The only thing that counts


“What would you like people to say about you at your retirement party?” The question is designed to help us think about our life vision, about what really matters to us in terms of godly character, relationships, and legacy.

I have several answers. I’ll share just this one. I’d like people to see that I wasn’t afraid of the mess. That I understood and lived grace deeply enough that I was neither ashamed of my own mess nor afraid to be with others in theirs.

I’m learning. The mess is where God comes closest. There’s a part of me, now, that gets quietly excited when the light shines into another messy corner, wondering how God will transform this one. All of my favorite people – the ones whose presence feels like a grace-filled nook in which I can curl up and rest – are art that God has hand-designed as He has touched the pain-filled corners of their lives.

And when I slip back and fear the mess? It’s usually because I’ve started listening again to the rules I still carry in my head. The ones that make me race around, busy, trying to prove my worth. The ones that demand that I measure up and call me a failure if I don’t.

God’s in that mess, too, that mass of rules that purport to create order but instead wind themselves into a web around my legs and leave me tripped in a helpless tangle. He’s there, reminding me that He has cut the ropes and that now, “neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.” (Gal 5:6 The Message) Or, as the NIV says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”

The only thing that counts . . . is trusting that because of Christ, God accepts me as though I’ve kept all the rules perfectly. What I see as mess, He sees as space for grace, place to love most deeply.

And out of that love that leaves me with nothing left to prove, the only thing that counts is letting that love that has loved me love others through me. Right in the middle of my mess – my space for grace. And right in the middle of theirs.


Want to soak a little longer in the love that welcomes us in the middle of our messy breaking and keeping of rules? Check out these two talks on the story of the prodigal sons, explored in the culture in which they were originally told. Guaranteed to help you marvel at the magnitude of this love.

Scandalous Love

More Scandalous Love

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Margaret Schulz

    I have been thinking a lot about all the times God has met me in my mess. I wonder why I struggle so, when He has been so good to me.I look back at 42 years of His grace and am amazed that I so struggle with unbelief.I thank you for your encouragement. You always give me something to think you Hannah

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Dear Hannah, It seems to me such grace that God keeps bringing us back to an awareness of our own weakness. It’s only there – in the midst of the mess – that we can begin to understand the magnitude of his love that embraces us even when our faith seems so small. May you hear your Abba whisper today, “No condemnation, beloved child. Not even about small faith.” Love, Caroli

  2. Klara van der Molen

    Dear Carolyn,
    Our God is the most creative Father, and in His creativeness He created us, beautiful creative and often very messy people. As Darrell pointed out in these last couple of amazing stories— each time we mess up, He still comes running to greet us, enveloping us with His unconditional love and acceptance, even in our most messy situation.
    His radical love is so sufficient for us.Thank God he is not a legalistic God. but simply a God who in His mercy and grace, and through sending His beloved, has done away with all the laws that we can not adhere to. He simply beckons us with His call of grace as His beloved kids. So awesome and so amazing— once again, thank you as voice the echoes of our hearts in so many ways.

  3. crazapplejuice

    I’m still trying to find the time to listen to those two sermons – Sonya recommended them as well.

    This is a challenging, encouraging post for me – I’m also in the midst of learning how to own the messiness of my life and not be afraid. To me it really comes down to smallness; having nothing to prove, no image to hide behind. Definitely still a work in progress!

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