Accepting the Things I Cannot Change: Revolutionary Thinking
I just celebrated my birthday. It wasn’t a milestone birthday, or anything special. Just a plain ol’ birthday. I’ve always liked that idea that my birthday is on Halloween, since it meant that the focus was not primarily on me, but is shared by all the other kids in their costumes who are also getting “treats” of their own (an introvert’s dream)!
Halloween is also known as “Reformation Day”, in celebration of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Luther’s years of wrestling with the ideas of grace, penance, salvation, and eventual hope in “grace alone” is considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. We recognize and celebrate our gracious inheritance in our faith, but Luther paid the price of arriving at this glorious revelation through his lifetime of struggling. And that is the life of those who reform: It is from their embrace of their own struggles towards liberation that others can enjoy freedom as well.
Whenever a birthday rolls around, my brother and I often find ourselves wondering how our mother raised us the way she did. She never followed any book or plan. Nor did she do anything the “right” way. She struggled through it all: her own childhood poverty, dysfunctional family, single parenthood, impairing health issues, abuses, rejections, and the list could go on. She never claimed to have it all together, because she couldn’t – No one would have believed her anyway. She struggled.
It was during some of her dark struggles that my brother and I grew up. We were old enough to know enough to realize that Life isn’t fair but, as she often reminded us, “God is good”. She struggled, yes, but that is not the full story. The struggles were not the hero of the story; the struggling through is.
Yes, we saw the struggling and endured our own struggles as well. But most importantly, we saw how our Mother struggled through until she reached a place of inner acceptance and peace. We were the witnesses to her process of being changed…and in that was the beauty of the struggle.
This is what Martin Luther knew as well: People do not arrive at some blissful state by eliminating the struggles. Instead, it is in embracing the struggle that we find what we are looking for anyway: Jesus. Accepting that we will struggle through adversity until we reach Heaven’s shores is an important part of our journey here. It is the way in which God “turns our mourning into gladness” and the means through which God uses those things the enemy meant for our destruction into good.
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” ― Martin Luther
We are all going “through”. The struggle is the process. No need to grovel or excuse or give up. There is a deep rest within the soul that endures beyond the wrestling when we accept that the struggle itself will not gain the glory in the end. It is merely the struggling through that will accomplish that which is glorifying to God and liberating to the burdened heart.
This idea that I must have a peaceful Life in order to experience peace is not a Biblical teaching. In fact, it’s the opposite. And this, in a watered-down way, is the truth that Martin Luther had to accept in order to struggle through in his wrestle towards drafting his 95 Theses. I am unrighteous, period. Therefore, I cannot save myself by any means – doomed without redemption outside of my own efforts. Christ alone is worthy and is able to save to the uttermost. Grace through faith is the only way to receive His gift.
Much of my wanting to be better, do better, feel better, and help others to have better and be better stems from the idea that I am able to conduct my surroundings in such a way that will allow me to change what God has designed for me. I wrestle constantly with wanting things to be easier, less complicated, and less demanding. There are times that I know that these feelings are justified, and indicate a need for some sort of change on my part. But, 9 times out of 10, the change that needs to take place is not a rearrangement of schedule or circumstances, but of reorienting of my heart towards accepting what God has laid before me. It’s the acceptance of the struggle I see before me as the process by which God will continue to sanctify me.
Balancing the “Reformer Spirit” and the “Obedient Servant” in me is a daily struggle. Literally. And birthdays are reminders for me that this is most likely a struggle that will follow me till I reach Heaven. Yet, I am reminded that it was in Martin Luther’s acceptance of his struggle that he sparked a revolution. He reformed what was bent and broken as he struggled through it within himself first, and was changed in the process. God is interested in reforming our hearts, even more so than us reforming the world. (Indeed, how can we do the latter without the former?)
So, as I wrap up my birthday celebrations and survey what I deem as chaos and hardship in my life, I am challenging myself to a new acceptance. Praying that I may be changed by my struggle through them, I find comfort in remembering, “I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide” (Martin Luther).