(Christian Courier column, June 24th, 2013 issue)
Did the title trigger a blip on your TULIP radar? Are familiar verses crossing your mind: “. . . all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” or “There is not one who does good, not even one?” Don’t worry. I’m not about to argue with Scripture or Calvin (hence the quotes around “good deed”).
My “good deed” log really exists. It originated, in fact, because the truth of those verses impacted me so profoundly. I was spiritually depressed. The challenges of teaching and parenting had left me depleted. My prayers seemed to vaporize unheeded. I was disappointed in the immoral conduct of Christian leaders. I was disappointed in myself. Decades after my profession of faith, I was still battling the same old sins: envy, talking too much (OK, gossip), being too opinionated (OK, pride). Where was that sanctification I’d learned about in catechism? I didn’t see enough of it in others or myself. Pivotally, my Christian life was clearly not winsome enough to win those I loved to Christ. That’s what was really killing me.
There were mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed or to go to church. Once upon a time I’d been more optimistic. I believed, and not glibly, that God would “turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world.” Now I was hanging on by bleeding fingernails, glaring balefully up at an inscrutable Divinity.
A gradual change in my attitude, a smallish miracle, hinged on two sentences. In Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey quotes Abraham Heschel: “Faith like Job’s cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.” That statement reverberated loudly in my hollowness. Yes! That’s the kind of faith I wanted. The only thing worse than a straining faith in an incomprehensible God, I resolved, was no faith and no God at all. Disappointment with God was preferable to disappointment without him (and with that came a whole new appreciation of Yancey’s clever title).
The other sentence came from Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner: “Sometimes when we are alone, thoughts come swarming into our heads like bees – some of them destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, some of them creative and glad. Which thoughts do we choose to think, then, as much as we have the choice? Will we be brave today or a coward today? Not in some big way probably but in some small foolish way, yet brave still. Will we be honest today or a liar? Just some pint-sized honesty, but honest still.”
The whimsy of “small foolish bravery” and “pint-sized honesty” appealed to my deflated spirit. From Yancey, a microscopic speck of resolute faith. From Buechner, a downsized sanctification – one small good deed a day. My log would be living proof that, although no Enoch, I still walked with God.
The list ranges from the pious to the ridiculous. Here’s a brief excerpt:
cleaned up after Seniors’ Dinner
canvassed for diabetes
went to church to fix photocopier 3x
bulletin board at church
prayer partner for Serve
thank you note to Music Committee
engaged D. in conversation (merits the mention because it was like pulling teeth!)
picked up trash on my walk – a cardboard wrapper for a Playtex Super-Look Smooth-Fit No-Panty-Line Size M White Panty, two Bulk Barn flyers, and the cardboard package for a Leapfrog Activity Storybook: Dora Goes to School (windy blue box day)
Incrementally, as I focused on the small good things I could do and not so much on the things I couldn’t, as I traded in my to-do list for God for his to-do list for me, God began to look like himself again. Not the severe Sovereign who delegated impossibly herculean tasks to me like “win others to Christ” or “eradicate all sin from your life,” but a faithful Father who ruled the world by his own “eternal counsel and providence,” upon whose purview I’d been guilty of encroaching. Or, more likely, I was starting to look like myself again, finding a humility in my faith to replace humiliation.
The Heidelberg Catechism rightly teaches that good deeds are not payments on a salvation plan. They are living “thank you” notes to God for our redemption in Christ. I know that. But it’s droll, isn’t it, that two small sentences were the providential tools to aerate my tramped-down Reformed soul? Zechariah says, “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” Not me. I’m all about the day of small things.