I have a confession: sometimes I think I'm better than you.
I know, I know. It's bad. I know it's bad.
It doesn't come out in a conscious, "you suck and I'm awesome" way. But it comes out when I am angered by the concept of grace.
Grace for you, of course.
Because I don't need any.
I'm the "good girl." I follow all the rules. To borrow a phrase from Derek Webb, even a few I made up. Even a few I made up and put on you and then expect you to follow. Because I'm following them. And why shouldn't you have to follow the same rules I do?
Why should you get to miss three weeks in a row of a weekly commitment we both signed up for, when I was there every week? I could have been watching Doctor Who on Netflix for the hundredth time, for crying out loud. But I wasn't. Because I do what I say I'm going to do.
Why should you get a free pass? Why should anyone? If you follow all the rules, you won't have a problem.
But sometimes even I don't live up to my own standards. When that happens, I am filled with regret and anxiety and must make it up to myself later. Or to whomever I assume is placing these expectations on me (usually it's just myself again). Or just justify it and move on.
Grace is nowhere to be found. Not toward you. Not toward myself.
Yeah, God has grace for me and whatever but really I don't need it because I deserve God's favor.
What? Yep, I said it.
I've never said that out loud, but that's what I say with my thoughts and actions.
I mean, overall my track record has more "good" (or at least just "not bad") things than "bad" things, and I've apologized for those few "bad" things, so I'm still in the clear, here, right?
We are studying Jonah at my church right now, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite books. It is not just a story of a man getting swallowed by a fish because he disobeyed.
It is a story of God's relentless pursuit of those whom he loves and his even more relentless grace.
This week our pastor quoted a man who said "The only man who is offended by grace is the one who thinks he deserves God's favor." (my paraphrase)
Jonah was one of those people. He had a problem with the doctrine of grace. Often I am one of those people.
The Ninevites didn't deserve grace. They were living egregiously. But God gave it anyway. Jonah hated it. He hated it because he thought he deserved God's favor and they didn't. It wasn't fair. He literally would rather die than endure such injustice.
I can so see myself in that picture. I can also see myself as the brother in the story of the prodigal son.
Him? He gets the fattened calf? I've literally been here the whole time. I didn't break the rules. I didn't insult you by asking for my inheritance early, then desert my family and go squander it like it meant nothing to me. I've been faithfully following the rules and doing everything I was supposed to. Where's my party?
That would be me, on the inside.
So I'm trying to learn grace.
If nothing else, I am learning through marriage that I am absolutely not flawless. In particular, I am blatantly selfish. I am uninterruptible. I often get caught up in the trap that it's all about me.
I clearly need grace. I need it from the Lord. I need it from others, and I need it from myself. Even if I don't live up to my own standards, it's okay. I am human and I am broken, but I am loved, not just in spite of, but including all my flaws.
I am also trying to have more grace for others. To not hold them to this invisible set of standards only I can see. To understand that life is messy and people are messy and not everything can fit in a perfect little box. Not everyone has the same priorities as me, and it doesn't make theirs wrong.
God's grace is limitless. It is beautifully shown in his patient pursuit of Jonah's heart, particularly when, in response to Jonah's indignant wailing (twice), he asks:
"Do you do well to be angry?"
Doesn't your whole body just melt in response to that question? My hardened heart begins to defrost immediately. It's such a simple, kind and gentle rebuking of Jonah's spirit. So patient, like a father kneeling down to speak at eye-level with a child who is still huffing and puffing after an angry outburst, arms crossed, reluctant tears still trickling down his flushed face.
That's me. At least some of the time.
So grace is the theme of my life at the moment. Learning to have it for others. Learning to have it for myself. Learning I need it from the Lord.
Because grace frees us. We are no longer bound by the rules and regulations and standards we or other people set on us. We are no longer bound by our own sin, even. Grace allows us to be who we were meant to be without being paralyzed by the fear of failing or messing up or getting in trouble. Grace gives us life--the kind that makes your heart swell. And I want you and I to have that.
Do you ever have a problem admitting you need grace? Do you struggle to have it for yourself or for others, or to accept it from God?