My husband once explained to me an approach used in computer programming, called the iterative approach. Here's how it works: the programmer erects a basic program framework with minimal functionality. He then begins to pass through the program, increasing it's functionality with each iteration. When he shared this with me, I recognized myself and said "hey that's ME honey! That's how I do things!"
At the time I was packing up our little ranch house in Iowa and preparing to move to Missouri. Nathan had "moved" down there already, into Uncle Perry's spare room, and I was left with the exhilarating challenge of caring for 4 children 6 & under while fixing up, packing and selling our house (FSBO - to save money). I had realized that I didn't stand a chance of being completely organized unless I had gone through everything before sealing up a box, so I left open boxes all over the house, and each time I "swept" through the house, I would put things where they belonged. By the time I had "swept" through 5 or 6 times, I felt that order was the prevailing force and chaos was receding. Hallei-lu-ia! [If you didn't sing that, then read it again for proper inflection.]
Incidentally, I considered this time to be one of the best I can remember with my kids for the simple reason that I had packed away every single toy and they only had library books, their favorite stuffed toy and some paper and crayons. Oh, the simplicity of it! It was marvelous indeed :-).
This sweeping process has greater application to our lives than just packing. As I began to ponder it's greatness, it became clear that the "all or nothing" mentality that I've always associated with my psyche, was simply not helping me to be the person Christ wanted me to be. For instance, in my early twenties I would put myself on a workout program and become immediately discouraged and give up when I missed a few. Or when I wanted to wake up earlier in the morning for special times with the Lord, I would sleep in a day or two and then conclude that I was useless and not even try to wake up early the next morning. I was holding up standards for myself and then failing to fulfil them. I felt that I had to do it right the first time and I had very little grace for myself. Paul speaks about this standard in Romans; showing us that even our efforts apart from the law, to hold up our own standards, fall far short. We jump like dogs through our own hoops, trying so hard for that perfect performance, while the perfection of Christ lies undonned. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." (Romans 13:14) The Body of our Lord, worn in full assurance of faith, is certainly the only way to walk in holiness for the Christian.
I believe that there is a distinction between character flaws and "sins of the flesh". The distinction has to do with our will. The Psalmist writes "keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression." (Psalm 19:13) When we react to a situation with impatience or irritability, rarely is it presumptuous; in fact sometimes we are not even aware of it until afterwards. But when a woman sits down to eat an entire chocolate cake, or when a man heeds Satan's call on his computer, it is a choice made to fulfill the lust of the flesh. This is where freedom in Christ shines forth in a believer who has realized his liberty from the bondage of sins of the flesh, and is great cause for rejoicing.
The former consideration, that of character, is what I ponder here, for this has been a struggle for me as a parent. I have realized that this iterative process which gave great results while packing my house gives great results in my character as well. Each week I start out, sweeping across the chords of patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. But it is not long before a note of dischord is heard. In fact, hearing it sometimes discourages me from trying further.
I must stop here and give praise to my sweet husband, who has helped me immeasurably with his simple encouragement: "Just apologize. And try again." This leads to praise for my Lord and his "won-derful words of li-fe". He is the one who told me to listen to said husband. But I digress.
My point is simply this: The Lord taught me to keep on keepin' on. He taught me to persevere in my desire for Godly character; to keep practicing the chords in my quest for sweet music. Have I arrived yet? By no means, but I have changed and I rejoice greatly, for "we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 3:18) Hallei-lu-ia! :-)