read 1 Cor. 15. Bikram yoga in NYC means being shut inside a room with the windows and doors closed and four humidifiers blasting for an hour and a half with 50 adults. Leaving early is not an option. The doors aren’t locked, but they might as well be.
The first time I tried it, the French teacher started yelling in a cruel voice: “Caroleeen! Caroleen!” It took about ten of these Caroleeens for me to realize she was actually talking to me. I don’t know how she knew my name. It was almost surreal. But it became apparent she was criticizing me every other time she opened her mouth. I was looking right when I was supposed to look left. I was holding my toes when I was supposed to hold my heels. I was putting my left hand to my left knee, when it was supposed to be putting my right hand to my fifth heart.
Apparently, I was a failure at yoga. Frankly, the teacher seemed like a miserably unhappy person, and she saw me as an outer manifestation of her failure as a yoga teacher, and I’d been praying for her from the moment I laid eyes on her. But regardless of whether she was projecting or not, her voice grew crueler and crueler. At one point, I sat down and started quietly weeping on my mat. I thought it was because the teacher’s tone was so mean.
At the end of the class, the teacher screamed at us: “NOW YOU’RE BULLETPROOF!” My boyfriend came up to me and asked, “why was she being so mean to you?” I had my theories.
The second time I tried Bikram yoga, I nearly blacked out within five minutes. I’m not a masochist. I was there because my boyfriend does hot yoga for cross-training. He does tons of things with me just to make me happy, so it seemed only fair to give hot yoga another whirl. But within minutes, I collapsed into a sitting position.
“CONSIDER WHY YOU’RE SITTING!” the teacher yelled. p.s. guess who was the only one sitting? “ASK YOURSELF IF YOU REALLY HAVE TO SIT!” I asked myself. I decided that hurtling headlong into the ten women within a city inch of me was a pretty good reason. Then I spotted a man who the teacher had spoken to like he was a regular actually lying down on his back. I was thrilled. I lay down immediately. I shut my eyes in relief. Time for a good hot nap.
“NO LYING DOWN!” the teacher yelled. “KEEP YOUR HEAD ELEVATED.” I popped my head up from what yogis seem to call the corpse position, grinned and pointed at the lying down man. She scowled at him.
“SHE’S COPYING YOU! SIT UP!” So much for the corpse position. The regular bounded back up to standing position and rejoined the other 49.
“DON’T WORRY IF YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING!” the teacher yelled. “JUST DO WHAT YOU CAN DO! THERE ARE NO FAILURES IN YOGA!” Again, guess who was the only person not doing everything?
So here’s the odd thing. I started to quietly weep into my mat again. Why? This time no one was calling me out by name. No one was speaking in a mean tone. It wasn’t an attack by a human. The grief was coming from within. The heat and humidity seemed to be having the oddest effect. It was making every depressing thought I’d ever had rise up to the surface. I was crying because it was clear that I was a total failure in every area of my life. I was a failure as a mother, a girlfriend, a writer, a friend, an aunt, a daughter, a lawyer, a human being.
So I started to pray, expecting Jesus to give me the kind of postive pep talk the yoga lady was giving about how there are no failures. But instead, I saw Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. He was as bathed in sweat as all the people around me in our humidifier-blasted room. Jesus’ sweat was falling like drops of blood. He was miserable. And then I saw him sweating and dying on the cross.
Jesus was a failure.
His mother and brothers thought he was insane. His twelve closest friends abandoned him, and one of them betrayed him with a kiss to those seeking to kill him. He did nothing while he was here except help people, and they threw it back in his face. No matter what he did, people asked him why he wasn’t doing more. “You saved others,” they mocked. “Can’t you save yourself?” He got hungry and tired. He wept. He needed to go off and be alone. Often. He was God, but He had human limitations. And therefore, no matter how much he did, it was never enough.
But the longer I looked at that grey sweaty image of Jesus in the garden and Jesus on the cross, I realized that Jesus was a failure in the world’s eyes.
In the world’s eyes, we’re all failures.
The world is a merciless taskmaster, and no matter what we do for other people, they’re not satisfied and neither are we. No exercise class can make us bulletproof. No amount of yelling that IT’S OKAY THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS IS HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF works. Because, as Tim Keller points out in his sermon The Sickness Unto Death (and please, please, get the free podcasts of Tim’s sermons), if we feel great about ourselves when we fail, it’s because (1) we have lower standards than other people, or (2) we have grown into a callous person who looks down on and disregards the feelings of others. Neither helps. Neither is good. Neither works.
We can’t fix ourselves. We can’t transfigure our problems. We can’t make ourselves bulletproof. We can’t be perfect. We all fall short. We can’t please all the people all the time. We can hardly ever please ourselves.
Only God can fix us. Because the world’s eyes isn’t the standard that counts. God is the standard. And in His world, He became a failure so that anyone who believes in Him will be a success. He died to lift us to heaven. We are no longer the standard. Jesus is. The cross is there to cover our sins. If we accept that we are sinners who need God’s covering, when God looks at us He sees Jesus. In Him, we ARE perfect. “Christ died for our sins.” 1 Cor. 15:3. Once we accept that, we stop building our identities on our performances. As Paul explains here, once he became a believer, anything he ever accomplishes “is all because God poured out his special favor on me… it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.” 1 Cor. 15:10. That special favor is available to anyone who asks. That grace is a gift. And when our achievements well up from joyful confident hearts, we enjoy our endeavors: “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” 1 Cor. 15:58.
The truth is that Jesus experienced the worst failure the world can hurl at anyone – an ignominious criminal’s death – and it couldn’t contain him. He experienced the worst the devil could hurl at him – all the furies of hell – and he returned to heaven. If you’re curious about what happens when we die, Paul says here that when Jesus comes back, at the sound of the last trumpet, anyone and everyone who believes in him will rise together and be given a new spiritual body. These bodies we have now on earth are like seeds, Paul says. When we die, the seed will be planted and grow into something more beautiful than we could ever imagine. It doesn’t sound like when people die they go up and sit on a cloud and watch us until we join them, like you hear people say at funerals. Maybe. But according to Scripture, including this chapter, it seems that the believers “fall asleep in the Lord,” and that we will all rise together. After all, time is a wordly construct, and God’s kind of supernatural eternity is nothing but all the joy, peace, and love you’ve ever experienced, only exponentially magnified. So if dying is “falling asleep in the Lord”, and it’s like some kind of glorious happy dream until the second coming, that sounds wonderful.
So given the fact that eternal joy and peace is available to us now through Jesus’ divine exchange on the cross; that eternity lies ahead; and eternity is the real standard; we don’t have to be afraid to take in the reality of our own failure. Jesus was a failure in the world’s eyes but a success to God. Our failure isn’t the end of the story.
And when we take this in, here’s the cool part. All of a sudden our worldly lives will seem just fine, all over again. Our careers are fine, after all. Our relationships are pretty wonderful. We’re doing what we can for other sick people. We’re doing what we can with our own pains. The pressure toward perfectionism lifts.
But all of that wonderfulness comes not because of us, but because there is no worldly failure that is enough to take away our success in God. No matter how deeply we fail, Jesus failed more. And if his worldly failure is irrelevant on a supernatural scale, so is ours.
And by the way, if you’re reading this and thinking that that sounds nice for people with faith, but you don’t yet believe … just ask God to show you who He is. He will. Why wouldn’t He? He says He loves you. He says He wants to give you the gift of faith. He wants you to come to Him. Ask Him for faith, and you will receive.
It might be at work. It might be at home. It might be in nature. It might even be somewhere where you’re the absolute worst person in the entire class.
posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on November 19, 2013