I have a couple of pieces on the go at the moment and I am happy with neither of them: hence the long gap since my last post. This, then, is a bit of a ramble – but then that’s sort of the point, isn’t it…?
I want to be better than I am. I want to be generous, brave, wise, loving, gentle and patient. I want to be fun, happy, honest, caring and strong. I want to be fit, energetic, kind, compassionate and sociable. Oh, and I want to be holy, too.
I have said before that I am cursed with a perfectionist streak and that this, when combined with my chronic idleness, is one of the chief reasons I get cross. This is glib, yes, but it is generally true and it often surfaces.
A close friend put me straight the other week when I was whinging (as is my wont) about how I wanted to do the right thing with my life but didn’t feel I was doing it. I was explaining how I thought God had a perfect ‘me’ in mind and that I was frustrated that I was not willing, or not able, to see the right life choices to take. My friend administered a cool splash of water to the ego. He suggested, ever so humbly, that maybe God did not really expect me to score 100% every time…
I have an idea of who I am, a self-image, and you have an idea who you are. We all have aspirations too, we have an idea of who we want to be. I have a tendency to focus on the gap between what I think I am now, the as-is me, and what I want to be, the to-be me. Unfortunately, this can be unhealthy when the as-is me and the to-be me are both defined by… er… me.
So, here’s the thing. God knows who we are, who we really are. He knows who we are and he loves us.
He knows who I am now. He knows me as the grumpy, selfish, lazy, good-for-nothing that I am and he loves me like crazy. Not the me that I want to be, not the me I wish I was, but the me I am now. He wants the best for me, yes, but he loves me now, not then.
Tony Campolo, the American preacher and university professor tells the story of when he asked a class to imagine what Jesus would say to a prostitute.
One of his students spoke up, “Dr Campolo, Jesus never met a prostitute.”
“Of course he did!” said Dr Campolo, proceeding to run through the scriptural references.
The student smiled, “But, Dr Campolo, do you think when Jesus met these women, he saw a prostitute?”
This is an important lesson about how we should perceive others in the same way that Jesus did. It is a profound truth that each person we meet is made in God’s image and loved so much, by God, that he gave his own son for his or her sake.
When I heard this story, like Dr Campolo, I was used to classifying and labelling the people Jesus met – the poor, the widows, the leper, the tax collector, the Pharisee, the prostitute. Not in a specifically judgemental way, but because that’s how we tend to deal with people – we put them in boxes: we simplify and generalise.
However, it is also about how we perceive ourselves – how the prostitute saw herself, I am certain, would contrast utterly with how she saw herself reflected in Jesus’ eyes. In many cases we deal with ourselves just as simplistically: we rate ourselves and label ourselves. Whether it is how I am succeeding at work, how good a parent I am, how good a son, how good a husband, how good a friend or even how good a Christian: the image I have is superficial, distorted and frequently unhelpful. It is also, most importantly, not God’s image of me.
So, whenever I am tempted to contemplate the gap between the as-is me and the to-be me I try and remember that there is a lot more to the as-is me than I might realise. However corrupt and spoiled I believe I am, however broken and damaged, God can see the beautiful, shining thing that is the real me – not a potential me, a to-be me, but the real, here and now me.
Jesus does not meet prostitutes and he does not meet mean, lazy, incompetent, overweight under-achievers either.