Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Grace Upon Grief Upon Grace

I have yet to understand grace.

Perhaps, in part, because I have yet to accept it. That is, there always seems to be a fight associated with grace. I work my way as far from grace as humanly possible, through routes of judgment and doubt. Once distanced, I look fondly at grace, wondering if it is yet too late for me. Learning, again, that it is never too late, that grace was following me the whole time. Or, perhaps it is not my attempts to run from grace, but my prideful hesitancy to admit wrong, that proves the enemy of receiving. In other words, perhaps it's not my clamoring attempts to run and escape guilt, but my blind and nonchalant wanderings through sin, with a spirit dull and insensitive toward my own depravity and mistakes, that lends itself to a life "ungraced" if you will.

Regardless, both attitudes and postures are at odds with the grace prepared by Christ for me. In the former, my self-deprecation and condemnation tell me I am unsuited as a recipient of grace, that I must run and hide from the feelings and consequences awaiting me. The latter bars grace from me simply out of ignorance: I do not know I have stepped out of bounds; or, even if I know, I am numb to the conviction of my error. Grace is best (if not only) received head on: when I am neither running from nor unaware of my shortcomings. Grace is poured out as I look my loving Father in the eyes, unashamed and open. It is not a demand for pardon by any means, but a privilege of justification.

I was thinking about grace today as I was reading the Valley of Vision. I began thinking to myself, "What makes it so difficult for me to receive grace?" The way that the Bible talks about grace makes me feel like grace and freedom are related. Grace gives you peace before God, the conviction of His love for you, the confidence of His plan for your life, the comfort of His ever-present forgiveness. Why would anyone choose NOT to accept that? If you're like me, you may find that accepting grace is something you really want to do, but seems at odds with taking responsibility for your actions, or seems to dishonor the horrors of things done to you. For me, grace is the destination I get to once I've grieved a loss. And, friends, some losses are truly and painfully raw. In those times, even the freedom grace offers is not enough motivation for me to enter into the storm of grief. Call it heretical, but sometimes the sorrows of this world outweigh the peace I feel in Christ. It is in those times I forget about grace, and I remember grief. And here's something strange that happens, grace breeds grace, and grief breeds grief. When I begin investing in my grief, any step away from it seems like an offense to the real tragedies of life. Yet, when I remember grace, I am swept up in an increasingly captivating spiral of God's love and goodness. I'm not really sure what I'm saying here, but suffice to say grace and grief are both addictive in their own rights.

So, what next? I feel as if I've developed a comfort for grieving. It's more familiar to me than grace. However, I'm slowly turning about face, hands unfolding to receive God's kind gaze and His good gifts. Yes, I can be grieved with my sin, but I don't need to be more grieved than God. When He says the cross is enough, who am I to question Him? Yes, friends, the cross is enough, even for you. Even for me.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Status Update Style

I realized I often see God as an inanimate object: a nutcracker that's lost its magic and fallen asleep into its immovable and lifeless form.  

How easily I forget.

God is by His very nature animate.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Harvest and the Holidays

Yesterday I went to a small group held by an old church of mine, Crossbridge. Many lessons have been learned in this group, many personal pitfalls uncovered, and many friends made. I find both my patience and my pride surface when I'm forced in good company to confront how the Gospel impacts my daily life and heart. It's a good thing I have people around me confronting the same pitfalls and prides, cause I wouldn't sustain such intense self-reflection on my own (grad school, anyone?).

Anyway, during this small group, we were talking about Jesus being our peace, our unity, our tranquility, our confidence. Ephesians 2:14 says "For He, Himself, is our peace." Specifically in Ephesians, God has displayed his peace in His personhood by breaking down "the dividing wall of hostility" between the Jews and the Gentiles. He enacted his peace by taking the spiritual and physical enmity of two groups and reconciling them to be not just separate and tolerant, but reconciled and whole: one new entity from two hostile enemies. 

I think of this peace through a similar lens as the Kingdom of God: both here, but not yet. God's kingdom reign is imminent and unstoppable and good and whole, but simultaneously patient and growing and on its way. Similarly, God's peace is both here and not yet. We are at peace with God through unlimited and unrestrained access to the Father through the Son by the Spirit. And yet.... this peace that gives me unconditional love and relationship with my Heavenly Father, is still finding and trying to take root in my marred love and fickle human relationships. His peace is here and not yet.

It's a difficult thing to experience the peace of Christ in the brokenness and injustice of the world. I often find myself either "blind" to the world's pain, or bitter toward God's peace. As if world peace and the peace of Christ are mutually exclusive. As if I can't experience God's peace while the world is in chaos. Black and white thinking is most often a scheme of the Devil to cause quarrels and maim peace. C.S. Lewis notes this point in his Mere Christianity when he says the following:

"He [the devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them."

This is how it is with the two errors of peace. The one says "peace with God means that there must already be peace with the world, so the pain that people are telling me about and the pain that I'm experiencing must not really be pain because God's peace is greater than it." This first error is an error of minimizing pain and oversimplifying peace. The second error is the opposite: "peace with God must not be possible on earth because there is so much pain and injustice that I can't experience the peace of God while living on the earth." This error mocks peace and magnifies pain. As C.S. Lewis states, I have spend much time analyzing the two errors, the two pairs. The true nature of peace is to stroll between the two pairs, a nod to each perhaps but a quick stride to the fullness and richness of peace with pain and in pain.

