One might imagine the opening act, of an empowered spiritual life, involved a stage where only privileged characters get the choicest roles, those with big names and phenomenal ministries. Mostly, the opposite is true. In fact, a large portion of our work operates behind the curtains of our thought life. It’s not outward appearances that matter. It’s those pesky inner ones.
Being empowered goes the wrong direction of the world. So much so, we ourselves feel forever stuck, in a rehearsal of sorts, as our world closes in around us and grows smaller. Spiritual change begins inside, before it surfaces out.
When I first surrendered to such a life, I learned things about myself I’d rather forget. And oddly enough, it’s this knowing my depravity which also has potential to empower me. If I had ever thought highly of myself, I no longer do.
In my prodigal years, a time where I thought I was a good-enough person who had her salvation-ticket, I once said, “I will never do (fill in the blank).” I was better than that. I drew a line at fill-in-the-blank. It would not be me. I may not be in church (or if I was), at least I hadn’t done fill-in-the-blank. I meted out a standard for goodness. And fill-in-the-blank was nowhere to be found. I measured goodness as only going this far and anything beyond that, was beyond my ability to cross. The buck would stop there.
I was a prodigal-pharisee in my own right.
But in time, the further I went down the slippery rope of lifestyle choices, I did it. I did fill-in-the-blank. I didn’t rush there, no. I came to it in baby steps. In fact, I walked right up too it and looked it in the eye. I wasn’t cautious. Why should I be?
However, once I realized the err of my ways, I didn’t instantly change. I didn’t turn right then and run back to God. Instead, I struggled to hold on to my life and resisted. I wanted to fix myself because now I really knew, I was culpable.
Yet in time, with more failure, I grew weary.
This week, my husband and I watched Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. In a scene with Yoda and Luke Skywalker, Yoda lay dying next to Skywalker. Luke, ready to complete his Jedi training before Yoda died, wanted instruction. Yoda simply stated that Luke was done training. I paraphrase, but it went something like this:
“Does that mean I’m now a Jedi?” Luke asked.
“No, this one thing you first must do,” Yoda half-whispered, half-rasped, poetic-ly.
Eyebrows furrowed, Luke raises his voice. “What would that be?”
Yoda steadies his voice back at Luke. “Fail,” he pauses slightly and adds, “You must fail. Then a Jedi you will be.”
Failure meant that I discovered myself incapable. I needed the active, breathing power of the Holy Spirit to live this life down here. I recognized my lack of strength to resist the enemy or my own piety, alone.
We do not have to fail to be empowered. But let me tell you, if we ever need to be knocked down a peg, failure is there to help. Failure can be our friend if it’s the right kind, the kind teaching us a lesson about our self. Strangely enough, success can have the same effect for good. But let’s not resort to worldly definitions of either.
We have a Hope, to be or not to be. And in so being, as the Body, we are spread out in many places. That’s why we should never compare our spiritual work to the worldly stage of status and standing ovations. The world is too greedy for such noble endeavors.