There's an old saying that I have come not to like very much:
"Where there's a will, there's a way."
Your mother or grandmother or teacher or dad maybe told you this one time. You were maybe about to give up, give in, throw in the towel, and as an act of encouragement they reminded you that if you just really wanted it, if you really had the will power, you could get what to that point you had not.
Maybe you've even said this yourself. You were trying to provide healthy counsel and trying to be encouraging. You were concerned because you thought your child, spouse, or friend was giving up to easily. "Maybe they really don't want their life to change," you thought. Maybe they really just need to want it more, to be more committed.
Here's the thing. I don't think it's true a lot of the time. In fact, I think this little proverb tells the story of a worldview that is really contrary to the gospel. Too strong? Maybe. But think of these things for a moment. What is this teaching? It's teaching that if you just have enough mental or spiritual fortitude that you can push through anything. With the power of positive thinking and true commitment, you can really make it happen. What, then, happens when you fail? What if you really did give it everything you have and you still couldn't make it happen? Then... who is the failure? You are. In fact, then you're just not good enough, not smart enough, and dog-gone it... (there I go, into old Saturday Night Live skits). This little phrase which rolls off our tongues without thinking helps to create a worldview in our psyche's and souls that tells us that when we don't succeed, it is because we didn't try hard enough.
A friend of mine used to call this the, "You suck. Do better, try harder" theology. If you've read the bible, you know it as the theology of the Pharisees. It is the theology of most religions in which, if you didn't do well enough then you don't get into the right heaven, or you get to try over again in a new life, or you didn't do the rule exactly right. Not only that, but it creates in us an anxiety about performance and perfection which leads so often to our sense of worth, our identity, and our acceptance.
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain...
Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace finds beauty
Grace finds goodness
U2 got it right in this song. (Interesting to me to note that this song is an album entitled "All That You Can't Leave Behind" which begins with "Beautiful Day," hits the cry for "Peace on Earth" about 3/4 of the way through, and culminates with the album's final song, "Grace.") Our identity, our success, our worth, our happiness, our ability, and even our willpower come not from some inner well of just-do-it-better-cause-I-can-try-harder place from the giver of all good things, the Father of heavenly lights. [James 1:17] James tells us that this God does not change like the shifting shadows, or like our flimsy willpower or our so-called circumstantial social status or the blessing of our socially constructed educational gifts due to our birthplace. Grace comes from God alone. Everything comes from him as a gift. Listen to how Nouwen says it in the preface to Space for God by Don Postema:
What else can unite us but a common recognition that all that is, is a divine gift calling forth from us words and actions of Thanks? ... This is the mystery of gratitude. What is accepted with thanksgiving multiplies in the sharing of it with others.
Think just for a moment of the freedom comes from living life as a gift. Maybe for a moment, understanding that the fate of life does not rest upon your own willpower can provide you the space to listen to the One who longs to give to you bread, not stones and fish, not snakes. [Luke 11:9-13] Luke suggests a different worldview - a worldview of asking and receiving, receiving and recognizing the giver, recognition and praise and thanksgiving and wonder and awe and love. Sounds better to me anyday than "do better, try harder."
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