A friend and I once ate a 9 pound lobster on Martha’s Vineyard. It was the size of a small dog and had claws the size of my head. Later that day, a group of us toured the island on scooters named “Cobras,” which immediately inspired us to pretend we were the Cobra Kai from The Karate Kid. We zipped around that island like 12 year olds, waving at guys on Harleys as if, despite the candy apple red paint and insanely small mopeds we were all on, we were part of a larger brotherhood of bikers. They did not wave back.
I was reminded of this moment a few weeks ago while going through some photos.
The design firm putting together the visual story for the Quitter Conference asked me to find some personal photos they could include in the presentation. I’ve never included visuals with any talks I’ve given so this is uncharted/awesome territory.
But as I flipped through photo albums representing the years 2000-2005, I kind of got sick to my stomach.
It felt like I was watching a slow failure parade stream by.
Looking at all the photos, I thought about all the bridges I had burned with my bad attitude. All the people I had hurt with my words. All the mistakes I had made. It wasn’t a photo album. It was more like a crime scene report of wasted years. I pulled out one photo of me that made the one I posted last week look kindhearted. I showed it to my wife. Her reaction was immediate and visceral, “Ugh, I want to punch that guy in the face, don’t you?”
I did. I really did, and lying in bed that night, I felt constricted by a comforter of shame. As I fell asleep, I started to have a dream about those photos.
I was in Venice, Italy (less you think I mean Venice Beach, California since I’m so muscular and prone to using outdoor gyms.)
I was crouched down behind a low stonewall, occasionally crawling up, lifting my head cautiously over the ledge, to peer out across the canal at a facing wall. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but when I sat back down behind the safety of the barrier, I saw someone else crouched near me.
I couldn’t make out his face, he was covered in too many shadows, but he was watching and waiting for something too. The next time I looked over the wall, I saw what it was we were both anticipating. An army had suddenly amassed across the canal. Without warning, they opened fire on the guy next to me. Machine gun after machine gun, wave after wave of firepower rained down on the guy next to me. They started using cannons and bazookas and surface-to-air missiles.
And I was happy.
I hated that guy for some reason. He was everything I didn’t want to be, everything I didn’t like about me. And I thought to myself, “This time, they will get him. This time, he’ll be killed. He’ll be gone forever.”
But as the smoke cleared and stray bullets continued to ricochet about the cobble stone streets, I saw him scurrying away. He hadn’t even been hit! I chased after him, but he was too fast. He was always jumping just one ledge ahead of me. His feet knew the streets better than mine. He wove through crowded marketplaces and eventually dove in a canal, swimming away. Unscathed. Unharmed. Undeterred.
The more I thought about that dream, the more it felt like how my life unfolds sometimes.
When I look at photos of me from the past, I see the shadowed figure hiding behind the wall. I know he’s elusive. I know he’s tricky. But maybe this time, I’ll be able to get rid of him.
If I write the right thing, maybe he’ll go away. If I say the right thing or read the right book or pray the right thing or talk to the right person, maybe a bullet will finally catch him.
But then I lie again. Then I get fearful again and lash out at somebody. Then I make a mistake. Then I fail again, and the me I don’t want to be flees through the city.
The progress I’ve made, the work I’ve done, the countless blogs I’ve written about how the old is gone and the new has come, feel for naught. He’s loose in the streets, and I feel too weak to keep fighting.
I tell God, “I’m sorry. I thought I had him beat this time. I really did. By now, I shouldn’t doubt you the way I do. I shouldn’t chase after the things I do. If I were a better Christian, I’d stop getting these simple, fundamental things so wrong. I might be the worst Christian ever. I’m sorry I keep messing life up.”
I expect him to give me a speech. A “Pick yourself up and chase him tomorrow. You’ve got to do better next time tiger” after-school-type moment. But that is not what I get. Instead, I get the Bible, and that messes everything up.
Here is what the Bible says about people like me, people who are continually messing up and having an impossible time being perfect:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (Paul’s thorn in the flesh) away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Can we please agree that is ridiculous? We serve a God, who when confronted with our continual weakness replies, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Have you ever messed up, have you ever stumbled back into a hole you’ve been in 19 times before, and upon hitting the bottom, thought to yourself, “When I fell, I landed on grace, and right now, in this moment, God’s power is being made perfect!”
I haven’t! I am a works-based assassin trying to kill the me I don’t want to be in the city of my life. But what if instead of taking out a gun, what if instead of grabbing a scalpel of effort every time I realize how weak I still am, I grabbed a banner?
A boastful banner like Paul grabbed in 2 Corinthians 12 that read:
“I am still weak! Grace is still sufficient! And God’s power is being made perfect right now!”
That’s where I’m headed in life.
More banners. Less guns.
More grace. Less works.
More boasting. Less hiding.
Want to come with me?