This weekend I thought about today's email and found myself a little overwhelmed. I had so much it earned to write about! After praying a little I felt a particular pull toward one word: grace.
I've grown up in liturgical circles my whole life. My mom is a pastor and theology school professor. My dad is a Bible teacher extraordinaire. I went to Christian schools as a child. I was in church pretty much every day as a kid. I've pretty much always been surrounded by preachers and deacons and "church folk".
Somewhere along the way, I got lost in my cultural emersion, though. People who are familiar with church culture might be able to relate to me, here. Somewhere along the way, my perception of my salvation became all about me. The consequences of this thought process were pretty ugly.
In my second year at Hampton University, I pretty much gave up on Christianity. Sure, I kept the facade for my family and church community. The truth was, though... I was exhausted. I was tired of working so hard to fit into the perceived Christian ideal. I was sick of faking. I was sick of feeling guilty all the time; guilty for my thoughts or partying, or whatever else I thought would make my fellow church members gasp in disapproval.
I really did pretty much give up. I gave little to no thought to God or Jesus for a long time. I did what I wanted. It felt good, too! I was so happy to just feel FREE!
Then, after a couple of years some real conviction started to weigh on me. What I once considered freedom started to become terribly heavy. I felt a need for relief. So, I did what I knew to do. I went back to my laborious life - my pursuit of perceived perfection.
Neither of these spaces was comfortable for me. Even though I was really good at faking it, it sucked to always feel the need to jump through hoops to please God and his peopl. It hurt even more to separate myself from God because I felt the expectations were unachievable for me. I was hurting at a really deep level and didn't even know it. I did my best to keep chugging along in deep internal conflict. Nobody even knew I was going through it. Well... except one special person.
It wasn't until my dear friend and I began to talk about all of this that I discovered that I'd gotten lost. What I discovered was that my salvation and my peace of mind weren't really about me at all. It wasn't about other people's perceptions of me. Their judgements had no influence on my standing before God. I had it all wrong. My friend opened me up to really understand the mind blowing concept of God's grace.
Sure, I'd heard the word before. I knew the churchy definition of what grace was. But, I had a twisted understanding of grace in reality. In my mind grace had been given once and I had better be as close to perfect as I could be in order to keep my grace-stamp. Even though I'd memorized a definition of grace the began with the word "unmerited," I was still trying to win God's approval. Worse still, I was using people's responses to me and what I did or how I dressed or what I said as the barometer of God's approval of me. The church culture's approval of me was commensurate with God's approval; at least in my head.
You may ask... what did your life look like? I'll tell you. Miserable. It looked like extremism and discomfort. It looked like someone lurching from being a goody-goody to being a hellian, and looking uncomfortable at both extremes. That was me!
It wasn't until I accepted grace and stopped trying to win my own salvation that I really found myself. Grace made it possible for me to be comfortable in my own skin. Grace meant I didn't have to fight or be unstable or please people or prove anything. Grace meant I only had to trust in Jesus.
This isn't to say that I don't believe I still have to fight with sin. Quite the contrary. I'm keenly aware of my sinful propensities. I struggle with them daily. But, God's grace set me free to struggle and put an end to my hopeless struggle to be free.
Grace made me ok. It gave me peace with missing the mark. At the same time, it wrested from me my false sense of control and gave me the fresh air of surrender. Because of grace, I stopped wrestling with myself. God's grace opened me to the Holy Spirit who is fighting on my side, refining and purifying me. It's no longer my fight.
Before I understood and truly accepted the infinite gift of grace I would beat myself up with the phrase: "you're not cutting it." Now, when that phrase pops in my brain, grace reminds me that I'm not supposed to. Jesus has done it already! All I have to do is just trust him.
"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." - Ephesians 2:6-9
No questions this week.