My friend Brody is a self-financed missionary in the mountains of Honduras. He and his family have spent the last decade taking in abused, neglected, and abandoned children. They care for them medically, emotionally, and spiritually. They save their lives. Several years ago, along with a dozen men and women from my church, I traveled to Brody’s orphanage to help with a construction project. Laboring with Brody and the locals, and making our own bricks and mortar, we built a new structure that doubled the capacity of this little outpost.
It was no simple task getting there. Flying out of Atlanta, Georgia is trouble enough, but once on the ground it got no easier. It took more than six hours to travel a little more than a hundred miles on the primitive roads of Central America. At times Brody would have to get out of the van we were in and walk ahead, pointing out the worst ruts, plotting a course for the driver like bringing an airplane into the hanger. This exercise continued every few miles even after the sun had set. Brody got too far ahead of us at one point and came staggering back into the headlights, bleeding, dazed and battered. We jumped to the conclusion that he had been assaulted in the darkness. When he climbed back in we realized how incorrect that assumption was. In addition to his injuries, he smelled like a sewer. In fact, that’s exactly where he had been.
Scouting for ruts up ahead in the dark, Brody had fallen five or so feet into a ditch, a cesspit actually. It made the last hour to the orphanage a misery for all of us. Still, there was some humor in his little disaster. Through the blood and filth of his self-inflicted wounds he uttered some of the most profound words I have ever heard: “You got to be tough if you’re gonna be stupid.”
We start down certain paths knowing, but not admitting, the eventual outcome. Road signs the size of billboards might as well be pointing out the dangers, and in the back of our minds we know it’s going to hurt: Bad relationship choices, poor financial decisions, overly ambitious business goals, acts of selfishness and deceit. In the end we stagger out of the dark, bloodied and beat-up, looking and smelling worse for the wear. Making a few bad decisions is a part of living. You learn your lesson, you adjust, and grow wiser as a result. I doubt that those who claim to never have made such decisions in life are actually living at all. But to continue to make bad decisions – one after another – is a sign of our own foolishness and requires a toughened resolve and even tougher skin, because it’s going to hurt.
As humans, we have an almost infinite capacity for resisting what is best for us. Our ability to refuse to change the direction of our lives is equally as strong. But thanks be to God there is at least one thing stronger than fallen, human stubbornness: Grace.
I love how the New Testament book of Romans frames it: “Where sin (insert stupidity, stubbornness, foolishness) was powerful, God’s grace was even more powerful” (Romans 5:20). Grace offers a detour off the path of destruction. Grace is a necessary turnaround on a wrong way street. God’s grace provides the opportunity and power to truly, actually change. Let there be no mistake about it: We are strong, but up against an all-powerful God with inexhaustible mercy, time is on his side, and our strength withers like grass in the summer heat.
But I have found that God will not brutalize us by means of sheer muscle. Instead, he fiercely loves us into transformation and eventual submission. The war we wage against him is a war against love, and love never fails, not even in the face of stupidity.