I am thirteen years old, sitting in a church pew with a friend and our youth pastor who has recently proposed to his girlfriend. My friend and I are gushing over the fairytale we imagine their romance to be. “Why don’t you have a ring, though?” my friend asks. I am horrified. Of course he doesn’t have a ring. That’s not how engagement works. How could she possibly ask such a silly question? What is wrong with her?
I am seventeen years old, riding in the back of a friend’s car. There are four of us together, maybe five. The details are vague now, where we are going, what we are doing, who has crushes on whom, but one feeling and one interaction are crystal clear. A friend casually, comfortably asks a question about something she does not understand, admitting her ignorance on an unimportant topic. My heart rate skyrockets. Doesn’t she know that not knowing is humiliating? Does she not feel the shift in the universe that I do when uncertainty is made public? What is wrong with her?
I am twenty-three years old, taking notes in a meeting at work. Afterwards, a co-worker comes over to my desk to talk to me about the discussion. She interprets something our boss had stated and I am shocked. I heard nothing of the sort. She turns out to be right, and I am internally knocked off-kilter. My sense of self-worth plummets; I am defensive and guarded for the rest of the day. How could I have sat in the same room and misunderstood the conversation? What is wrong with me?
It’s likely that none of these stories have led you to think, “Well, Abby, you were sinning. That’s what’s wrong with you.” After all, I was not actively intending to hurt anyone in any of these situations. In fact, in the first two, I wanted to protect my friends, or at least that’s what I told myself.
In reality, and in retrospect, I think sin had plenty to do with all three of these moments. Regardless of my desire or lack thereof to hurt anyone around me, my framework for thinking, for loving, and for being a friend was skewed. In the face of simple human curiosity, uncertainty, and even humility, I responded not with love, but with fear.
I so idolized the desire to learn, to know, and to be informed, that I had given license to a host of ungodly things—things like fear over love in the context of friendships, arrogance instead of humility, refusing to take risks in the name of love and service because I could not manage the outcome.
We often think of sin as willful acts of disregard for God’s ways, but in Scripture, the word for sin merely means, “to miss the mark.” What are the moments in life that lead you to miss the mark of a life fixated on the Kingdom of God?
What might seem like small, harmless sins were actually the products of deeply rooted idolatry and pride in my life. In each of us, our “small” sins are dangerous precisely because we don’t recognize that they are symptoms of deeper sins.
When I prioritize knowledge, or the appearance of having knowledge, over being teachable or encouraging of others, I am missing the mark of the kingdom’s call to admitting the frailty of my humanity. When someone who is continually focused on the needs of others gives and sacrifices in such a way that she becomes prideful about it, she is missing the mark of the kingdom’s call to humility. When someone who desires to bring about safety and comfort for her family that she forgoes giving to others, she is missing the mark of the kingdom’s call to generosity.
As disheartening as all of this may seem, let us not forget that we have a good God who refuses to leave us stuck in our sin. By the shed blood, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, we are made righteous, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit calls us ever more away from our sinful tendencies. And as beautiful as all of that is, God’s goodness in the face of our lack does not stop there. So very often, what our sin nature means for evil, He directly uses for good.
Slowly, He is teaching me that knowledge is not meant to be my idol. Rather, it is meant to be one of my gifts. I do not need to hoard it, but rather steward it well and offer it freely to others, and be at ease when I am unsure. If you are prone to prioritizing the needs of others to the point of pride or bitterness, consider that He may have prepared you for the good works of helping, serving, and hospitality. Let the drive to help others be ushered through you by the Holy Spirit, and let yourself come to the One Who gives rest when you are weary and heavy-laden. If you find yourself fixated on safety and comfort for yourself or your family, ask God to show you how your desire not to see harm befall those made in His image can be offered as a gift for the benefit of others whose lives are less comfortable, less safe.
God’s grace covers sin that we do not realize is sin, tendencies that we think of as quirks or traits or “just who I am.” In His kindness, let Him reveal to you what you coddle in your heart like I did in the church pew, in the backseat of the car, in the meeting at work. And as you join Him in seeking its loosened grip on your life, watch for the ways He trades the beauty of gifts for the ashes of sin.
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Abby Perry has written for The Gospel Coalition, Christ and Pop Culture, Upwrite Magazine, and The Influence Network. She is the communications coordinator for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts—one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations and one supporting area foster and adoptive families. Abby graduated from Texas A&M University and currently attends Dallas Theological Seminary. She and her family live in College Station, Texas. Find her on Twitter.