By Mary Abrahamson
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3-4
Do you ever compare yourselves to others? Oh, such a bad and dangerous habit! Especially for those of us who tend to feel guilty for not living up to the standards of others. Or put another way, for those of us who set standards for ourselves that are unattainable or that we struggle to attain.
One way I’ve found to step away from such comparisons, such self-made standards, is to examine such standards or goals through the glass of The One thing Needful, the Bread of Life that God has given to show us the Way and to forgive our sins.
In the early years of my marriage and child-rearing, I tried to be my Grandma. She was a hearty pioneer woman. She did much the old fashioned way. The self-sufficient way. The tough way. “If it wasn’t tough, it wasn’t good.” That was my man-made truism. I felt as though any kind of leisure was a sin, and therefore to be avoided. And so I chose the hard way for everything. Cloth diapers. Clothesline rather than dryer. Homemade bread. Even a bread machine felt like too much of a good thing. Totally from scratch cooking. Walk not drive. Home grown and preserved food.
Later I found myself homeschooling my kids. Part of that goal was to shield my kids from some of the muck of modern society. To give them a foundation that would make them strong to face such muck once they had to. And if I did that right, I was a good mom. A good woman. Another man-made standard.
Finally, somewhere along the line, God used various people in my life to show me that such goals, although perhaps good or at least for a good reason, are not God. God’s Word, God’s rules, are not simply rules. At the most basic, God’s rule is to hold to, to cling to both His Law and His Gospel.
I am not a better person when I can do things well. I am still me, “A lost and condemned creature,” as I confess in the Luther’s meaning of the Second Article.
But what’s the rest of that meaning?
I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary; and that He is my Lord, Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death; in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
It’s simple really. Too simple. My human flesh argues against it. The world and its standards argue against it. And the devil, that roaring lion, seeks always to devour me with his lies against it. I am not better when I live better. However I choose to define “better” at a given stage of my life, … If I live the tough and sober life of my grandma. If I feed my kids wholesomely. If I keep my house orderly. If I train my children in tradition values of dress or behavior.
Such ideals of “better” do not make me or my children fundamentally better. And the flip side of that, equally important to remember, is that my failures no longer doom me to hell. Each time I let myself down; each time I let my husband, children or neighbor down; each time that father of lies, the devil whispers in my ear that I blew it, I can shout out loudly and clear, “Yes, but Jesus did it right! He succeeded where I fail!”
Jesus’ righteousness is mine. Through Baptism, through Absolution, through the Lord’s Supper. Through each time I hear, read, remember, sing or pray His Holy Word. This is the One Thing Needful. This Savior. This Salvation. This Forgiveness. This Righteousness.
This is the “better” to which I need to strive. Did I myself engage in repentance and the forgiveness of sins?
Did I teach my kids about repentance and the forgiveness of sins? And this too, even this basic fundamental, at this too, I will fail.
But each time I can reach out according to the Gospel promises and put on anew that New Man through Jesus Christ my Lord.
This is most certainly true.