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Cutting the Kudzu

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Having more than one child puts each child's moments into perspective just as visiting more than one beach or interacting with a variety of personality types or hearing different families' struggles allow the variety to keep each from being the singular reality. Perspective requires seeing things from more than one position, including our own selves. Who I am at a party or when volunteering in my daughter's fourth-grade class or having coffee with a friend or a long dinner with a group of friends are all slightly different and expose a variety of my own strengths and weaknesses. Just like with any "variety pack," its ok if one flavor isn't your favorite because there are so many more.

Living with myself in quarantine with the same other four people day in and day out (and day in and day out and day in and day out...) makes it easier to feel stuck with the flavor of least appeal. We see each other's flaws and weaknesses just as they exist in "normal life" but without the balance of the variety of interactions to keep them in perspective or minimize their less appealing flavor. The negatives seem magnified and more insurmountable when the favorite flavors were absent from the fridge a long time ago and that one nobody wants just sits and stares back from otherwise empty shelf.

This form of "suffering grief in all kinds of trials" is part of God's effective method for growing my faith. Of course, my natural first response is to be focused on what I'd like to change about my housemates and their bad flavors. But the Gospel invites me to do something far more transformative: examine the root cause of my own bitter flavor. When I start to notice what behaviors or attitudes of others cause me the most anxiety or even ire, I now have the light on the dashboard to recognize something under my own hood that needs attention. What nerve did my child or husband zing? What rule of mine have they broken? What chosen narrative of mine are they disrupting? Below these first questions are more questions like: What fear are they exposing? What shame are they provoking in me? What condemnation do their words, attitudes, or actions confirm I deserve? What lie am I believing and where do I need to see and hear the person and work of Jesus more clearly?

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17

I have always been a "rules follower," absolutely determined to be on Santa's good list and everyone else's. I don't want anyone anywhere to be disappointed in me nor do I want to bear the consequences of disfavor for failing to do what is in my power to do correctly. In a family where not every member feels this same priority, I become the miserable member in a group project where everyone is graded on the group's work but the members of the group are not all putting in the same effort or equally interested in a good grade. This is so stressful to me as someone who values that good grade like my life depends upon it.

I'm seeing this unpleasant reality of how my intense desire to get an A in all the group projects (health and wellness, spiritual growth and identity formation, developing the character that cares for the well-being of others even if it requires the sacrifice of self for the moment, the ability to appreciate delayed gratification or self-discipline, meeting the expectations of teachers, coaches, and bosses...) actually demotivates and steals life from my "team." But again, when it comes to rules and laws, if you see something and don't do something, you are often liable to being named a co-conspirator, complicit because you knew and didn't intervene. I have to address it in each of them because I don't want that guilt on my shoulders!

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. Romans 7:4-6

I am entangled by law-righteousness like kudzu wrapped and tangled around a tree, preventing the tree from bearing fruit to feed others and killing it at the same time. The Law can never give life. I can never earn life through the Law. It isn't that we reject the Law because to do so would be to reject God since the Law is merely a depiction of His perfections and His holiness and His righteousness. I am called to be holy as He is holy, but not out of fear of future judgment but by the Spirit who is playing out in me what Jesus has already done. It turns out I wasn't wrong about the group project but about who is in it. The group project only has two members: Jesus and me. And of those two members, Jesus did all the work and earned our group an A. Do I believe this? Do I trust it even though I don't see it fully realized yet?

He's in a group project with each of my family members also and He's got their work completed too. He hasn't sent me over to their table to check in on their progress or scold their work effort or time management. Nobody likes that kid, especially when that kid's A wasn't earned any more than those she's heading over to "help." I don't have to keep being the Gospel Heart Police or the Concern for the Law Police because the Holy Spirit is far more effective in inviting, calling, stirring, drawing, enticing, holding, keeping, connecting, and transforming their hearts.

This compelling grace doesn't address all the complexities of my kudzu disentanglement today nor does it exhaustively define God's role for us in community and the Body. But for today, it is the grace I need to unclench my fists, untighten my chest for deeper breathing, and to receive peace from the Father through the Spirit to offer that fruit to those around me instead of wrapping them in my kudzu. Like the words in the song, I can rest in the assurance that "I'm a child by grace and grace alone."


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