Following in the Footsteps of Jesus

Not long ago, my pastor finished a sermon series on the Gospel of Luke. Throughout our two-year study, many of us in the congregation read Luke multiple times. It wasn’t until my last time through the book, though, that I found myself re-examining one story. Actually, a series of stories.

In Chapter Eight, Jesus and the disciples board a boat headed for the country of the Gerasenes. In the midst of a much-needed rest, Jesus is shaken awake by His followers, and calms a storm that has made them fear for their lives. The water once again tranquil, they eventually land, and immediately encounter a demon-possessed man. Jesus commands the demons to leave, but agrees to let them possess some nearby pigs…which, naturally, causes consternation amongst the locals. After instructing the newly-restored and grateful man to tell others what has happened, Jesus (at the request of the locals) departs.

Upon his return, Jesus meets an eager crowd and is petitioned to heal the ailing young daughter of a man named Jairus. On His way to do so, Jesus stops in the middle of a crowd to heal a woman suffering from chronic bleeding. After speaking with her, He proceeds to Jairus’ home, where the girl has already died and the household is weeping. Jesus soothes the mourners, then restores Jairus’ daughter to life.

These stories reveal a great deal about Jesus — about His power over nature, over evil, over sickness and even death. However, as I read Luke Eight this time around, a new thought struck me:

He must have been exhausted.

Amidst the messy, humdrum tasks of my own day-to-day life — homeschooling, cleaning up spills, breaking up fights, scrounging up ice packs for bumped heads — I sometimes wonder what it means for me, a stay-at-home mom, to follow in the footsteps of One who knew no sin, and who possessed infinite power. I wonder how I can present my life as a living sacrifice when I’m so worn out from the demands of motherhood that I hardly have time to pray. I wonder when I can take a break from this earthy stuff that consumes my time so I can truly serve the Lord.

It occurs to me now that, in some ways, Jesus’ daily life was not so different from mine.

When He accepted the limitations of human flesh, Jesus accepted the need for rest…and the Bible tells us that He often went off by Himself to pray. Sometimes, though, that “alone time” just didn’t happen. In the above account, people’s needs just kept piling up — overlapping, even — and, in addressing those needs, Jesus simply pushed through the exhaustion.

When the disciples roused Him from His well-deserved sleep, Jesus quelled their childlike fears. When a hurting woman detained Him on His way to somewhere else, He showed her compassion instead of treating her as an interruption. Although He craved time alone with His Father, Jesus instead ministered to His children.

It can be tempting to focus so much on Christ’s deity that we forget about His humanity. This imbalance, for me, can lead to a misguided conception of God as being “out there” — my Creator, and the reason for my ultimate hope, yes — but somehow distant from the realities right in front of me. Luke shows us, though — if we can open our eyes to see it — that Jesus knew those realities better than any of us.

I cannot calm storms, but I can soothe my children when their bad dreams disrupt my sleep. I cannot raise the dead, but I can clean scraped knees and bloody lips. I cannot save the world, but I can patiently and lovingly serve my family — even when I’m tired…or in the middle of something else…or yearning for spiritual refreshment.

When I do so, I am following in the footsteps of Jesus. And when I choose to be joyful instead of grudging, compassionate instead of irritable, I come closer and closer to being a reflection of Him.

What an amazing privilege: to walk as Jesus did, knowing that He understands what it means to serve others as we tread this tired earth together. As I cling more closely to this truth, my own burdens feel lighter…and my foolish feelings about Jesus being “out there” are replaced by the realization that, through every moment of the day, He is vibrantly, intimately present.

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:15-16)

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Grace on a Monday

Some memories forever embed themselves in our minds, not because they are themselves noteworthy, but because of something that comes after.

One sunny morning in October 2006, I woke up an hour earlier than necessary. I enjoyed an invigorating five-mile run, showered, made myself a spinach-and-cheese omelette, and still got to church on time. And why not? I had a whole extra hour, because it was Fall Back Day — my favorite non-holiday event of the year.

Not particularly memorable in and of itself, pleasant though it was.

The reason I remember it is that, one year later, I was the mother of a two-month-old baby. He was cuddly, alert, precious…and absolutely exhausting. Barely eight weeks into motherhood, I adored my son, but felt sure that my life was over. I would never sleep again, never go running again, maybe never shower again. Then came the night before the October time change, when I had a new and horrifying realization: changing the clock would mean precisely zilch to this tiny person in my arms. The only thing it would mean was that, when he woke up, my clock would probably say 5:00 instead of 6:00.

My favorite day of the year suddenly became my least favorite day of the year, and postpartum blues overtook me like an ocean breaker knocking down an unsusupecting toddler at the beach. Memories of last year’s leisurely autumn morning of running and breakfasting taunted me: “You will never get that back! If only you’d known to appreciate it!”

News flash: Having children does not make life easier.

Nine years later, I’m still alive — and happily, doing more than just surviving. Still, though, I can’t go running as often as I used to. I can’t spend an entire Saturday reading a book from cover to cover. And activities to which I never gave a second thought have become impossibly cumbersome tasks. Getting out of the house to run errands takes EVER so much longer than it used to, and putting myself to bed is allowed only after two energetic youngsters have finally had their last story. To top it all off, we have made the choice, often considered the height of masochism, to homeschool our children. A lifetime sentence, to be sure — am I right?

Except…

Something has happened in those nine years. Not all at once, but gently, sweetly, like tiny buds slowly pushing through the earth, a day at a time, until one day you look around and realize that it’s spring.

I have come to see that children make many things better.

I first noticed this on a Monday morning. I was busying myself with chores: starting laundry, putting away dishes, attacking various piles of clutter…all the varied tasks that accumulate after two days of pretending weekends can still be restful. In the midst of it, something struck me: the kids are playing together and letting me get my work done! Further consideration revealed that, while I wasn’t looking, this had become a regular occurrence. Something about coming off of a busy Sunday inspires my children, the next morning, to wake up wanting to play creatively and happily with one another.

During that time, I can accomplish the things that, during the baby and toddler years, seemed Herculean. The ability to complete tasks unhindered is a treat now, not a drudgery to take for granted as I did before I had little people underfoot to interrupt them.

Stranger still than enjoying chores: I no longer hate Mondays. I actually…like them.

And the more I reflect, the more I notice the myriad details of life that have become more beautiful — and have even gone from unpleasant to enjoyable — as a result of what I first thought had permanently handicapped every aspect of my existence.

Although this revelation came to me in the context of motherhood, I believe that God surprises all of us, in different ways, with this Monday grace — this gentle, gradual transformation of things mundane or dreary into things pleasant and even delightful. And I, for one, notice it much less often than it happens. I take the quiet joys in life for granted instead of recognizing them for what they are: reminders that God’s mercies are new every morning, and that He is the One who gives us beauty for ashes…even though, more often than not, we blithely go about living our lives without stopping to acknowledge the change.

I said that children make many things better. Really, though, it’s so much bigger than that. God, in his grace, continually takes the seeming drudgeries of life and reshapes them – reshapes us – so that they bring us joy instead.

May I continually be transformed in this way…and may I always return praise and thanks to the Giver of all good and perfect gifts, great and small.