I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)
Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days when everything seems to go wrong? One of those days when you just want to say, “Really?!” “Seriously?!” “No, really!?” The bad stuff keeps coming like so many waves of frustration. And you’re just trying to stay afloat with each new set.
Well, this has been one of those days, one of those weeks, really. The trouble is…the trouble has nothing to do with my circumstances. There isn’t bad stuff pummeling me like so many waves. Instead, the bad stuff seems to be the stuff inside of me. And I want to say along with ever-so-wise Elf, “I’m just a cotton headed ninny muggins!”
I wonder if you ever feel like a cotton headed ninny muggins…
It seems that Paul did. I always return to this passage when I have a week like this. Because Paul so beautifully articulates how I feel. In my mind, there’s a version of me that I so long to be. It’s the version of me that builds up those around me. That loves selflessly. That wears patience like a garment and joy like a banner.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law… (Romans 7:22,23)
Until I find myself complaining. Until I lose my temper. Until pride wells up and I’m battling self-concern and envy. Ugh. Just a cotton headed ninny muggins. That’s me.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18,19)
In 1870, Quaker speaker and author Hannah Whitall Smith wrote an obscure little book called The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life. Within its pages, Smith calls the reader to a life of obedience and surrender, leading to great joy.
But she also defines just what Paul speaks of in Romans 7, just what it’s like to be a cotton headed ninny muggins, longing for one kind of life, yet often living another. It’s the life of the “unmanageable self.”
Can’t you just hear it in Paul’s words? I want to do this, and yet I do this. I delight in this, and yet I do this. I keep doing the things I don’t want to do! I am utterly unmanageable!
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:24)
Who will rescue us? From this “in between” place? Believing, delighting. So longing to live like Christ. And yet…we can’t. At least not entirely. We are stuck in the “in between.” Wanting to do good, and yet battling the bad.
So Smith entreats the believer, “Do you not long to hand over the management of your unmanageable self into the hands of One who is able to manage you?”
And everything in me cries, “YES!” I give up! I surrender! Take it all! All my heart! All my mind! All my life!
All my manipulating. All my longing for everything outside of you. All my controlling. All my perfectionism. All my pride. All my coveting. All my envy. Take it all. The good and the bad in me.
I wave the white flag. I fall to my knees. I lay myself flat. I don’t want control of this life anymore. I can’t do it. I can’t manage it. I am completely unmanageable! Oh, Lord, will you manage me?
I surrender. Once again, I surrender. This cotton headed ninny muggins surrenders, all over again.
Brennan Manning had another word for people like me…Ragamuffin. In his classic work The Ragamuffin Gospel, this former priest and author describes a Ragamuffin as…
“…the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together…inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker…poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents…earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay…the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God…smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.”
People like me. People like Paul. Perhaps people like you.
People who are unmanageable, desperately in need of a Savior. People who have bad days, weeks, maybe even years.
Now, this may seem like a bunch of self-deprecation, and you may be thinking, “Where is your self-esteem?” But, to me, especially on week’s like this, it’s just reality. Because until you admit who you are, you aren’t able to receive what you need.
The essence of the gospel begins like this. When we are brutally honest, we are all ragamuffins. We are all cotton headed ninny muggins. I may be a bit more than you, but we all are just the same. We are all unmanageable, desperately in need of deliverance…from ourselves.
So bad news, becomes good news–the good news of the gospel. What seems like self-deprecation is actually surrender. Surrender to the truth of who we are, accepting the reality of the sin that we battle daily. And hope. Such great hope
Because when we honestly admit our great need for grace, forgiveness, and surrender, we are freed up from striving, pretending, and earning. We lay ourselves flat and cry out with Paul…
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
I may be a cotton headed ninny muggins. But I’m a loved one. I’m a forgiven one. I’m a redeemed, freed, and pardoned one. I’m an utterly unmanageable ragamuffin. But that’s not the end of my story.
At the end of a really bad week, I fall on the grace that catches me. Every single time. It’s there for you too. On good days, on bad days. Every day.
As Brennan Manning entitled his memoir, All is Grace. On our worst days, our worst weeks, all is grace. That’s really good news for a cotton headed ninny muggins like me. With news like this, suddenly my world seems manageable again. And what felt like waves of trouble, now feels like waves of grace.
What about you?
Do you find yourself disappointed, longing to be one way, and yet living another?
Can you fall on the Grace that stands ready to catch you today?