There are many words that we can say with a positive feeling – growing, learning, patience, or courage. Any reasonable person would think it was a good thing to have more of these qualities. We look up to people who have these qualities and impress their importance upon our children.
Yet each one of them is unpleasant to attain. Growing means I haven’t arrived yet. Learning requires acknowledging areas of ignorance. Patience can only be expressed in the presence of an agitant. Courage reveals that I am afraid.
I believe it was this paradox that drove the Beatitudes. Think about this list of words and phrases: poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, pure in heart, and peacemakers. Jesus said these were blessed dispositions.
They are blessed not because they are pleasant, but because they are worthy and they are evidences of the kind of life we were designed to live. They force us to live authentically in community and acknowledge our weaknesses. When we do that, we are blessed.
The challenge is not to put pleasant experiences ahead of character. We want both and we can have both, but only when one (character) comes first. This is such a basic truth. We teach it to our children every time they complain about studying. It is the foundation of any program of budgeting, dieting, or fitness.
But we all try to cheat the system, and we all doubt it when we are at the beginning or middle of the process. We think, “This is good. I feel fear, insecurity, doubt, etc…” That is when we need the courage (a good word with unpleasant experience) to admit our doubt to people who will remind us of what is true.
Yet it is the doubt that would cause us to shrink back and become fake or offensive to those who should be our ally. If we become offensive (allowing our fear to express itself as anger), then push away those who could be our encouragement and experience the guilt we feared for now legitimate reasons. If we become fake (allowing our fear to cause us to hide), then we are unable to receive the encouragement given because it is not able to fit our actual experience.
The point is not to be naïve about the “good words” of life. They are good, but they are not easy. And this is for good reason; every good thing is a reflection of our Holy God. I will not ever measure up to good, because I was not created to compete with goodness, but to surrender to it and worship it. But this worship and surrender is not to a standard or concept, but to embodiment of good – Jesus Christ.
It is this realization that allows me to fall forward (whether falling is the bowing of worship or the repentance after sin) towards good. I am relieved of the burden of goodness (I have been given the righteousness of Christ, Romans 5:17) and free for the chase after the character of my Father like any child longs to be like their Papa (Ephesians 5:1).
This childlike imitation is probably the only time when the effort to become “good” is not a burden, but remains the sheer delight it was intended to be. May we be content to chase hard after God and His character like the beloved children we are.