In my recent searching for the quiet life, I’ve deliberately made some time for some introspection. I’ve also been reading a bit more lately and was amazed to learn something new about myself the other day as I read a work of fiction.
No, I am not fictional. (grin)
I did, however, immediately identify with a character that was told that although she lived and proclaimed God’s grace for others, it was something that she often withheld from herself.
Uh-oh. Ouch. That hurts. It’s true, though. I’ve done that.
I’ve done that a good bit, apparently, even though I never recognized it until I saw it in print the other day.
I was raised to have high standards and I was always told that I could “do better”—and there’s nothing wrong with that! At least there’s nothing wrong with it until you allow that to somehow supersede God’s own standards for His children and it begins to erode the basis for your relationship with Him.
I’m aware that I can be pretty hard on the people I love, but I’ve always rationalized it away with the knowledge that as much as I pushed the ones I love to excellence, I’ve always pushed myself even harder–much harder. My husband is aware of this trait in me and has often told me to “lighten up on my wife” when he’s seen it in action.
I’m not going to say that the practice of and search for excellence hasn’t worked for me a good bit of the time. It has. I’ve been successful in a wide variety of areas as a result of that driven behavior and so have some of the people I’ve been pushing/dragging along behind me.
And then there’s grace. Oh, I believe in grace. I’m convinced that it is real and necessary for each of us to have a relationship with God. I’ve extended it countless times to others because I knew that was what my God would have me do…and I’ve also denied it to myself. I’ve punished me further than God has. I’ve had times when I’ve been aware of my need for deeper relationship with Him and yet held back because I knew some of the things I know about me. Somehow I accepted that God could easily forgive my sins all those years ago when I asked Him to do so, but sometimes when I would mess up in the here-and-now, I would beat myself up about it instead of rushing to ask for His forgiveness to be extended to me yet again. I have lived the Galatians 5:4 life at times: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Choosing the law (my standards) over grace…fallen from grace…yes, that sounds right on target.
“Oh, Father God! Not again! Aren’t you tired of me asking again?! I am. I am so tired of asking your forgiveness for this. I know better! I should do better!” All followed by much mental flagellation…and overwhelming sorrow and a time of withdrawing from the One I need most.
Does that sound familiar to anyone else? A self-imposed spiritual time-out. It sounds like a spiritual thing to do. It isn’t. It’s the exact opposite. It is straight from the pit of hell.
Yes, we need to be remorseful when we sin, but it doesn’t need to stop there—or stay there. Forgiveness isn’t about making you feel “less” or creating distance between you and God. It is about restoration and healing. It is about the purifying touch of love that brings with it the desire not to miss the mark in the future. It is the extension of grace—unmerited favor— to one who needs it so desperately and has no other possibility of acquiring it even with her high standards.
Grace. The very essence of the word washes over me in a different way as I write this word today. This word that I’ve read and lived and taught and ignored all at the same time. I am humbled and I am drawn up on to the lap of my God by that word today. Grace. It’s time I raised my standard of grace up to meet my God’s…and applied it to myself. I hope you’ll do the same. There’s plenty of room in the lap for you, too.