Some of us feel discouraged about ourselves today. We are disappointed by our ongoing sins. We fall short of our desires to be faithful. Our efforts haven’t amounted to much. It would be a gift to look at our lives and feel satisfied with our progress in sanctification or accomplish what we set out to do, but we often fall short. In this disappointment, I am learning the beauty of the words “I’m trying.”

A few months ago, I was reading Mark 15. It was the first time I noticed the chapter was split into three parts. The first section highlighted people who were against Jesus: the chief priests, the crowd, the soldiers, and even passersby. They hurled accusations, mocked, and reviled him. They wanted him dead (Mark 15:3–32). In the middle was Jesus’s crucifixion. And in the end section, there were people around Jesus who demonstrated devotion to him: the centurion who faced him and said, “Truly this man was the Son of God,” the women who looked on from a distance, and Joseph of Arimathea who courageously went to ask Pilate for Jesus’s body (Mark 15:39–47). In stark contrast to the first group, the actions of these people revealed hearts that loved Jesus and wanted to honor him.

Recently, a guest preacher at my church shared from John 21. In this passage, Jesus is resurrected and reveals himself to his disciples who were fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Peter in particular may have returned to fishing because he was ashamed. Before the crucifixion, he had denied Jesus three times despite his earlier insistence that he would remain loyal to the end. The passage describes Jesus and Peter’s significant exchange where Jesus restores Peter from his shame and recommissions him to ministry. Yet the sermon highlighted something that happened before this well-known conversation that I never noticed before. In verse 7 it says,

The disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.

Though Peter was fishing, when he heard it was Jesus, he immediately got dressed, threw himself into the sea, and swam to land—to Jesus.

These people surrounding Jesus and the glimpses of their devotion have ministered to me lately. Different people, different stories, some marked by failure and shame, different ways of expressing their love for Jesus, and yet in a significant way, it is clear that they are choosing him. They are choosing to be with him and to do right by him. They are choosing to be for him, not against him—to move towards him, not away from him. Imperfectly, weakly, unimpressively, diversely—it is clear what or whom they have chosen.

Back to the phrase “I’m trying.” This phrase is meaningful when I get caught up in anxious toiling: wanting to do better and measure up; to be less selfish or more disciplined; to be less constrained by physical limitations; to be a good daughter, sister, aunt, employee, friend, church member—on and on it goes. These are all good things. But after a period of trying so hard to make these things happen, I still often fall short. Efforts seem fruitless. Things are still broken, and I myselfam still broken. In times of discouragement, I reach the point of desperation and say, “God, I’m trying.”

With these words, my heart is saying: “God, I wouldn't blame you for being displeased and disappointed, but I’m trying my best here. I know the results aren’t all that great. There’s not much to show for the effort. Relationships are still fractured. I still haven't met other people's expectations or pleased the people I sought to please. Decisions I made—maybe I didn’t have enough wisdom. I could’ve done things differently, and I’m sorry. Maybe if I were wiser, maybe if I were godlier, more disciplined, more competent, less sinful—maybe then, things would’ve turned out better. But I’m trying, God. You know I’m trying. I’m trying to seek you and be prayerful. I’m trying to do right by you and others. You have given me your Spirit, a heart of flesh so that I would live to love you and others. I want this. I’m sorry I’m messing it all up, but you know I’m trying.”

I wonder if that’s why these people surrounding Jesus have seemed so beautiful to me. In their imperfect, weak, maybe unimpressive ways, they are trying as well. I see the sincerity of their effort and heart. I see that they have sought to choose Jesus. It is not the successful outcome that blesses me. It’s not that Joseph of Arimathea successfully retrieved Jesus’s body; it’s the fact that he wanted to ask for it in the first place. It’s not that Peter made it to shore, it’s his desire to get to Jesus at all, especially given the shame he must have felt. For all these people, the encouragement is the fact that they even wanted to, that they tried, to follow Jesus. And when Jesus and Peter talk on the beach, Jesus’s question is “Do you love me, Peter?” Peter says, “Yes, you know that I love you.” Three times.

I may confront my failures and shortcomings on a daily, hourly basis, yet I think, like Peter, I can say the same. I do love you, Jesus. And I am trying to live a life pleasing to you because I want to, because you are worthy of it. While I know trying isn’t everything, I think it is something. Maybe not something to anyone else, but something to you.

When sharing these thoughts with a colleague, he mentioned the Westminster Confession of Faith 16:7, which speaks of the good works done by believers. It says,

Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

I am slowly learning about the heart of God, that he is pleased to accept in Christ that which is sincere, even if it is very imperfect. I am learning that he does not despise that which is offered in sincerity even if it bears the marks of weakness. For any of you who are trying, the sincerity of your life and your trying is beautiful, too. May we, as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, empowered by the Spirit, keep trying. And may we know the pleasure our Father takes in our trying today.