Troubling Grace

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Some weeks back, one of my friends led worship for college outreach called Coalesce. The pastor who brought the message said that Millennials “have a hard time accepting our true worth.”

Instantly, I was indignant a.) because I hate being lumped into a category b.) because it is true c.) because my generation is not the only generation struggling to accept its worth.

I think we are all trying to accept our worth and missing the reality of our worth entirely. Maybe we feel we aren’t worth much, maybe our true worth is obstructed by an oversized ego, maybe we are too busy telling ourselves we get it when really we don’t get it at all.

I believe our worth is tied to grace. If we are to be honest with ourselves, our worth—God’s grace—is something with which we all struggle. And if you don’t, maybe you should think about it a little more. Grace should trouble us.

God so loved world, God so loved you and me, God saw so much worth in you and me, that He sent His son to redeem the world.  My God! I feel I have so little capacity to fathom the depth of such a thing! I do not think any of us will fully comprehend grace, but I think the way to catch glimpses of understanding is by allowing it to trouble us.

Our struggle with God’s gift of grace is not a private struggle—not entirely—because our grace theology pervades everything we do: how we treat one another and how we treat ourselves.  Our struggle can morph into subtle biases or judgmentalism. Callousness. Detachment. Bombastic piety.

We start pointing at specs of wood hoping the ruckus is enough to shade the planks in our eyes. We draw lines in the sand separating our sin from other sins, hiding our own sins, creating every kind of division in existence out of the shame and guilt in our tightly clenched fists.

Individual struggle becomes our relational struggle, manifesting new individual struggles on the foundation of preexisting ones. It piles up and suddenly there is a lot of trash to take out before the heart of the issue is even exposed.

When our struggle with grace is more about how we feel about ourselves, it can prevent us from being vulnerable with others, trying new things, showing others who we really are and the list goes on.

What is most troubling about grace for me is my unwillingness to extend grace to myself—which forces me to question if I can accept grace at all. Extending grace to others and rejoicing in God’s extension of grace does not cause the kind of unease I experience when I think about having to seriously accept my own imperfection.

Sitting in the humidity of such tension, the thickness of the air heavy in my lungs, I write this blog—with the weight of the word grace on my tongue.

At the age of four or five I bawled like my life was over because I could not play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” perfectly the very first time I sat down at the piano. Never mind a lack of piano lessons or never having played the song on any other instrument in my life. I could not seem to accept myself for not being able to do something I was not even expected to know.

The same mentality accompanied me into adulthood. I don’t bawl like my life is over every time I can’t do something—at least not on a regular basis. Letting go and accepting myself as I am are things God is teaching me, but there are still strong holds of self-frustration and anger. The more adult me has merely developed a sophisticated way of beating myself up. Rather than obnoxious wailing, I feed myself garbage…

I’m lonely and I tell myself I am the reason why I am alone. I don’t always love people like I should and I tell myself I am hopeless.  People don’t love me like I think they should and I tell myself it is because I am not loveable.

I am not yet financially independent and I tell myself it is because I am a failure. Every example I have given so far has been about me while there is an entire world of people hurting, dying and broken—and I chastise myself for this. What have I done about them?

Ultimately, it all amounts to not being able to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with absolute perfection; my inability to be who I think I should be or do what I think I should do. I’m trying to make myself perfect rather than allowing God to be God. In some messed up, totally human way, I try to be my own god—one who expects perfection and is stingy with grace.

I did not write this so I could have a public moment with my self-depreciation. I wrote it because I think someone reading this knows exactly how I feel. Really, I think more of us feel this way than our pride will let us admit.

When we draw lines in the sand against each other we perpetuate un-love and create more issues than we resolve. Sometimes the most cavernous line we draw, we draw against ourselves.

Jesus draws something else. We don’t know the literal image or word, or if he had any objective at all when he stooped to write in the dirt. The Bible does not tell us. But we do know the result: a mob put down their stones and walked away. Jesus created unity in brokenness—unity in imperfection—with himself as the single remedy.

When I think about this story, I am not the adulterous woman. I am not the mob. I am both. I am simultaneously crying out for grace and demanding blood for my imperfection.

Toward the end of Coalesce worship, a copy of Psalm 139 with enough space at the bottom to write a response was distributed. After reading a piece of scripture I have read many times, with tears I penned a message to myself from God. I am going to share with you what I wrote.

I think God would say this to each of us—especially when we beat ourselves up over not being perfect—when we are the mob demanding our own punishment. I think the result ought to be the same for us as when Jesus drew in the sand.

Put down your stone and walk away.

Brittani—I am so proud of you. There is nothing you must do and nothing you must do perfectly to earn my love. It is already yours. I made you who you are—if I had desired you to be different I would have made it so. You are precious to me. Do not be so quick to pull away from where I have placed you, do not be so quick to stay, rather, pursue me, pursue others, and pursue your gifts. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your journey.

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