I placed the dusty light-toned smarties across my daily schedule. It may not have been the most sanitary. It may have been covered in pencil lead. But I had a system. And I was self-controlled. My flesh had not yet morphed into the indulgent form in which it now groans. But my sin nature had already plotted. It had big plans in this little boy.
Bathroom stuff done. Check.
Spelling done. Check.
Math was difficult. Worth about 3 smarties. Check.
So was grammar — and science. But I loved reading and history.
I’d pop the smarties to reward myself. And, yes, sometimes home-school students can finish their work by lunch. Afternoons in the sunshine entertained my little self playing soldier among our trees. I had a system. It worked for me. Me, my hope, and I.
It didn’t work for others. They lacked discipline. They indulged now. I knew a secret to productivity.
But it faded. School got hard. I realized that I couldn’t be satisfied pleasing merely myself academically. I had to exceed the expectations of others. Each paper I wrote had to be a masterpiece. And they never were. I tended to turn them in dissatisfied, fearful that they were inadequate. My grades weren’t good enough to persuade me otherwise. I just logged a lot of hours in my perfectionism. So, I lost my reward system. It no longer worked for me, my hope, and I.
But part of my thinking persisted: some tasks we face are more enjoyable than others. The opportunity to do the more important (and sometimes unpleasant) task replaced my smarties, but I was still my own motivator.
I became a deadline-dependent student; I worked until the opportunity passed.
If I did less than my best, I might be condemned.
If I did my best, I was justified.
If I tried my hardest, I excused myself.
Still a perfectionist, during college, failure started to bring relief. I could burnout and persist anyway. But when I failed, I could rest. And even last week, failure brought relief to me, my hope, and I.
I was my own hope. My own rewarder. My own unsatisfied judge.
But, once, I installed a piece of vinyl siding as though working for God, and not for men. Then I forgot about it and returned to college. “Practicing the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence inspired me because this monk would wash dishes to the glory of God, and bend down to pick something up in the same way.
I can no longer be my own hope. Even my own comfort disappoints me. It’s not worth fighting for. I can still be me, but not alone, nor to serve myself.
My repentance is:
Lord, because You decide what my most important task is, I will stop using it to reward myself for accomplishing all the little jobs that distract me from obedience. And I will obey you first, come what may with the rest.
And my prayer is:
Almighty Father, your glory is matchless. Please strengthen me to worship You. And , through the Spirit, deliver me from this particular evil, as surely as, in Christ, you have delivered me from evil ultimately.