I’m all about the grace. Grace is one of my favourite words.
At my darkest of times, when it felt like the world was closing in on me I have known the sweet relief of grace. Grace in the actions of my friends, calling at the right moment, anticipating my needs. Grace revealed in a beautiful sunset, refreshing rain, or the flowers in my garden. Grace for my soul, in the quiet knowledge I am accepted and loved regardless of my mood or actions, knowing I belong.
Mercy, grace, favour when I really don’t deserve it. Amen and hallelujah.
If Grace is poured out on me when I haven’t done anything to earn it, then the opposite is also true:
I cannot earn grace.
Or you could say:
Just because I behave well, doesn’t mean I am entitled to a life of grace and favour.
This is a hard truth for those of us brought up with the knowledge that actions have consequences, that you reap what you sow. We who, as a wise man* said the other day, were brought up with the wisdom of Proverbs**.
On one level we know the inherent truth in this wisdom; if you don’t study you may fail your exams, if you practise unsafe sex you may contract an STD, if you don’t teach your children manners, you won’t get invited on many play dates.
This much we know.
But at the deepest level, at the heart of the matter, we also know this 2+2=4 way of attempting to make life go my way doesn’t always work.
I cannot make someone fall in love with me. I cannot ensure my children wont get their hearts’ broken. I cannot guarantee illness will not knock at my door.
I cannot control the big things.
I cannot earn my grace.
And boy do I want to. And boy have I tried.
I have lived moving cautiously trying to avoid harm or danger. I have lived to please others, making myself into my most likeable self, morphing and changing according to the company I am with. I have lived trying to tick every box on the good-Mum register, sacrificing wherever necessary for my children. I have lived desperately scrabbling around on the ladder of career, attempting to curate a life which looked successful.
I have lived trying to be thinner, or stronger, or cleverer, or more Godly, thinking if I could just gain the badge that proved I have been consistently working-hard, serving-others, always-loyal, then my life would turn out the way I wanted.
Surely then I would have to succeed, I would have to know the sweet smell of grace and favour on my life because I had done everything right to earn it.
But we know this is not how it goes.
I struggle with not being able to get grace-on-demand when I think I am owed it. This has for me been the tricky, shitty, shadow (whatever you want to call it) side of grace. No matter how hard I might try and force it, no matter how good I think I am being, or how hard I think I am working, my actions cannot guarantee me a life where things turn out how I want.
It is very frustrating.
Despite my best efforts, my life is not perfect.
For a while I believed it was my inconsistency, my inability to get every-thing-right-all-the-time was the reason that I suffered, or my kids or marriage weren’t perfect.
But it turns out, grace doesn’t work like that.
Grace is a gift. And you don’t earn gifts, they are given.
And I know this and yet I still want it both ways. I want the surprising gift of grace when I screw up, but I also want to be able to buy, barter and work my way to earn a life of grace.
I am learning this is not how it goes. I have to accept the full hard truth of grace, not just the parts I like, that make me feel warm and fuzzy.
Life is big, and messy. It surprises me and saddens me. It is glorious and painful. And this is the wisdom of Ecclesiastes*** which day by day I am seeing to be true. We only have this day, this moment, this hour. And I cannot control how it turns out. I cannot use my actions as a bartering tool, promising God my best behaviour if he would only sort out this person, or relationship, or situation. That kind of manipulation is ugly, leaves a bad taste in the mouth and doesn’t work.
The truth is grace doesn’t have a shadow side, my ego has a superior side.
My ego has an ugly side that wants its own way, and wants to control others to get it’s craving for success, or power, or popularity met. My ego is a slippery beast. It will try and tell me God’s grace is not sufficient, that I need to hold on tight and force his hand.
But I am learning to recognise my ego. To look him in the eye. As I do, I see my ego for who he is. I am learning to quieten him.
I am walking more simply. It is a process, I’m still a beginner. Doing just the next thing, then the next. On some days I get this right and I don’t try and force an outcome, or convince someone else I am right and they are wrong.
And when I manage this, it un-complicate things. I exhale.
I am starting to live with a more open-hand, remembering grasping and grabbing and shouting louder to get my own way only ends up with me hurt and disappointed.
I am unfurling my entitlement, allowing it to rest on the palm of my hand, then releasing it.
Or trying to.
My only job, the only thing I can do, is walk through my life, day by day. Try to accept what happens, make it my goal to love those in front of me, and to remember to be grateful for all the passing, momentary graces I experience.
At this moment, as always, it is good to quote some Richard Rohr:
“Our DNA is divine, and the divine indwelling is never earned by any behaviour or ritual, but only recognised and realised and fallen in love with. When you are ready, you will be both underwhelmed and overwhelmed at the boundless mystery of your own humanity. You will know you are standing under the same waterfall of mercy as everybody else and receiving an undeserved radical grace, which gets to the root of your own soul.”
What he said.
Big love people X
*Rob Bell actually, at his How To Be Here event in London.
** Proverbs is a book in the Bible which offers many good ideas about how to live well, to maintain good relationships, how to work and love and live a life of peace. There is a lot in it about causation, how our action have consequences. It contains a lot of good advice. A lot of truth.
*** Ecclesiastes is another book in the Bible. It is one of those books that for years you wonder whether it was put there by mistake. It talks a lot about life being meaningless, about the fact that you can’t control anything and that everything returns to dust anyway, so why bother. At a certain point in your life this starts making a lot more sense than proverbs, usually when you have gone through some serious trauma and opened your life to the pain and heartache all around. It also advises that you enjoy today, because it is all you have. Which, if you ask me, is very good advice indeed.