Thursday, July 3, 2014

More of Him, Less of Me

A few years ago, shortly after the birth of my second child, the following words of the Apostle John struck me with renewed impact: "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30).

The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12). Sometimes, hearing a familiar verse we may have already heard many times can impact us unexpectedly with more clarity and power than ever before.

This was the case for me one day when I was in the midst of struggling with what I've come to look back on as my most difficult year so far as a parent. The transition from a one-child to a two-child family is a uniquely challenging time that many mothers (and fathers) can relate to. Juggling the pressing needs of both a toddler and an infant at the same timeespecially for the first timeis no small feat!

And it seemed like I was floundering through every minute of every day, each of which I counted down frantically until my husband came home. What made it all the more challenging was that my new baby was a constant, inconsolable screamer. I remember a sympathetic friend saying to me once, "Oh, I am so sorry..." when she encountered the nails-on-a-blackboard screeching noise that was erupting from the little red face in my arms. I found it so hard that sometimes, out of desperation, I would put both the kids in the car and drive around aimlessly with ear plugs in! (In fact, they were industrial-grade ear protection muffs that I had found in the garage). I remember my husband calling me one time, when I was out on one of these destination-less drives, complaining that he was battling rush hour traffic in the rain and he'd be late. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I found myself  screaming down the phone above the child-generated cacophony, "Well, I'm driving around in rush hour traffic in the rain BY CHOICE, because ANYTHING is better than being at home right now!!!!"

In fact, there is much of that year that I can't even remember. Maybe, I had found it so traumatic that I've actually blocked it out! So much so that when I had my third baby recently, I realized that I was leaning on all my experience from my first infant because I couldn't hardly remember anything about my time with the second!

But it was during this time that God blessed me with what have become life-changing words for me. The phrase, "More of Him, less of me," started surfacing in my mind with increasing frequency and impact during that year. Sometimes, when I felt like I was suffocating, I would take a moment to breath in, praying, more of You, and breath out, less of me. It was a short, but profoundly calming prayer in the midst of the chaos.

John 3:30 has since become a "life verse" for me. I love it because it keeps my eyes fixed on Him (and not so much on myself). It shows me that where I am weak, He is strong. When I am empty, He fills me up. It reminds me that God doesn't need me to do anything for Him (because He's God!), but He allows me to enjoy the privilege of serving Him and He equips me to do His work. It reminds me that my identity needs to be in Him, not in my self-image or in how the world see me. He repeatedly shows me that the more I die to myself, the more I truly live in Him, for to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). And the more I let go of control, the more freedom I actually have in Him.

The concept of seeking to honor and glorify God as opposed to seeking self-advancement, or self-truth, is counter-cultural and goes against the grain of human nature. Society will tell us to "put ourselves first," and that "we deserve the best life has to offer." We'll often hear that we are slaves to religious dogma and prisoners to our restrictive Christian beliefs. And our hearts may tell us to please ourselves, and disregard God's Word. But the human heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9). And this temporal world that has rejected Christ will one day be gone. To die to self is to set our hearts and minds on what is eternal.

Jesus spoke repeatedly to His disciples about taking up their cross (a symbol of self-sacrifice) and following Him. He made it clear that if anyone would follow Him, they must deny themselves, which means surrendering their lives—spiritually, symbolically, and even physically, if necessary. He taught that those who would give up their life for His sake would find eternal life, but those who would cling onto their life would lose it (Matthew 16:24–25; Mark 8:34–35). Indeed, Jesus even went so far as to say that those who are unwilling to sacrifice their lives for Him cannot be His disciples (Luke 14:27).

That first year of my second daughter's life was a time of  struggle that brought me closer to God. The trials of this life can bring us closer to Him because they remind us of our dependence on Him. Understanding our true dependence on Him helps us die to self. We are encouraged, therefore, even to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom 5:3-5).  And it is Christ who the source of our hope.

And so, it is in the midst of emotional turmoil and overwhelming trials that we can truly experience the peace that passes understanding, for such peace makes no logical sense and transcends our circumstances. It interrupts our frenzied thoughts. In our moments of weakness and desperation, God's strength can be powerfully realized. These experiences show us that we can truly do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil 4:12-14). These experiences humble us.

To me, the desire for, "more of Him, less of me," encapsulates the gospel, indicating that while I have a problem (a sinful heart), He has the solution (Christ). It is a good way to remember that "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20).

...And despite a bit of a rough start, by the way, our second daughter has blossomed into a sweet, loving child!

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