Peace does not take away pain. Pain does not take away peace. They are not mutually exclusive, nor strictly at odds with each other.

I think this is important for me because my pursuit of peace often lapses into a pursuit of comfort.

I think this is important for me because my sensitivity to brokenness often lapses into an aversion toward peace. 

It seems that peace is not a war that is won, but a seed that is sown. It is planted by Christ and harvested by His people. James hints at this idea when he says "a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (3:18). Justice, then, is peace fully-grown and matured.

I don't have a closing thought or send-off, but I'm glad to get some of what I'm thinking down onto this format. I'm still eager to develop and sow peace in a world where justice is an endangered species. Justice and peace are not mutually exclusive, and in fact one requires the other in order to be fully realized. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fill in the Blank

I thought I would take the 20 minutes I have between clients (thank you, no show) to write about something that is on my mind. My clients truly do more for my personal growth than any class, friend, or church service I've been to. They keep me motivated and they keep me ever-open to new possibilities. My client this morning got me thinking about the double-sided coin of the blank page: the analogy of opportunity as well as uncertainty. I've always considered a physical blank page to be an exciting element. It strikes me as new territory: completely available to be explored, molded, and changed to reflect whatever I want at the time. However, this excitement quickly turns to fear when you ask me to draw on the paper. Some days, more than others, I cling to the excitement and can attach to the idea of creating something from nothing. Yet, the idea of creating something that would be considered "ugly" or "bad" is worse than leaving the paper blank. After all, if I'm going to put my heart into it, I want it to stand the best chance of being loved.

As I thought about this more and more (still thinking, for the record) I began seeing some of what my client is going through as a blank page of sorts. For them, putting pen to paper (making a choice to pursue their happiness) seems worse than leaving things how they are. For similar reasons as I listed above, they don't trust their ability to put down something good, so they're afraid to put down anything at all. It's scary to think about being seen and rejected. This client is stuck holding the pen, wanting to use their talents and opinions, but paralyzed by the fear of failing, being seen as a failure, or simply "not succeeding" (which makes neutral performance akin to failure).

I get this. I live this.

Anyway, the best thing to get over the fear of messing up is to practice on something that no one else will see, or that doesn't matter that much. When I first started writing, I used journals and notebooks that I knew no one else would see. I used prompts instead of coming up with my own narratives. Now, I write for whomever and don't care what they think about it, because I like what I do. I think I have something important to say, and I also see my writing as my personal way of engaging in the Gospel's creative process of redeeming, making things new, and drawing people to the love and wisdom that is God, my Maker, my Father.

Anyway, I thought about this for my client, for myself. When I feel performance anxiety, what blank page is being put in front of me? What do I think I'm adding to it? Can I loosen fear's grip on the process? Can I practice on something before it goes viral? Can I lean on my creativity and passion to push me through the fear and paralysis?

Lots of questions, but also lots of ideas.

What is your blank page? What do you want to say with it? What is fear getting in the way of? How do you practice and hone your creativity and your purpose?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Me that is Left

“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others... but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it, but there may come a day when you can no longer. Then, there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God "sending us" to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud. ”

C.S. Lewis
This quote has been a companion of mine for about a month now. It haunts me, it inspires me, it becomes me, it destroys me. I'm in the thick of my abstinence assignment now, where the end of the semester is in sight but ruthlessly out of reach. I have a choice to make: is giving up grumbling a class assignment, or a lifestyle change? It pains me to realize I've been seeing it as an assignment. I know this because when I fail, what gets me back  on track is not forgiveness, but cheer-leading. I don't think "It's ok, Rachel, it takes time to make a genuine change in your attitude and heart." Instead, I find myself thinking, "You can do this, Rachel, you only have a month left." Spoiler alert, the "you're almost done" attitude is the lesser motivator. 
Plus, it's not what I really want. In my heart of hearts, I want to find the balance of feeling my feelings, trusting my instincts, and optimism. I want this. I need this. I'm not the person to shirk my negative thoughts for positive ones. I have to acknowledge the negative ones before my brain gives me permission to let the positive ones in. It's like taking a guy home to meet my parents before I say yes to his proposal: it makes sense in my mind as "just the way you do things." It's like tradition. I don't really want it to stay that way. I don't want my negative feelings to determine whether I get to be happy or not. What I want is for my natural bent to be toward shalom: completion. Toward some semblance of satisfaction and happiness. Only after setting this foundation, do I want grumbling to get an invitation to dinner, and I want him to leave at the end of the night. He is supposed to be a guest in my house, not the owner of the building. I want this mindset to be a lifestyle, not just an assignment. 
At the same time, this assignment and project has taught me what I'd known but hadn't experienced for awhile: I really am a natural pessimist! It comes so easily to find the wrong, to point out the flaws, to find the holes. While this has pushed me in many ways to improve myself and my circumstances, there comes a point at which I cannot assume I know best, nor can I assume responsibility for fixing everything about myself and the world. In these moments, my capacity toward growth became poisoned with grumbling and complaining. I'm still discovering the blind spots left in my life from thinking I know best, and I'm ignoring some blind spots because I still think I know best! It's a funny thing to try and be humble while holding onto pride. Spoiler alert, it doesn't work very well. 
While this post lacks inspiration, vibrancy, and color; it contains heart. My heart: the broken, open, eager mess that it is. This is the me that is left, but it's still me. It's enough.