’ve done.

Knowing that lifts our heads up high.  It restores the light to our eyes.  It puts a new song in our hearts.  It makes us smile from the inside out.  We start to realize that just being WITH God gives our lives the sense of purpose and destiny we’ve always longed for.  Worshipping Him and being thankful to Him lift our spirits higher than the heavens.  So we start asking not whether we’re being “useful” but whether we’re in God’s presence.  And THAT is a question we can always answer in the positive.

Always.

posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on March 13, 2013

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