I’d been to see my internist. We’d been struggling to figure out why I had bad stretches and what we could do to improve them. He’d asked me to keep a closer record of heart rate and blood pressure in a good week and then “when—no, if” I had another bad spell to record everything again and come back and see him.
I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if I didn’t have another bad stretch?” Then I found myself thinking, “But then he’d think I’d made it all up.” It didn’t matter that it had all been long since tested and proven in a medical setting; that’s where my mind went.
“I don’t want to look bad.”
I recognized the bottom line instantly. I’d never been so honest with God about it before. I’d never realized it so clearly before, though now that it was out I could see it was the bottom line in my fear of writing vulnerably, of speaking up in a group, of just about everything.
I didn’t have time to register either the surprise of the realization or the relief of having it out in the open before I sensed a response, “I don’t want you to look bad either.” Huh? Was that God speaking? Now I had a lot more to register.
Maybe I’d thought I had to look bad to make His grace look as good as it is.
Maybe I’d figured He’d want to let me look bad now and again to beat the pride out of me.
Maybe, watching Jesus be mocked and spit on and hung naked, then hearing the command to take up my cross and follow, I’d just assumed looking bad was part of the deal and hadn't thought to ask what I was believing about God's heart.
What kind of lover wants to make his beloved look bad? Love is always “the resolve to make the loved party great” (Dr. J.I. Packer).
In all of Jesus’ suffering, the Father’s heart was never to make his Son look bad. It was to give him the highest possible honor, raise him to the highest possible place—and to seat us in that place of honor with him (Eph 1:19-23; 2:6-7; John 17:22-23)
God is always for us.
That doesn’t mean people will always see us bright and beautiful. Sometimes we’ll slip and fall, and part of restoration is being honest about the mess. (But then there’s a startling beauty in the courage to let the mess be seen, and in the grace that encircles it all.) And sometimes we’ll be misunderstood as we follow close on the heels of the one who was accused of blasphemy and demon possession because he was loving people he wasn’t supposed to love in ways that threatened the comfortable religious status quo. True love, daring love, has a way of being misunderstood.
But somehow when we know that God’s intent is always to honor us, the risk of looking bad loses a lot of its fear. Maybe because it no longer feels like failure. Or no longer holds the threat of rejection. Or there’s nothing left to earn or prove. We can just get on with what we're called to and leave the outcome to the God who is already and forever for us.
“This I know, that God is for me.” (Psalm 56:9)