A couple of weeks ago while eating breakfast, my mom and I wandered through a vast maze of topics and somehow ended up on a gift that was given to me by a Sunday School student a couple years ago. The gift came packaged neatly in a Tic Tac box. Inside the clear container were several stones, gathered painstakingly as this child’s family visited a sapphire mine. The stones were not sapphires, but to a five year old they were. Not only did the box contain stones from a sapphire mine but it also contained—four pennies.
I still have that gift. Not because of its enormous financial value. Not because it was so beautiful. But because it was put together with love and given in sincerity, the kind of sincerity that is rare these days.
As Mom and I were talking about this gift, my mind drifted a little. I thought of the “art wall” in my bedroom. It has shrunk in recent days because my nieces and nephews have gotten a little older and aren’t handing me brilliant pieces of artwork every quarter hour when they come for a visit. At one point, however, an entire wall and the back of both my bedroom doors were completely covered with priceless art. Do you want to know a secret? I didn’t trash their art when I took it down. I put it in a folder and filed it away.
Why? Well, I can tell you it’s not because I hope to make a fortune off of it some day. It’s not because I’m a hoarder. It’s not because I think I’ll need new wallpaper down the line either. It’s because those gifts were given to me by children who put their all into them. Children who were seeking to express their love through those gifts.
As I thought of all those precious gifts, I thought of our Heavenly Father—our King. I’ve never pictured myself as a child handing God an out-of-the-lines, crayon-doused, coloring book picture with a look of hope and expectation on my face, but I think sometimes that’s just what I do. I think we all do. And I think sometimes when we hand it to Him, we know exactly how it looks, and we’re afraid it isn’t good enough.
A few months ago, I was on a business call, waiting for a young mother to find and provide some information. This young woman had three toddlers and was expecting their fourth child any day. She was in the midst of moving. Her husband had been out of town. I could hear children crying in the background. In the midst of the understandable chaos surrounding her, she said, “I’m sorry. I am totally failing right. I’m failing.”
Her words broke my heart. She wasn’t failing. She was doing an amazing job—but she was expecting perfection.
That moment has haunted me for months because I realize so many of us expect perfection, and we allow one little moment to define us as much, much less than what we are aiming for. This pattern only leads to discouragement, to a sense of worthlessness, and to a misconception of Who God is and how He relates to us.
We live in an OCD world. Everyone wants everything to be perfect NOW! But that isn’t life. Life is messy. Life is dirty dishes in the sink because you had to choose between washing dishes and buying groceries in the 30 minutes you had between two of your three jobs. Life is hoping the hanger you just reshaped is long enough to retrieve the shirt your 3 year old just flushed down your neighbor’s toilet. Life is being called names for doing your job. Life is dropping your phone in the dishwater. It’s broken relationships, broken promises, and even broken hearts.
We often look at our service to God and say, “It’s all out of the lines. Why would He ever want this? I’ve made such a mess of things.” We don’t want to be defined by our brokenness, so when we see it, it tends to glare like a bright neon sign: FAILURE!
But that is a lie.
It is a lie based upon a lie. What we have done for Christ may not look the way we had hoped it would look. It may not look like what someone else did, but God is not about appearances. In fact, Jesus had some choice words for men who did things because of the way it made them look. He called them hypocrites. He also said that they had received their reward. But the man who knelt humbly, the woman who prayed so fervently that those around her thought she was drunk—those are the hearts, the gifts, that God accepted. The sacrifices of God are a broken and a contrite heart: gifts, which He will not despise.
The lie upon which these lies are built is a simple one, but dangerous. It is the thought that I must be perfect to please Him. It is true that God is holy, that He is just, that He is without sin, and that sin is what separates us from His presence—that’s why He sent Jesus. It has never been the Christian’s job to perfect themselves. It has been the job of the Christian to give themselves wholly to God to do the perfecting through the sacrifice of Christ and the sanctifying of the Spirit.
That morning at the breakfast table, I realized that when I stand at the throne of an evening and lift up my day to my Father, my gift may appear to be a simple Tic Tac box with a few stones and four pennies, but in God’s hands it is much more than that. It is cherished because it was carried out with sincerity and love for my Redeemer. It is treasured because this is the gift of His own child. He receives it with as much love as any father receives the gift of his child. But unlike earthly fathers, God is able to fix the rough edges, to improve the places where I still struggle, to forgive where I have sinned, to lift up where I have fallen, to strengthen where I have been weak. He is able to take that small, insignificant gift and use it to change a life—or even the world at large.
ABOUT RACHEL MILLER
I am the author of three books, including The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption. You can check them all out here.