“I hate to think about the fact that the people who love me show me grace for all my faults. I prefer to believe instead that the math works: that there are good things about me and hard things about me, but that they’ve checked the math and because I’m funny enough, they can let go of how terrible I look most days, or that if I’m interesting enough, the fact that my house is dirty isn’t such a big deal. But that kind of math is specifically anti-grace. Grace isn’t about netting out on the right side of things.
If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic.”**
It’s easy to accept the gift of grace when I feel that I deserve it. But the reality of grace is hardest to swallow when I realize just how undeserving I am. I usually do like to treat grace like math, where I can put all the good and selfless things I’ve done on one side of the scale, and the “fewer” self-centered, ugly things I’ve done on the other side and, generally, feel good about coming out ahead (regardless of how slight that may be).
But to screw up…to make a decision that is anti-good and anti-God, it reminds me how little the good I do matters in the amount of grace I receive.
It’s like a splash of cold water in my face, reminding me of my humanity and how within a matter of minutes, my scale can tip and break. And suddenly (but really, all along) the good I’ve done is not currency in which I can buy back the grace I was so sure I had earned. In fact, the currency of grace is unequal to anything we can comprehend. And we can’t earn it or buy it or deserve it. Ever.
We like things to be fair, for the sides to balance out. We want our debt to stay low and our savings to stay high and our monthly statements to measure out. We want to show someone kindness and forgiveness, and we expect the same thing in return. We expect people to come through for us in ways we would for them, in friendships that are mutual in their giving and their receiving.
But sometimes that just isn’t the case. Sometimes we just plain need things we can’t give in return. And sometimes our friends are sponges, totally helpless to give yet in full need of anything we can render. What we can give should not be a prerequisite for what we should receive. We need to throw away our calculator and selflessly be exactly what our friends need, and their “thanks” won’t even come close to “calling it even”. And that is the beauty of grace.
I do want to make clear that I do not think the concept of grace absolves us from keeping each other accountable. That because we’re all covered in a grace that never thins does not mean all things are permissible or acceptable or good. We are still to set an example in the choices me we make, and we have a responsibility to call ourselves and those around us to a higher standard of living.
It is disappointing to see grace that allows sin to run rampant. That because we proclaim a gospel of love, morality and godly living suffers in the name of an all-inclusive, permissible acceptance of people and their decisions.
And people are to be accepted and loved and welcomed for exactly who they are, their messy, complicated selves (and how thankful for that I am!). But that doesn’t mean all of their (our… my….) actions are to be permitted and accepted. It’s along the lines of “God loves us too much to leave us that way” that we get to learn and grow and refuse to let sin creep into the closets of our lives because “in the name of grace” we don’t want to approach someone else’s closet full of who-knows-what.
I need my friends to raid my closet of junk. I need them to ask me why I treated that person in that way, or why I thought it was okay to make that decision when clearly, it goes against what we both believe to be true. I need to be challenged, and I need tough love. Because without it, I would be a selfish, bratty nightmare that acted out of emotions and desires and did whatever I pleased.
I do not want to be that person.
I do, however, want to be the person that is accepted with love in-spite of the days where I am less than loving. And I want to forgo my entitlement to thinking I deserve a single second of grace. Because I don’t. And praise God that He thinks differently than me. That the grace I can earn is a a mere drop of water in the ocean of grace I get to swim in.
“At first, showing people grace makes your feel powerful, like scattering candy from a float in a parade–grace for you, grace for you. You become almost giddy, thinking of people in generous ways, allowing for their faults, absorbing minor irritations. You feel great, and then you start to feel just ever so slightly superior, because you’re so incredibly evolved and gracious.
But then inevitably something happens, and it usually involves you confronting one of your worst selves, often in public, and you realize that you’re not throwing candy off a float to a nameless, dirty public, but rather that you are that nameless, dirty public, and that you are starving and on your knees, praying for a little piece of sweetness, just one mouthful of grace.”**
**Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist