Yesterday my daughter London realized she knew how to read. See, she's known how to read for about a year now, but she hasn't known she knows. In fact, she's been certain she doesn't. Every time we'd sit down to read would be a fight. She'd struggle to stay engaged. She'd cry when I told her it was her turn in the reading book. Instead of trying to sound out a word she'd guess machine gun style until I gave up and closed the book.
I knew she could read because sometimes I'd catch her doing it. She'd read a sign at a restaurant or she'd go to her room and sneak a book into bed. She'd forget for a second that she "didn't know how" and she'd read a whole page from her Scholastic magazine without a single mistake. But then she'd run into a word she didn't recognize and the whole train would be thrown from the tracks, "See! I can't read!"
She could read, but she didn't believe she could. And so she couldn't.
A month or so ago I was hiking with Justin, my husband. If you know my husband you probably know this about him: He does things. What I mean is this, if Justin wants to do something, he does it. If he has an idea, he learns how to execute it. He teaches himself new skills. He spends every night for a month watching tutorials online. He is a self-taught cook, carpenter, graphic designer, videographer and highly-effective leader (among other things).
When I think, "I would love to play piano" what I actually mean is "Playing the piano would be great but I probably wouldn't be good at it and I probably don't have what it takes." For Justin, that gap doesn't exist. If you want to do something and it's worth doing, you do it. And if you try hard enough you'll eventually do it really, really well.
Anyway... we were hiking and came upon a sign that said the trail would be "strenuous." He said excitedly, "Good. I've been wanting to see what a 'strenuous' hike looks like."
And then we saw what a strenuous hike looks like.
We climbed for hours, straight up in some places. Numerous times I had to stop and catch my breath. At one point, thinking the trail was done and rounding a corner to see the most 'strenuous' path still to go, I just sat down to consider whether this was worth it.
Justin, of course, did not sit down.
When he and I finally made it to the top of the mountain we'd been climbing, I laughed and said, "So, was it strenuous enough for you?"
He did not respond the way I expected. He said, "I don't know. I did it. I think it's hard for me to tell the difference between levels of difficulty because it's more the yes-or-no that matters: either you can do it or you can't. And most of the time I can."
That day, in that moment, I rolled my eyes. So. Hard.
(You should know, it's not arrogance that fuels his can-do spirit. It's relentless confidence, holy courage and God-glorifying perseverance. Still though...)
I've been thinking about what he said every day for like thirty days and I'm starting to wonder if he has a point...
Maybe there's only can and can't. And maybe most everything falls in the "can" box.
As you may know I wrote a book over the course of the last few months. I also made the decision to publish it myself. With the absolutely necessary assistance of Mr. I-can-do-anything I learned how to record an audiobook and how to turn a manuscript into a Kindle-friendly document and how to market online. All of it outside my comfort zone.
If you'd asked me two years ago if this was something I could do, I think I'd have said, "That looks strenuous." I would have thought it was too hard.
But it wasn't.
It was exhausting and taxing and took hours and hours and days and days of work. But it wasn't too hard.
There are a lot of things I haven't done because I thought I couldn't. Because I looked at the scale of the task and felt not enough. Because I got a third of the way through and felt like giving up. Because I might fail and that seemed scary.
Sometimes a "strenuous" sign is enough to keep me away.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever looked ahead and thought, that's more than I can do?
I think most of us have. And most of the time, we're wrong.
In Matthew chapter 9 we read about a father who comes to Jesus looking for healing for his demon-possessed son. He says to Jesus, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” I imagine Jesus almost laughing when he responds: "If you can? ... Everything is possible for one who believes.”
The more I read the Bible the more convinced I am that Christians should be the most optimistic, idealistic, hardest working, most assured, confident people on the planet.
If the question is "Can I?" The answer, for the christian, strengthened by the Creator and Source of everything, is probably "Yes."
Don't think you can get your spending or eating or lust under control? Yes, you can.
Don't think you can keep going in a season of heavy pain and grief and disappointment? Yes, you can.
Don't think you can survive a break-up or a lay-off? Yes, you can.
Don't think you can be the parent your parent never was? Yes, you can.
Don't think you can leave your hometown and take the gospel somewhere that needs it? Yes, you can.
Don't think you can forgive that unforgivable offense? Yes, you can.
When God is at work in you and through you, nothing worth doing is impossible.
Way too many Christians are living small, safe lives, never stepping out, never trying to do anything too hard. That's a waste of the power inside us.
Don't be like London, looking at a page of hard words, not fully trying because she's too scared of failing. Stop underestimating yourself and stop underestimating your God.
When you believe you can't, you won't. When you really believe you can (you + God), you almost certainly will.
Today London read two books by herself on the couch. She read the words "poison ivy" and "Martians" without even asking for help. She laughed as she read. Yesterday, she read me the parable of the good shepherd and the lost sheep. When she was done I said, "London, that was beautiful." I meant her reading, but she thought I meant the story. She said smiling, "It really was, wasn't it?"
If you'd like to check out that book, I'm excited to share it with you. It might just change your prayer life for good. You can read some Amazon reviews here.