I left for church this morning feeling pretty frumpy. After turning off my first three alarms, I finally forced myself out of bed twenty minutes before I needed to leave. I took the world’s fastest shower using a 2-in-1 shampoo + conditioner and opting to not shave my legs. As a result, I chose to forgo the cute Jcrew dress I had planned on wearing, and ended up in rolled up jeans, vans that I think at one point were white, and a grey v-neck t-shirt. I wore my hair down to try to look more like a girl but I don’t think it helped much as I am still in the painfully unfortunate post-bob, pre-long-again awkward hair stage.
The first song that played was one I hadn’t heard of and I quickly found myself thinking not of the words on the screen, nor preparing my heart for worship, but rather, envying the girl at the microphone’s perfectly curled, gorgeous red hair while simultaneously over-analyzing a conversation I’d had the night before with the cute boy sitting next to me.
And I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to get to the point where I’m not distracted by such ridiculous things while at CHURCH.”
As if one of these days I’m going to finally get it right – finally be spiritual enough to pay full attention during worship – and while I’m at it, finally mature enough to wake up with enough time to look like a presentable human being at church on Sunday mornings.
I try to refocus on the music.
Then I remember the iced coffee sitting invitingly in the Starbucks cup resting between my feet and try to inconspicuously reach down and take a sip. I’ve been feeling pretty convicted lately about how I spend my money and have made multiple mental plans (that have thus far had zero actionable consequences) to stop paying $4 every day for this drink and finally get on a dang budget. Because the Bailey who budgets will be so much less constrained by finances and materialistic struggles than current Bailey is. What freedom there will be when I get there..
And as any other insecure, totally distracted, and apparently completely uninterested in worshipping female would do in that moment, I started wondering how many calories were in the soy milk that goes in the iced coffee I was drinking. I really need to start counting calories again, I thought. Luckily whenever I do start budgeting and subsequently stop going to Starbucks everyday, that will cut out however many calories this is and hopefully I can finally get back to the weight I was my freshman year of college. I can’t wait to be that thin again. Because the girl who doesn’t go to Starbucks every day also doesn’t skip workouts so she can read in her bed or order goat cheese dumplings at dinner with her parents or have breakfast tacos and beer as a 3pm snack like the current, heavier, less attractive Bailey did this weekend. (She also, I would assume, doesn’t eat an ENTIRE BAG of Boom Chicka Pop kettle corn while writing a blog.)
The band starts up again. Finally a song I know. Focus. Focus. Focus.
“My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.”
It takes about three times through before I finally register the words that I’m singing.
And then when I do, I realize that I’m lying. I don’t mean a word of that verse. And it had never been more clear to me than in that moment just how much of a lie it really was.
It’s hard to be in any way involved in the Christian community without hearing some sermon or reading some blog or listening to some podcast about all the things we are susceptible to putting our hope in other than Jesus. Money, success, relationships, work, beauty, talent, and on and on and on. And as any other person who is trying to love Jesus but is a sinner by nature, I have struggled with almost every one of those things and have, by the grace of God, been able to see just how empty they truly are.
But what I had not realized until this morning, was that the thing that I’m really putting my hope in – the “sweetest frame” that I am ultimately trusting – is not Jesus, nor is it any of those things listed above, but it’s me. It’s the future version of myself that surely I’m going to turn into one of these days. That’s who I’m trusting in – to bring me joy and security and happiness. I am in love with a future version of myself. And I’m forgetting the work of the cross.
That savior – this Jesus – is wholly perfect and infinitely wise and staggeringly gracious. He is loving and redemptive. Humble to the point of death. Merciful and sovereign and faithful in all his ways. He is not distant. He is not vindictive. And he does not fail. He is Jesus. And he is our only hope and savior.
But I, paralyzed by my awareness of how big my thighs look in these jeans, weighed down by the guilt of how much money I’ve spent on food and coffee this week, and remarkably distracted by thoughts of all my shortcomings, I choose not to put my hope in that savior, but rather to hope in the future version of me that I think will actually be the one to make things right again.
Future Bailey will be thin enough that any pair of jeans will fit well and be flattering. She’ll be able to throw on a t-shirt and still look good. But she’ll also be confident enough in herself to not really care about what she looks like so it won’t really matter that much anyway. She’ll be much more hospitable and better at small talk with people she doesn’t know well. She’ll wash the sheets on her bed more often and stand up for herself when her hair dresser didn’t do quite what she had asked him to do. She’ll host fabulous dinner parties where she can showcase Real Simple recipes and her ability to make people feel welcomed and valued. She’ll be better about getting her oil changed when she’s supposed to and about diligently praying for the people around her on a daily, hourly basis. She’ll have a great job, be really good at tennis, and probably be married to a guy who also has a great job and is also really good at tennis. But even if she’s not, she’ll be content and joyful and thankful for what the Lord has given her. She’ll read more books, disciple more people, run a couple marathons and not kill every plant that she buys. She’ll stop after one or two glasses of wine and always go to bed at a reasonable hour. So she can wake up in time to get ready for church. And not get distracted by hairstyles or cute boys. And worship more freely, pray more earnestly, believe more fervently.
But all so that she can be her own savior. So that she can control the opinions of those around her. So that she will be well-liked and well-respected. So that she can secure her own happiness.
O how wicked is this heart of mine.
The truth is, I know myself well enough to know that I will likely never accomplish all of those things (certainly not without the help of Jesus), but that even if I did, it would still not be enough to save me. A better-looking, friendlier, and even more Godly version of myself is still ultimately wicked and deserving of the wrath of God. She will still fail, still hurt people, and still fall unimaginably short of the righteousness that is required for reconciliation to the God of the universe. She will still be lost and still be prone to wander. She will still need Jesus. In every moment of every day.
So why then am I so apt to put my hope in her – who up to this point has never been able to improve enough to earn God’s favor or even to secure lasting happiness and joy for herself – instead of in the one who has already proved himself worthy and able to save?
Why are my sights set so off course that I am madly in love with an idea in my head of who I want to one day become rather than in love with him who has rescued me from deep, terrifying, all-consuming darkness?
And how is it that he is still, in light of my idolatry and lack of reverence for him, gracious enough to me to open my eyes to see where my hope truly lies? Such that I might repent and fix my eyes upon him instead. Him, the one who saves. And who has already secured for me all that is needed for godliness and contentment.
I do not think that it is inherently wrong to desire to change and to improve and to be better about certain things. I do want to be a better host and gardener and tennis player and friend. I do want to be a wife and to spend my money wisely and to not call a rice cake and two handfuls of chocolate chips dinner more times than I care to admit. But I want to do all of those things as I grow in my affection for Christ, as I humbly walk in the light of his sanctification, and as I trust in the work that he has done on the cross as the only thing that saves and redeems and secures.
Not so that I may be well-liked or well-respected or control the opinions of those around me or secure my own happiness.
But rather, as a response to the grace that has been given to me in Jesus, that he may be glorified for what he has done for us on the cross, that his name may be made great.
Let me not be drunk on the prideful self-exaltation of misdirected hope.
But be humbly and worshipfully grounded by the anchor that holds within the veil. The anchor of Jesus. The anchor of the cross.