Recently, while going through some old papers, I came across a poem by D.H. Lawrence that spoke to me some years ago. I was amazed at how it still speaks to my heart today.
I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,
And the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
And patience, and a certain difficult repentance,
Long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake,
And the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake
Which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.
When I re-read these words almost 20 years later, I realize the spiritual journey is a process of going deeper into the same wounded emotions, diseased attitudes, and default patterns of sin. Paul knew this well. “It happens so regularly and it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge” (Rom 7:21-23 MSG).
In his frustration Paul cries out, “Is there no one who can do anything for me?” (Rom. 7:24 MSG). Then he answers his own question with thanksgiving for God’s provision. “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different” (Rom 7:29 MSG).
Over the past 20 years, I have learned to embrace my fallen nature without falling into ditches on either side of the road. One is trying to understand and “fix” my faults out of my own strength. The second is resignation and despair in not being able to make a certain spiritual grade. Even as I write, I sense the freedom to acknowledge, “I am ill because of wounds to my soul.” These wounds take a long time to heal. Lawrence’s poem talks of patience, allowing for “a certain difficult repentance.”
I want to encourage each man reading this blog in finding freedom from “the endless repetition of the mistake.” I exhort you to keep your eyes on the One who loves you unconditionally and to not fall in line with the patterns of the culture which “mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.” Accept that you are still a work in progress.
My focus at this stage of my journey is not on my incapacity to do God’s will, but my capacity in Christ. Paul says it well, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). That’s capacity. Instead of sulking in my incapacity, I put my trust in God, who gives me the capacity to accomplish his will (it’s all grace).
For too long I have limited the horizon of my spiritual life, having spent years shriveled up in a corner, nursing my self-pity and fear of exposure. Now I am learning to celebrate the depth of God’s love for me despite my failures.
My cry is for God to be merciful as I continue to find freedom “from the endless repetition” of my mistakes, God is giving me the capacity to receive not his condemnation but his love. There is a new capacity to just be me… in Christ.