"We are all asked to do more than we can do. Every hero and heroine of the Bible does more than he would have thought it possible to do, from Gideon to Esther to Mary."
I love the message that is in these words. I'm now writing about chapter 3 of Walking on Water and am finding wisdom in almost every page. The idea that Madeleine L'Engle is exploring here is the idea that none of us are "qualified" for the life God asks us to lead. God is ever asking us to do better, to reach higher, to love more fiercely, to overcome fear and hardship, to mimic His son Jesus Christ. And it is only by the "sheer gift" of God's love and grace that we are able to be whole and healed and to fulfill the mission God has set for each of us. She writes this:
In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own.
The most beautiful example that I can think of, and the one that Madeleine L'Engle chooses to point to, is the deafness of one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Beethoven wrote these painful lines to his brothers, in 1802:
Born with a passionate and excitable temperament, keenly susceptible to the pleasures of society, I was yet obliged early in life to isolate myself, and to pass my existence in solitude. If I at any time resolved to surmount all this, oh! how cruelly was I again repelled by the experience, sadder than ever, of my defective hearing! — and yet I found it impossible to say to others: Speak louder; shout! for I am deaf! Alas! how could I proclaim the deficiency of a sense which ought to have been more perfect with me than with other men, — a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, to an extent, indeed, that few of my profession ever enjoyed!
By every earthly measure, Beethoven was "unqualified." He was asked to do more than he could do. But anyone who knows his music would be hard-pressed to deny that his most sublime, most transcendent, and heavenly works are from the years when he was fully deaf, not able to hear even one note of the music that ran through his mind and in his veins. L'Engle asks, "Could Beethoven have written that glorious paean of praise in the Ninth Symphony if he had not had to endure the dark closing in of deafness?"
On a much more humble level, I can see the truth of this in my own life. My parents still find it highly amusing that their quiet little daughter, the one who would freeze up when all eyes were on her, and become a terrified statue when the softball was hit to her, was the one who became a performer--on a stage, in front of people. No, my personality has not undergone major changes since I was 10 (though I am much less shy than I was). Like with each one of us, God has asked me to do more than I can do. He has given me a passion that requires me to do something highly uncomfortable for me, something that very much goes against my reserved nature. I don't think I will ever love to perform. But I love music and I love the piano. This is why I perform, and through the grace of God, I am able to do it.
L'Engle closes the chapter this way:
And for each one of us there is a special gift, the way in which we may best serve and please the Lord whose love is so overflowing. And gifts should never be thought of quantitatively. One of the holiest women I have ever known did little with her life in terms of worldly success; her gift was that of bringing laughter with her wherever she went, no matter how dark or grievous the occasion. Wherever she was, holy laughter was present to heal and redeem.