2.) We see grace through an entitled, privileged lense.
“Hey, are you talking about me?”
“Yes, Frank. I’m writing this. I know you well.”
I have these strange dialogues with myself quite often. You’re judging me. Please stop.
For years, I looked for grace through my American lens, the only one I knew. To be fair with American Christians, it’s not your fault. You were born in a privileged country. Don’t regret something you can’t control. You must dance with girl you brought (Which is a dumb idiom. Having attended several dances, I usually “cut rugs” with other girls more than the one I brought and the same with everyone else.)
I didn’t understand grace until it appeared in my living room. This is how we experience grace, I believe. As I said before, it’s a person, not a doctrine, so why would grace not appear in the form of life experiences, often through other people?
Grace took the form of my wife, Tiffani. Through her, I saw grace for the first time.
It was the day she discovered porn on my computer. I was an adulterer. She had every right to leave, hold this against me or allow this to destroy her trust in me. I expected one of these, to be honest, or some combination of the three. Many spouses have left over similar issues.
What I received instead was shocking. Though upset, she embraced me. She never yelled or allowed her pain to spill out as hurtful words. She took the initiative to find me a counselor. She walked with me through good and bad. I’m free from porn in large part because of her.
This is the power of grace. Darkness has no answer for it. The schemes of Satan wither at the sight of it. When grace makes its entrance, evil has no choice but to leave.
Every egg rested in Tiffani’s basket. I had nothing to give, no bargaining power or leverage. If she left me, she would have been justified and I would have understood. But she stayed.
This is Grace. Grace says all the eggs rest in another’s basket. Go ahead, try the manipulation thing. Follow the right steps. Rev up the number of good works you do for the other. It’s all vanity, useless, because you have no power or control in the matter.
Grace says you deserve a guilty verdict because you’re guilty, but it chooses another verdict instead. Grace walks with you when common logic says run for the hills. Grace doesn’t place stipulations on the relationship (i.e., don’t watch porn for a month and I might consider staying). Grace stays, not because it has to but because it loves you.
Here’s why this matters.
That day, I felt guilt, pain, vulnerability and other mushy words I tried so hard to bury. And, in that moment, when I had nothing left, all my plans and schemes were useless, and I experienced Grace. Until we find ourselves in this position, I’m not sure you can truly understand grace. What irony, right? The beauty of life, hope and love show up when we reach the end of ourselves. This is true because it’s in our desperation that we turn to God. Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, says it this way.
The bottom line of the Gospel is that most of us have to hit some kind of bottom before we even start the real spiritual journey. Up to that point, it is mostly religion.
Rock bottom, however, is the place many Christians try desperately to avoid. It’s the antithesis of the American Dream. Ironically, however, everyone who lives long enough knows suffering, or rock bottom, is inevitable. Everyone eventually meets that one situation beyond their control or capability. In this moment, you find the answer to the most important question of your life, “Will you try harder or look higher?”
Suffering isn’t failure. It can be a gift, an opportunity to see God’s grace, maybe for the first time. Suffering takes away our control, along with our talents, good works and fool-proof plans. But it’s here, with nothing left, that we might just be desperate enough to seek God.
3.) The church hasn’t always been the best place to find Grace.
Unfortunately, this is a big reason many Christians struggle with grace.
The church reflects God and serves as the hands and feet of Jesus, continuing His mission on earth. For all the beautiful outpourings of Jesus, the church also has scars we would assume keep covered. The Inquisition, Crusades and arguably both World Wars “emerged in and were tolerated by Christian Europe” (to quote Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward, again). Christianity’s journey to America yielded more scars, racism, slavery and sexism to name a few.
I know stories of grace exist, certainly. But too often, when Christians have an opportunity to represent Jesus as his bride, we’ve chosen mistrust, dissension and exclusion instead. The church should be the one place, if such a place exists, where grace flourishes. It should be the one place where inclusion, forgiveness and compassion reign. The church should be the one place where grudges die and forgiveness runs free as an uncapped fire hydrant.
Sadly, many communities of faith have chosen institutionalized hierarchies and structures over organic representations of compassion and healing.
I say this, not as an outsider but an insider. I love the church. I write as someone who receives many emails (good and bad) from church leaders, and I try to answer all of them. I would never abandon the church. You can’t do such a thing and love Jesus. I’m not throwing stones. I’m in the fight.
But we must face the facts. Outsiders see us as close-minded and judgmental, mostly because they’ve witnessed us acting close-minded and judgmental. We can do better. I can do better. Yes, grace makes no sense. It doesn’t resolve, and it rarely finds a home in the institutional hierarchy. But I believe we can improve. We can be a better picture of Christ’s bride to the world.