Growing Into Christ

I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but I’m still a baby in some ways.

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—” (I Peter. 2:2, ESV)

I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but I’m still a baby in some ways. Like my five-month-old niece Madison, when I feel needy, crying is frequently the first thing that comes naturally. Parents of newborns talk a lot about teaching the baby to self-soothe; this seems to be what David references in the beautifully minimalistic Psalm 131 (ESV):

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

I am learning in my needy moments to calm and quiet my soul, remembering that God has never let me down yet. Remembering that that thing I’m so anxious about is perhaps not something God intends for me to fix. Remembering that God is the hero of the story, not me.

Those who share my perfectionist tendencies will understand when I say that my life has been a turbulent pursuit of excellence. Good grades. Artistic achievement. Meticulous attention to detail. And “Being Good.” It’s ironic that even the praise-worthy pursuit of holiness can become a toxic thing in the heart of a perfectionist. At first, I was energized by my goals because I really believed I could achieve them. I just needed to try a little harder.

A few years ago, I crashed when ten years’ worth of life goals crumbled around me. Emotionally and physically exhausted, I cried out to God, “Why did you let this happen? I only ever tried to please you!” And at the bottom of that mental pit, I became very aware that I would never, ever, ever be beautiful enough to please God. As I limped (crawled?) out of that pit (not by way of a rescue rope, as I hoped, but by a long, circuitous, gently-sloping path), something became horribly clear:

I had been dressing up a dead body. I had been feverishly painting make-up on a rotting corpse.

This is a mystery of faith to me, that it took me 30-some years of believing to really see that every day I must get up and dress myself in Jesus. It’s my only hope of being beautiful. It’s absolutely no good for me to start each day with good resolutions: “Today I will be kind to so-and-so. Today I will trust God for the future.” It’s no good for me to make checklists of the progress I am going to make or to memorize chapter after chapter of the Bible. (Though this is certainly an admirable and beneficial thing to do!)

None of it’s any good unless I throw out any idea of my own beauty to become totally mesmerized by His. None of it means a thing unless I come confidently to God wearing Jesus. This is what it means when it says “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (I Pet. 2:6, ESV). Because what is more shameful than having the all the decorative glitter stripped away and finding out you are dead inside?

Speaking of long, circuitous routes, all this brings me to the verse I shared at the beginning, the reason for this post in the first place.

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—” (I Peter. 2:2, ESV)

I can’t stop thinking about that phrase, “grow up into salvation.” This is perhaps the first time I’ve read this verse it in my ESV-reading years. (Other versions have slightly different renderings.) But I keep picturing it like this: Me, a tiny newborn baby, or maybe I’m a toddler perhaps, dressing up in Jesus. And He’s so gloriously beautiful and amazing that I don’t fit Him. He falls in waves of extra fabric around me. The salvation He offers is totally mine; I’m wearing it already. But there’s abundant room for me to grow into it.

And I am so the little kid who wants to fit her parent’s shoes.

Shepherds

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

11Shepherds.jpg
The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Giorgione

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

There was glory on the hillside, that they knew—
But the light has faded—can this be the place?
Go inside, one says, and cough a little—
They are only shepherds, and only a few.

Outside the wind sways the bowed brush low
Murmering deference—blessing—prayer.
It swirls the loose hay on the rough stone floor
And lifts the ruff of a placid cow.

Oh chill air, tingle with this child’s strong cry—
Oh stars, burn clearer in greeting Him
Whom the universe thrilled to, time ago
When first it sang its created song!

At dawn, the plowman will creak from his bed—
Stretching as always in the cold half-light.
And his wife will turn her hair up in a knot
And pin it wearily, so she can make bread.

And the innman, who counted his money and smiled
Last night will count it again today
And fasten the bag with a satisfied shake—
Only shepherds gaze at the newborn child.

Slowly the light of the new day grows
Warming the mouth of that place, where, tired,
The mother sits and rocks her son
And thinks a little, and knows what she knows.

And leaving, one shepherd lags from the rest
Inhuman voices still ring in his ears
His unseeing eyes bright from within—
From the daystar light that still burns in his chest.

© 2003 Deborah King