My parents taught me to finish what I started. They told me not to give up. When I failed, they encouraged me to try harder. This is how 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles are put together. Trying harder is how spaghetti sauce jars are loosened, lawnmowers are started, and marriages are fixed. This is how you wait through tough circumstances and watch for people to come around. Problem is, sometimes it just doesn’t work.
We took a small child into our home a few years ago after we found out she was being abused. We felt God had compelled our compassion toward her. So we rolled up our sleeves and tried hard to love her well. I was determined. I wanted to finish what I started and not give up—until last year.
At that point, the cumulative effect of years of her pain had taken its toll on me. It pushed me down nostril deep in the dirt. Not giving up was not possible. I had to give up every day. I had to collapse on my bed, admit defeat, and begin planning my attack for the next day. And those plans began to feel more and more like choosing a new spot to bang my head against a wall.
Trying harder was not working—it was just tiring.
Part of my exhaustion was grief. I was mourning the dreams of how I thought my family should be. I was mourning the peace that had been displaced in our home by battles, bombs, explosions and rubble. I couldn’t move forward. I could only allow myself to be tormented by the loss, rather than accepting it.
What was worse is that since my view was that God had charged us to care for this kiddo, I was angry with God. Why wasn’t he helping me?
I started thinking that maybe God wasn’t exactly like my parents. I don’t think he wants us to always try harder and never give up. I think he knows that some things can’t be finished. The way he worked out our salvation was not dependent on us trying. He did all the trying and the never giving up. He finished that.
But I didn’t like being saved and still feeling miserable. I wanted peace. I had to work on the miserable. I realized I was standing on the beach yelling at the ocean for washing away my sand sculpture.
So I started working on each moment. I started trying harder to appreciate the tiny things that were okay. I breathed through the trials. I prayed more. And I tried to be okay with giving up and just falling back into the Lazy Boy recliner of God’s grace and providence.
Instead of trying harder, I worked on dependency. (I realize that’s oxymoronic.) But it helped me focus more on God’s power and work on believing in his all-knowing and all-loving ways.
I’m trying not to throw fits on the beach. I’m trying to look out at the ocean and trust.
Rebecca Barnes is the curriculum director for Summit Kids Ministry at Flatirons. She is married to an amazing man, who encourages her faith and listens to her typing a lot. She has three daughters and a son-in-law who she likes to cook for. She lives in Old Town Lafayette because it’s a little eclectic, like her.