While sipping my morning coffee today, I scrolled past the following inspirational memes on Instagram (sandwiched between hundreds of baby photos and recipes from the paleo/primal nutsos I follow):

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At first, I felt totally exhilarated: I was inspired, empowered, on top of the world. I’m going to take this day by the freaking saddle! Forget that my husband just started a new job and he’s working approximately 100 hours a week. Forget that I have my own work to do – time stolen in the small moments between the blessed mess of raising two very young and “spirited” children. THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE, BLAKE LIVELY!

I am extremely susceptible to all things inspirational. For instance, I recently had reason to be going through old journals. My very first one (from the 7th grade) began as a collection of motivational quotations; scintillating gems like these:

“It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance, and the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance.” – Bette Midler, “The Rose”

“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” – Animal House

“You can do what you want, just seize the day.” – Ace of Base, “Beautiful Life”

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” – The Sandlot

That’s some real inspirational hoo-ha right there. And I have a whole book full of these. The pressure I put on my middle-school self was not just to be a hero ya’ll, but a legend. I have a confession: that pressure continues to loom.

These quotes, and the memes that fill my newsfeed each morning as an adult, are so seductive at first glance because they almost always suggest that I have the power to make my day and my life as good as I want them to be, that I possess the muscle and ability to control my own destiny. A few finger-swipes through my Instagram feed and I think Hey, maybe I could be legen-waitforit-dary. Then, just minutes after convincing myself that I’m probably the athletically unrealized Simone Biles, my 15-month-old daughter starts screaming like a new amputee. Why? Because she wants her brother’s Mickey Mouse doll (even though she has the exact same Mickey Mouse doll); I suddenly find myself feeling deceived by all of the “positive vibes” being creatively emoted over the internet. I am reminded that – as is – I am nothing but skin and bones, completely incapable of living my best life now. And the fat/drunk/stupid thing from Animal House rings truer about my actual self than all the Mother Teresa quotes in the world. Like Florence + the Machine mourns in her song “Third Eye”:

I’m the same, I’m the same, I’m trying to change.”

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Some readers might come across an article like this and think “Whoa, downer,” and turn back to their copy of Big Magic (NOTE: I have never read this book and it’s probably fantastic). But maybe you’re like me – spent, weary, and ultimately uninspired by all the bursts of internet inspiration. Maybe you, like me couldn’t even get out of bed and reach for your toes (much less the stars) if it weren’t for a Savior who loved you first. Just acknowledging this seems to reveal the pressing and unattainable weight of the law, slyly gushing out of things like “Monday Motivations.” And yet in Christ, we receive an epic and all-covering love and grace which remove said burden and instead offer a lightness not of this earth: a lightness called freedom. This is the greatest met-goal I could ever hope for on a dull Monday morning, when sometimes all I feel grateful for are black coffee and PJ Masks.

Michael Horton says in his book, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (yes, I realize the irony of using a quotation to antagonize the idea of inspirational quotations. Deal with it):

All Christians think of Jesus Christ as essential. But is he essential primarily as a teacher, moral example, and life coach, or as the Lamb of God in whom we find forgiveness, peace with God, and everlasting life? If we don’t really think we need to be saved from the justice of a holy God, then we hardly need the kind of extreme rescue operation that the Bible announces. If we are basically good people needing a little direction, then the situation hardly calls for God to assume our humanity, fulfill all righteousness in our place, bear our guilt through a cruel crucifixion, and be raised bodily as the beginning of the new creation. Yet that is just the kind of new salvation we need. It is not that Jesus Christ makes up for whatever we lack in the righteousness department but that his righteousness alone is sufficient to stand in God’s judgment. The gospel is not Christ plus our spiritual disciplines, Christ plus free will, Christ plus our acts of love and service to others, or Christ plus our pious experiences, but Christ alone. All of our salvation is found in Christ, not in ourselves” (14).

This quote from Horton, on the skin-surface of things, is really not very inspirational. We want to feel like we’ve done our part. Taking to social media and sharing things like motivational memes and social justice hashtags make us feel like Ghandi for a second (and I am the worst offender). But might these well-intentioned endeavors serve as further evidence of what sad and self-serving creatures we really are? We do just enough public good so that those around us, our followers, believe we are not only decent people who care, but practically cyber-martyrs. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.” I’d like to add that I believe we do good, whether we realize it or not, because of that pleasure it gives our minds. Even at our best, most humanitarian selves, this is the more accurate condition of humanity (of me).

il_570xN.666392580_banl (1)It’s true what Babe Ruth said in The Sandlot: “Legends never die.” But the legend in this narrative ain’t me. What Horton suggests is this: “God does it all, and we contribute nothing but our sinfulness.”

This is not a downer message. It is the most inspirational, liberating notion I can think of: that the it in life (whatever it is on any given day for any given person: ranging from salvation, to job status, to racial equality, to fertility, to bank accounts, even to ministry) is out of my hands. “I’m the same, I’m the same,” and God will handle the changing. The onus is not on me to save the world. The burden is not on me to raise the perfect children. It’s not on me to write the most spiritually profound article this side of the Ten Commandments. Maybe these things will all come to pass. But it wont be because I carpe diemed or grabbed some poor, unsuspecting bull by its horns. It will be by a nothing-but-miraculous act of a mighty God, working graciously in and through a cracked and bitter nut like me.

If I haven’t made my case yet, I think it’s not hard to look at the tumultuous state of humanity right now and see something resembling the vast desert of dried and decayed bones described in Ezekiel 37. We are a hurting people and the wisdom and encouragement imparted through inspirational memes and quotations give us a short-lived sense of power and control: “We could at least be heroes,” we nobly think to ourselves. But Ezekiel’s vision doesn’t end there. God says, “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord” (37:5,6). How beautiful, how perfectly inspirational.

When (not if) life beats us up, may God take us to our brittle knees in the hollow of our dry and darkened valley, where we are finally made to recognize the blessed source of the breath in our lungs; the animator of our very movements; the well-spring of any good deed, interesting idea, or emboldened creative gesture; the savior of our souls who came to earth, died for us, and who pieces us back together (all at once and then daily) bone to bone: The Big Magic.