Small Acts of Faithfulness
A friend of mine recently found out that her husband has been doing drugs behind her back for four years. The drugs have opened the door to all kinds of betrayal and hurt: lying, adultery, personality change, and absence. As she and I talked together on the beach in the perfect California sunlight, and she poured out the story of discovering, piece by heart-breaking piece, her husband’s duplicity, I could only sit in stunned disbelief. I could only wonder, How did this happen??? How does a man who loves God and loves his wife devolve to the point of cheating and lying in the company of drug dealers?
The same question has been on my lips this week as the story of Tim Lambesis, the front man for the Christian metal band As I Lay Dying who allegedly tried to hire a hit man to murder his wife, has unfolded in the news. How did he get there? How does a man who loves God and loves his wife devolve to the point of paying someone money to kill his wife while he is out with their children??
These stories are just the latest additions to a collection of tales that I regard with awe and horror: the unexpected divorces and separations of friends, the friend’s father who left his wife of thirty years for his mistress, the woman from a friend’s old church who abandoned not just her husband but her four small children. I always wonder, How? And what I really want to know is, That couldn’t be me…could it? I’m not capable of that kind of betrayal…am I? Because I want to think of these people as monsters—capable of sinking to a level of depravity that is off limits to most decent human beings. I want to know that these traitors have something extra special wrong with them—something I don’t have, and can’t catch. I want reassurance that I won’t be the person people are talking about one day, in shocked whispers, saying How could she have done that??
But truth be told, I could be that person. You could be that person. It could be any of us. And while that is an alarming and upsetting fact that should shake us to our core and make us feel our frailty in the very depths of our being, I don’t think it should scare us. These disasters and betrayals—nine times out of ten—don’t strike randomly, out of the blue. They don’t come upon us with the sudden blast of a hurricane, but with the subtlety and silence of erosion.
Here’s what I mean: while I believe I am capable of cheating on my husband, I don’t think I could wake up tomorrow morning, be seized with temptation, and act on it. It seems far more likely that tomorrow morning, my husband could do something that hurts me, and I could allow a tiny shred of bitterness to seep into my heart against him. It seems far more likely that I could feed this bitterness, that I could slowly, barely perceptibly, harden my heart against my husband as weeks and months pass by and as I begin to think more about what I want than what is good for our marriage. I could begin to care about the connections I have with other men, dwelling on an emotional or intellectual chemistry that I may discover with someone. I could daydream about a man without the faults my husband has, and maybe even imagine meeting him and being with him. What I am trying to say is that slowly, ever so slowly, I could let my heart creep away from my husband, from my commitment, from what I know to be right, and good, and God-given, and thus find myself ripe and ready for temptation that might come my way.
When I shared these thoughts with my husband, Sean, he agreed, saying, “Our hearts need to be kept in check on a daily basis.” I used to think that my adult life, and my Christianity, would be characterized by great acts of valor and sacrifice. Now I simply pray that my life will be shaped by small acts of faithfulness. I still long for the extraordinary—to do something great and daring and noble for the world and the faith. I think to myself, “What is so spectacular about my humdrum, ordinary life?” But I haven’t been asked to do any world-renowned acts of self-sacrifice right now. Instead, God asks me each day to practice small deeds of fidelity that no one sees or notices. He asks me to do the work put before me: to rise each morning and keep my commitments to the people I love, to my church, to my job. He asks me to dash tempting thoughts and feelings on the Rocks of truth and obedience. He asks me to stay faithful, to keep my heart committed to the Way of life.
The little ways are the important ways. Strive each day for small acts of faithfulness. Pray for your heart to remain true to the end.