2015 is over, 2016 has just begun. Christmas celebrations are over and I find myself thinking about this past year. It’s been a good year and it’s been a hard one.
I feel blessed by God and think of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians “…asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.” (Eph. 1:17,18 NLT) I grew in the knowledge of God this past year and have more peace and confidence in the hope we have: God’s abundant grace and love for all people.
And though I stumble and can get stressed, “if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts…” (1 John 3:20 NIV) I have peace even in the struggle for God is for me, not against me. And I know He walks with me through the pain (I am not alone) and the ultimate goal is healing, restoration, and relationship with Him.
But it’s been a hard year, too. There were a number of people who passed away in our extended family and friends (my mom being one of them). We had to walk through some difficult things in addition to all of the above. Feeling weary and worn out is part of this season. So I continue to learn what it means to rest and trust.
And I am hopeful for the new year. One day at a time. Growing in my knowledge of God and His amazing love and grace. The more I learn to let go and receive His grace (without me doing anything about it), the more peace I experience, even in the midst of the ‘hard stuff’. His grace makes all the difference in the world. And I will not give it up or stop talking about it.
I pray that you will be able to receive God’s abundant grace for you and would know that you are not alone as you enter this new year with it’s blessings and hardships. Grace and peace to you in the name of the Triune God – Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
I completely forgot to post yesterday. Whoops!
I spent a portion of today preparing for what I’m going to talk about at church next week. And perfectionism is rearing it’s ugly head. I’ve been agonizing over this for weeks. I want to get it ‘just right’. But I’m getting the impression I need to trust God and be myself. The topic I’m speaking on is shame and grace so it’s not like I haven’t spent some time with the content. And when I get together with a group of people and start talking about this stuff, it flows out of me – unscripted – because I’m passionate about it and have thought about it a lot. That’s what happened this evening over supper with a group of friends and they seemed to be encouraged by it.
So…down with perfectionism! Onward to trust and surrender…
Yesterday I talked about grace. The challenge is to believe it. There’s something Jesus said: “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” (John 6:28-29 NIV)
This never made any sense to me. How can ‘believing’ be ‘work’? And how can it be the work God would want us to do? For someone who thought she needed to DO things in order to be ‘good enough’, this was completely counter to my thinking. I had heard all sorts of other messages in church, like praying and reading your Bible and being ‘good’. Believing…that wasn’t on the list (I’m guessing belief was assumed).
But I think I’m beginning to understand what Jesus was talking about. Living the life God desires for us is so much more about what we believe than what we do. What we believe drives our actions. Living that abundant life is hindered when we don’t believe Jesus and we believe things that are not true.
What did Jesus tell us? That God had come to “be with” (i.e., have connection with) his people, with all people (Matthew 1:23). He told us to turn from our darkness (and shame) and come to the Light/God (repent) (John 8:12, Mark 1:15, Luke 1:78-79). He told us that God loves us…so much so that He was sending Jesus to make a way for us to have connection/relationship with Him again (John 3:16). Paul tells us: “But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17, NLT [emphasis mine]). He also says: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT [empahsis mine]).
Now this is tricky, because there are lots of people who think they believe. The question is: what are they believing? If what they believe means they experience fear and condemnation (or shame) on a fairly consistent basis then I would suggest they take another look at what they’re believing. There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18) and God is love (1 John 4:8) so fear and shame wouldn’t be what I expect to see from someone who believes Jesus and believes His message of grace.
Believing and accepting grace is not necessarily an easy thing. Shame blinds us to grace. When we are bound by shame, we feel unworthy to come to God, we hide, and we stay bound up in blindness and unhealthy ways of being. This is where fear and condemnation have a field day. We stay hidden and shrink from vulnerability, which makes is difficult for us to understand or experience grace. I know this was true of my life.
For me, my journey towards grace involved taking baby steps of trust with people who I felt truly accepted me. With that slow increase in trust, I was able to ‘hear’ the True things they were saying. I experienced love and belonging. My beliefs started to shift – away from the lies in my head towards the Truth of the message of grace. With each ‘shift’, it became easier to embrace grace (even if it was the tiniest part of grace). And each time I received healing and love through this process, it became that little bit easier to trust and embrace more of grace.
This is where liberation and life happens. When we are able to believe and receive God’s grace, we stop being afraid and we stop hiding. We understand our identity is secure in the love and acceptance of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We can come to Him in our brokenness and He heals us and sets us free. We can be vulnerable. And this process is grounded in what we believe. All the doing in the world (to make ourselves better) will not achieve this. It’s also a life-long process. We will all experience shame throughout our lives. Believing Jesus means while we may have bouts in the darkness, we don’t have to stay there permanently. We can live in His love and light.
For any of you who have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that grace is a big deal to me. It’s a very big deal to me. And here’s why: for someone who grew up in an environment underscored by shame, who deep down felt was never good enough no matter how hard I tried…GRACE is the lifeline.
It’s the lifeline to experiencing connection and love. It’s the lifeline to learning to have compassion for myself (when all along I learned to hate myself – I would say terrible things to myself, things I would never say to anyone else). Grace is the lifeline to learning to be vulnerable (when all along is wasn’t ‘safe’ to be vulnerable – I learned very well how to ‘hide’, how to not let people see me because that would have been far too risky – my sense of self-worth was already being hammered…no way I would give anyone the chance to hammer it more).
Without grace I would be dead inside. I need to know, I need to hear, I need to experience over and over and over again that I AM worthy of love and belonging. Because God says so. I have His unmerited favor…that no matter what I do, no matter how broken, He loves and accepts me unconditionally. I have always had His love. I have always belonged to Him. Nothing in all creation can separate me from His love.
The messages I learned to tell myself are still in my mind, lurking under the surface. When I get struck by the warm wash of shame, they kick into full force, telling me I am the mistake, that I am stupid, that I am worthless. When I am experiencing these strong feelings in the darkness of my soul, I can look up and see the Light and it reminds me that grace is holding me and it will not let me go. Even though I feel like crap, I can tell myself that God loves and accepts me, that I am enough, that I am worthy of love and belonging. I may not feel that at the moment, but leaning into these truths helps lift me out of my hole of shame.
Because of grace and my growing ability to receive it in the midst of my brokenness, shame does not ‘knock me out’ for as long as it did before. Before I would be living in a shame storm for weeks, months, years. Now, I might be knocked out for a couple of hours, days, or if it’s really bad, a week at the most.
So I will keep talking about grace; I don’t think we talk about it nearly enough. I will make it a big deal until the day I die. It is Life to me. Or as Glennon Doyle Melton says: “Grace is the only buzz I have left and they will take it from my cold, dead hands.”
Here’s the video where she says this – it’s worth watching the whole thing.
I’ve written about watching Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”. This is the part that blew my mind:
They just believe???? Isn’t there something they DO??
And it struck me: it’s GRACE.
The wholehearted know grace: “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God”. They believe they are worthy of love and belonging because they know grace. I truly believe that.
More on this tomorrow…