For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.
-2 Timothy 1:9
I haven't yet written about on of my more significant personal experiences of 2021. In early May, I ran my first ultramarathon, a 31 mile trail race through a huge wooded park near Philadelphia. Running is in my blood, my ancestry, and my muscles, and it's been a part of who I am for decades. I wanted to push my limits and I trained for months for this, building up carefully and continually, eating all the right foods, tracking caloric intake, and working out a hydration plan. I was all set to crush this thing.
But about 23 miles in on race day, something went wrong with my legs. My hamstrings uncharacteristically began cramping and I found myself in big trouble. Six times my muscles seized up and forced me to collapse and roll around on the side of the trail, groaning. If I was watching one of my kids do the same thing on the ground, I would have rolled my eyes and sighed, and said, "that's a little dramatic, don't you think? Are you done yet?" (Photo: historical re-enactment)
It was really pitiful. I mean it. Miles of getting up, hobbling around, and ending up on the ground again. Two compassionate women, both 20 years older than me, stopped to help me and give me some salt chews and energy gels.
As they passed me.
Wearing fanny packs.
In a race.
It's not the first time I've experienced being truly pitiful. And it won't be the last. And I'm learning to be thankful for that. Sometimes it's been reaching the limits of my body. Sometimes it's a family situation where I have to apologize for being in a bad mood simply because I wasn't motivated to get out of it. Sometimes it's admitting that I feel empty of vision and inspiration even though part of my job is to be the vision and inspiration guy. There are countless more moments. But the reality is the same for me, and possibly for you. Time and time again, whether we try to hide it or not, we make a lot of mistakes and we need a lot of help. Independence is a myth, and we're not always as capable as we pretend to be. We can be pretty pitiful.
I spend a lot of time on the opposite side of this spectrum, helping people to see just how capable and valuable they are in God's eyes, because outside voices have repeatedly eroded their inherent self-worth. That breaks my heart, because God has made us to partner in his kingdom of love and achieve some pretty great things, for sure. Humans truly are amazing.
And yet, none of us are beyond saving. And understanding that may be the most freeing truth knowable in today's world.
I will never forget a conversation with a mentor when I was in the early stages of launching our church. I was sharing all the ways I was overwhelmed by everything, failing at most of it, while also not really asking anyone for help, and feeling crushed inside. He sat across from me, looked me in the eye, and said "This is ridiculous. Does your church even know that you're saveable? Or do they think that you're above needing to be saved by Jesus?"
(I remember crickets chirping at this point)
It's ok to need to be saved, friends. It's ok to rest in the honesty of the many times that we reach our limits and aren't that impressive. It's ok to throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus for the first or 400th time, admitting that we are rather pitiful sometimes and don't know what to do or where to turn. It's ok to need to be rescued. In fact, it's the starting point for understanding God's kingdom. Ironically, our ability to acknowledge this and trust Jesus over and and over again is actually a movement toward maturity, not immaturity. How's that for an upside down reality?
God is eager to offer compassion to those willing to receive it, not casting judgment to the weak, but coming alongside them to restore them. Come to think of it, God is a little like those fanny pack ladies. They never once resorted to laughter at my pain or ridicule for being a foolish newbie who didn't know how to run an ultra yet. Only compassion, only understanding, only rescue.
Every time I come up against my pitifulness and ask Jesus to rescue me, I become restored again, motivated and empowered to "live a holy life" as Paul worded it. True internal experiences of God's grace will always lead to true external expressions of God's love in the world. What flows in will flow out. And in the end, our lives will reflect Jesus even more beautifully.
So if you're pitiful today, you're not alone. Nor are you beyond saving. God's eager to offer deep compassion. Go ahead and receive it, and live renewed once again.
Jesus, I acknowledge the places that I'm at the end of my rope, feeling pitiful. Bring your rescue, and move me toward your kingdom today.
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