I walk into the house and I’m immediately confronted by the mess in the kitchen. Cups on the counter, dishes piled in the sink, papers and mail scattered in disarray on the table. Though I don’t complain aloud, it’s clear from my exasperated expression that I’m unhappy.
My daughter sighs. She’s spent several hours that morning doing something for me. Yet here, in the moment, I still want more. And she voices what I’m sure she often feels, “Sometimes it seems I can never do it all right. There’s always something you’re unhappy with. There’s always more I could have done.”
I carry her words with me for days, saddened by my behavior. She is completely right. I often overlook the things she does well and focus on what isn’t right. And it seems there’s always something that I’m unhappy with.
A friend shared a similar struggle as she listened to her grandchild read. While she was overjoyed to see her granddaughter overcoming some of her prior reading difficulties, she privately pointed out to her daughter the areas that were still not right. And gave some suggestions to make things even better. Rather than rejoicing at her granddaughter’s progress and her daughter’s diligent efforts, she focused on what needed improvement.
Later, her daughter mentioned how painful that interchange felt. All of her efforts in teaching her daughter to read were simply disregarded because the end result didn’t seem quite right.
As I listened, I was sharply reminded of my own shortcomings. My desire to fix everything. My focus on what was not done. And then my friend said the words I needed to hear- “I realize that I need to keep my ultimate focus on God in the midst of the unfinished.”
Yes. That was it. I need to have my eyes on Jesus rather than on the problem. To trust Him rather than fixate on what is wrong, I need to look at the whole situation. Notice what is right. Celebrate small victories. Dwell on the positive.
Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8, 9b.
When I fail to practice “these things,” peace eludes me. And when I dwell on what is imperfect, my dissatisfaction leads to a gnawing sense that somehow it’s my responsibility to fix the problem.
I constantly fight this tendency to focus on what’s not right in my own life. And more importantly, I have to fight this tendency in my parenting. I feel I need to fix all of my children’s weaknesses. Rather than entrusting them to a sovereign God, somehow I have decided that I need to make my children as perfect as possible. And, of course, I can see with absolute clarity everything they should do, could do, and haven’t done.
In my saner moments, I wonder why I expect everything to be perfect right now. Why don’t I trust God with what I cannot see? Why does everything have to look finished today?
As I look at the life of Jesus, I see that He was completely content with the unfinished. Or what looked unfinished. As He was going to the cross, He could have looked around at the disciples, the people whom He had poured His life into, the people whom He was entrusting His ministry to, the people who knew Him best, and been dismayed. No one understood Him. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. And the other disciples ran away.
But Jesus knew this wasn’t the full picture. God was still working in the lives of these disciples even after Christ’s death. We are witnesses to their transformation in the pages of Scripture – how they were changed from fearful and often arrogant men in the Gospels, to fearless witnesses for Jesus in Acts, and to compassionate humble elders in their letters.
Jesus saw past appearances. He did not despair over the present. He trusted that God was working when no one else could see it. He trusted that God would use these frail, unpredictable, unreliable men to take the message of the gospel and turn the world upside down. He trusted God to do the work that God began.
This same God is working in my life now. And in the lives of my children. He is calling me to look to Him in every situation. And to look through the eyes of faith at what is happening around me and in me rather than through the lens of frustration or fear. He is asking me to be content with the unfinished and the imperfect, to celebrate the small victories, and to trust that He is working in them all.
I am ever grateful for God’s life-giving, sanctifying grace, for the greatest unfinished work in my life will always be me.