My friend Anne Marie Miller has a new book out. It’s called Lean On Me and it’s about something that’s important to me…forming intentional, vulnerable and consistent community. In the age of social media and revolving homes and jobs, a life-giving and truth-telling community can be hard to pin down. But I believe it’s worth the fight.
(The following is an excerpt from Anne’s book Lean on Me.)
In late December, on and off for thirty-six hours, I sat in an old green recliner I acquired a friend and drank whiskey and Coke that was left at my house from a Christmas party. I ate a bag of sweet potato fries and watched two seasons of Mad Men.
This is where I’ll die. I have let everyone down. I should let them in. But I can’t anymore. I cannot drag them to the bottom with me again. I realized I was being dramatic and selfish, and I refused to acknowledge the strength I had to pull myself up and do the right thing.
It had been seven months since my team formed, a month after returning from Illinois. How much more healing was there to do? I did everything right. I lost God and I found him, and I made mistakes and I learned from them. I closed down and opened up to others, and yet this cycle continued in spite of the moments of growth and the moments of backtracking. I pulled a pink blanket around me in the recliner. I was not drunk, but I was not alert. Why could I not find some plane of consistency? I closed my eyes.
I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s war within; his convoluted thrashing between holiness and self-loathing. It is a battle only those who follow Christ can understand. While those who don’t have a relationship with God can and do fight conflicts with their inner desires—winning and losing—Christians fight on a different battleground. We know the truth in us and feel the Spirit gently moving us toward holiness, yet our human desires fight to remain in control.
I imagine Paul, exasperated and ever so close to giving up as he sits down to pen these words:
Why can’t I get it right?
“So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:14–17 NLT)
I feel the heat of his anger toward himself, his fire to do what’s obedient, his abhorrence of his failing, and his love of God; they all collide in a confusing tirade that only makes sense to us because of our own turmoil and desperation.
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.” (Romans 7:18 NLT)
I give up.
“I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:19–20 NLT)
There is a monster living in me.
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:21–24 NLT)
I am trapped by my demise.
This passage is so relatable (and so frequently referenced) because of how it simply shows us that we are not alone. We are not alone as we fight and we fail. For centuries even the most notable Christians never grasped perfection. Neither will we.
Paul’s final words in this passage are where we need to rest: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT).
That is where we rest.
That is where we find hope.
That is where and why and how we can persevere.
Anne Marie Miller is the author of four books and speaks at colleges, conventions, and churches on the topics of social justice, sexuality, health, addiction, and biblical themes of grace and restoration. She also writes for various publications, studied family sociology, and is currently pursuing her DMS at Rockbridge Seminary. She lives with her husband Tim, a youth pastor, in Lubbock, Texas.