The Gospel Unravels Us from Ourselves
Rachel Craddock, Guest Writer
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was seven years old. When I was fourteen years old, that same cancer metastasized to her liver, then her brain. This major life event, which some would call childhood trauma, has shaped my story in many ways. It has taken many years to unravel the unbiblical ways I had dealt with my pain and my grief and relearn how to live as one who has been redeemed by the gospel. Unraveled is a life-long journey and a daily dance in the gospel; little by little, unraveling is the slow process of sanctification where the Spirit changes us as we seek to identify old patterns, put them off through repentance and faith, and weave new patterns in obedience—connected to God through His Word.
The memory of hearing of my mother’s soon to come passing is longer than the moment itself. Or perhaps, the memory of that moment has been stretched out and hangs onto everything about me. Each thread has been wrung out and revisited so many times like a stretched-out wool sweater that’s been left on a metal hanger to dry for much too long. That moment, less than a minute in time, and the memory, the pieces my brain has tucked and filed away, seem to have traveled around the world—through time and back again. The wrung-out and revisited threads stretch and weave into my story across years, seasons, places, and relationships.
Peering back into the moment when my father shares with me that my mother would not wake up from her coma, I know my mother’s passing will always be a deeply woven thread in the story God is writing for me. Unfortunately, at the age of fourteen, with a tangled-up view of strength, I did not permit myself to become sad. Instead, I built what I believed was strength upon the faulty foundation of human effort. As a teen, I learned to try harder. I learned to be stronger. I learned to bury feelings of inadequacy. I learned to accept what life throws my way with the appearance of a smile.
When sadness is seen as weakness, it is easy to hide and bury what is believed to be a negative emotion. On the exterior, I wanted to appear to be tough. My nature was to pull up bootstraps, march on, and hold all things together on my own. This tangled-up desire came from longing to appear strong on a faulty foundation and from a misunderstanding of strength.
Faulty foundations built upon human strength are shallow, as shallow as a thin layer of ice atop a neighborhood pond. When I revisit this memory, this story-defining moment in my personal misunderstanding of strength, I see a fourteen-year-old girl building walls around her heart in the name of self-protection. Underneath the layers of self-protection, the faulty foundation of human effort bubbles fear, uncertainty, anger, and sadness. I lived under this exhausting yoke of slavery of self-protection for many years—for so many years, that I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was so busy trying to appear “just fine” that I lost any self-awareness and the ability to have true, vulnerable connections with others.
God Unravels Old Patterns in the Gospel
But God rescued me from this yoke of slavery with the gospel. For many years I tried to heal myself—but my heart remained restless; it was only in the gospel that I found true rest and healing. What is the gospel? Tim Keller says, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
When God rescued me, I discovered that I have so many personal requirements for how I believe I should live as a wife, mother, and Christian—so many expectations that aren’t grounded in what God requires of me at all. All God requires is that when I am weak, His power is perfectly displayed. This turned everything I once believed about having it all together inside-out and upside-down. As I bravely learn to walk in vulnerability, owning brokenness, and rejoicing over healing tears, God is slowly unraveling how I used to define strength, and I am learning to live as God defines strength in His Word, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
It is exhausting to appear strong and “just fine” all of the time. It takes intention and effort to recognize this unhealthy pattern when it surfaces in daily life. Following Jesus isn’t about being good enough, living a moral life, or how well we can clean ourselves up on the outside. Cleaning up the outer self is easy and only surface deep. The masks we wear are the easiest things to put off and put on. The gospel is the power to save us from our tangled-up desires woven in self-protected living. Gospel-centered strength is taking ownership of our brokenness and being willing to let others see Jesus shine through the broken places. Jesus wants us to come to Him with our wounds and lean on Him. The self-made yokes of slavery we make in the name of self-protection are heavy and exhausting, but Jesus invites us to come alongside Him—His yoke is easy and His burden is light. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Lord, thank You for freeing us from ourselves. Continue to work in our hearts and lives as we seek to become more in step with You.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Craddock, a writer, and speaker serves as Regional Advisor of Women's Ministry to Mid-America for the PCA. She desires to encourage women in a relatable way to practically apply the gospel to their daily lives and have a relationship with the God who unravels the old to make us new in the redemptive blood of Jesus. She and her family are members of North Cincinnati Community Church in Mason, Ohio where her husband serves as lead pastor. You can connect with Rachel on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or on her blog, rachelcraddock.com
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