There are Internet memes involving cats. There are memes involving Star Wars (and surely a whole spate of new ones will flood cyberspace after the new movie comes out in December). And there are memes involving cats and Star Wars, like the one on the right.
Surely, there are days on which we feel just like our furry friend. We feel squeezed by circumstances and events at work, home, or both, and our health might not be up to par. How do we handle the pressure? What do others see?
In a recent post, we saw how the apostle Paul dealt with the numerous burdens associated with his calling: the beatings and imprisonments, the physical and mental exhaustion, the slanderous comments. By the grace of God, he not only survived, he thrived with a spirit of hope and joy.
That’s not a wry smile with a stiff upper lip. That’s not denial. And it’s certainly not just putting a good face on things. Paul truly sees himself as one who is already abundantly rich with everything that matters, because of Jesus (2 Cor 6:10). And he wants the believers in Corinth to think of themselves in the same way (1 Cor 3:21-23).
When I read Paul’s words, I can’t help but wonder: do people see that character in me? Do they see grace under pressure? Internally, I know myself to have a complaining, curmudgeonly spirit. Not always, thank God — a good sense of humor helps. But it troubles me to realize how little stress or inconvenience it takes to bring out the whiner in me.
Please understand: the last thing I want to do is set up a new rule for proper Christian behavior, like, “Don’t complain, because it’s not polite and it’s not what Jesus would do.” Who needs one more way to worry about how we’re not measuring up? And feeling guilty about complaining isn’t the best way to go about complaining less.
We need a different approach. Joy isn’t something achieved by hard work from the outside in; it’s the result of the transforming grace of the Spirit from the inside out. It’s not a matter of biting my lip to suppress that negative comment that wants to get out. In the long run, all that will get me is a bloody lip. My energy would be better spent praying for the eyes to see more clearly and consistently the riches I already have in Christ, such that all else pales in comparison.
For how can we embody graciousness, unless we are steeped in grace?