Anne Lamott: “I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
This past Sunday in our faith community, I spoke on subject of grace. The topic had snuck up on me at a gathering of friends a week ago as we were reading a “soon to be published” book by author Deanna Nowadnick. Grace is something that is so surprising…so out of the ordinary…so outrageious that one needs to stop every so often and delve into its healing waters once again. This idea of grace…just when you think you’ve got everything in life figured out…your little religious system working just right…God comes along as says “hey following me isn’t about systems, rules, accomplishments or seniority…it’s about grace. Life is about God’s undeserved, unmerited favor and love. Remember, Grace is always about God’s action, character and nature of love but it is “targeted” directly and personally toward you and me.
So, just in case you need a bit of reminding, here’s my quick list of three things to never forget about God’s grace:
1. Grace is undeserved
You can’t do anything to earn it…you don’t deserve it. Grace isn’t a right; it isn’t something God is bound to; Grace is free - God’s love? Free! God always takes the initiative, moving toward us with His grace to show us again mercy and love despite anything or anyone around us who wants to tell us otherwise. We don’t deserve Grace. What do you and me deserve? Here’s a question for you…since most of us who are reading this devotional have God in the overall picture of our lives, what can you and me actually demand from God? What do we deserve from God? I’ve thought about that question a lot lately so without getting into a big long story on the subject that would probably bore you and make this devotional lot longer than you are praying it is, let me say this: We don’t deserve anything! We can’t demand anything!
Turn on the news sometime and see for yourself…it’s not as if we are doing a good job in this world and we have some sort of earned right to stroll up to the throne of God and say something like, “hey Jesus…we’ve been doing pretty good lately…have you noticed?” I don’t know about you, but I’d say we flunked the “we’re doing pretty good” test. And even when we do try to clean up our act or straighten up or live some sort of stellar life, we eventually do mess things up royally. You know that to be true! And what does God give us as a result of all that? What does God give us even when we consistently prove that we don’t deserve a darn thing? Nope…He doesn’t shell out judgment or punishment…HE GIVES US GRACE. You see, what we deserve from God isn’t the issue – it is what we GET…we get grace!
2. Grace can't be earned.
So many people over the years I’ve talked to…so many have said almost these exact words, “Robin, of course God accepts me, I know that…yet He still expects me to live up to some specific level of spiritual performance, doesn’t he?” Performance based religion has been the bane of humanity since the beginning of time. For some reason, while Adam and Eve were still wiping their mouths from the juice of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, something clicked in humanity where WE GOT THE IDEA that we could pick up the slack of our lives on our own. And, as we are apt to do, we took it further because then we started to take some very good things like prayer, worship, serving God, the bible, friendships, etc. and twist them into sort of checklist of performance.
You see, this is what performance religion is all about:
• We can be our own God – do it ourselves
• Life depends on what we do, how well we perform, how good our efforts are
• What we receive in life comes from what we have achieved on our own
• Our culture reinforces this thinking with reward systems, raises, approvals, success stories…when the tragic thing is that, in the long run, it only messes with our mind and heart
The biblical story is a story, in many respects, not only about God and His grace but the story of humanity’s unsuccessful attempt to save themselves. We can’t save ourselves from ourselves, and believe me, its right there in black and white. People have tried to FOR CENTURIES. What’s going on now is NOTHING NEW. That’s why you can’t earn grace. God’s love and approval of YOU is completely detached from what YOU do or can do or should do or would do if given enough time and information. God’s love is given to you freely and uncontrollably…it’s just true and it’s just there…for you and me!
3. Grace is not part of a bargain, in other words; some people try to turn the love of God into a deal.
“If you do this for me God, I’ll repay you…” ever done that? “If you get me out of this jam…pay my taxes…get me healed…fix my husband or wife…give me a better paying job…I’ll repay you.” Are we called to offer ourselves back to God in response to His love and grace? Yes, by all means! But let me tell you straight…Jesus doesn't say I love you because…or since…or if…or when…or after…or provided…or presuming…He just says I LOVE YOU! That love is not a loan, it is a gift! You can refuse it but you can’t stop it. And I know that there is always someone in some room who is a cynic who will be tempted to say, “well, if that’s true, what if I blow it? Doesn’t that affect God’s love for me?” Well, the truth is, yep; we are all going to choke on some aspect of life. But let me tell you something that you can take to the bank. It is so powerful, so you have to read this slowly:
“If our failures could stop grace, it wouldn’t be grace”
Jesus loves you. He accepts you. He willingly comes to live with and in you. He grafts you into his life. Jesus calls you His son or daughter not because of, but just because. Many times in my life, I’ve felt like a failure. And I’m sure you have as well. And many times in my life I get the sense that God isn’t happy with me. It doesn’t matter how much of the bible I read, how many times I pray, how many times I try to listen to God and serve God, sometimes it never seems to be enough. Unfortunately, little do I truly understand that when I’m thinking like that, I’m in inescapable bondage. When I believe that a better performance would please God and prompt him to give me something I don’t already have in abundance, I’m in trouble and caught in a trap. And when you are in that type of bondage, it will, I guarantee you, pull whatever joy out of your life and love of God that you have experienced in the sum total of your days.
Performance based religion will chew you up and spit you out. You’ll be trashed. But if you can just wrap your head around, or better yet, wrap your heart around God’s grace, well, then you are in store for some massive healing. You will FEEL worthy because God has deemed you worthy to receive His love and grace. And God can give you that relief, that sweet relief we all need from keeping tabs on ourselves. When we try to always keep up the good performance…when we have that inner critic taking shots at us all the time telling us lies about how much we mean to God, when we are truly relieved of smoldering resentment and building anger against a god who always seems to demand more than we can possibly give, we can truly find peace. But that can ONLY BE in God’s grace. And trust me on this too, when grace brings you relief, you will find that you have some grace left over to give to others. You see, my experience tells me that UNGRACED PEOPLE have LITTLE GRACE TO GIVE. And when grace isn’t given, yes even and especially on a daily basis, you can bet that broken relationships, anger, resentments are sure to follow. That’s why GRACE can impact you and when it does, it spills over to others. TONS of people I know need to know more about God’s grace and the only way they might see it is from YOU! But you have to let it wash over your soul and continue to wash over your soul to the point when you pick up a cup of what is always there, leftovers, and you pass it on to another person. So, surrender to God’s grace and do it NOW!
Here are some closing words from Father Richard Rohr to encourage you to “let go to God’s grace.”
To Western or comfortable people, surrender and letting go sounds like losing. But it’s actually accessing a deeper, broader sense of the self, which is already whole, already content, already filled with abundant life. This is the part of you that has always loved God and said “Yes” to God. It’s the part of you that is Love, and all we have to do is let go and fall into it. It’s already there. Once you move your identity to that level of deep inner contentment and compassion, you realize that you’re drawing upon a Life that is larger than your own, and from a deeper Abundance. Once you learn to do that, why would you ever again settle for some scarcity model for life? But sadly, we continually do just that. The scarcity model is the way we’re trained to think: “I am not enough. This is not enough. I do not have enough.” So we try to attain more and more, and climb higher and higher. Thomas Merton said we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to discover that when we get to the top our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. Fall into the Big Truth that we all share, the Big Truth that is God, that is Grace itself, where you are overwhelmed by more than enoughness! Your spiritual journey is about living more and more in that abundant place where you don’t have to wrap yourself around your hurts, your defeats, your failures; but you can get practiced in letting go and saying “That’s not me. I don’t need that. I’ve met a better self, a truer self.