I believe in the doctrine of grace. I teach and preach the doctrine of grace. I counsel others to live by grace. But I find that I have trouble embracing grace for myself as fully as I want to and need to. This personal struggle with the embracing of grace is one of the key things I wanted to address with Mike and Kari MacKenzie during our time at Marble Retreat.
Mike shared with me three things that block the embracing of grace:
– Lies that need to be replaced by truth
– Wounds that need to be healed
– Patterns that need to be changed
Lies: Some of the lies that I keep listening to are: My value in life (and my worth as a minister) is determined by what I accomplish. My contentment in life is contingent upon how satisfied people are with my performance. When I fail, I am a failure; when I mess up, I am a mess-up. Good Christians don’t struggle with negative emotions therefore such emotions should be stifled. If others know I struggle with sinful tendencies I will ruin my witness, so my struggles with sin should be hidden rather than confessed.
To be able to embrace grace, I need to replace these lies with truth whenever the lies rear their ugly heads. Here is the truth: My value in life (and my worth as a minister) is determined not by my accomplishments but by God’s love for me. (To paraphrase Henry Cloud’s observation in Changes that Heal: Approval is earned; love is not. Love is given. It resides not in what we earn but in the heart of the Giver.) My contentment in life is not contingent on how satisfied anyone is with my performance but upon embracing the Father’s love for me and His presence with me. When I fail or mess up, I have failed or messed up, but that does not make me a failure or a mess-up. In my successes and failures and everything in between I remain a beloved child of my loving heavenly Father. That is who I am! Everyone struggles with negative emotions; rather than stifling them I can allow them to put me in better touch with my true self. Real healing never comes through the hiding of sins but through the confession of sin.
Wounds: My wounds have to do with experiences of rejection, with injuries that left me filled with shame, and with things I did that I feel ashamed of. Because of my perception that shame is something to be hidden, that is what I did with my wounds. I hid them away in the deepest, darkest caverns of my soul, and I tried to cover them up with piles and piles of good deeds. But wounds do not heal in the midst of hiding or being covered over. Mike stressed that two things are necessary for the healing of wounds: grieving and receiving of grace. Grieving requires that I bring the wounds out of hiding. I will begin to find healing to my wounds when I pull those wounds out of the deep, dark caverns of my soul and grieve the pain they have brought to me. And I will experience the healing of those wounds when I allow God and others to pour onto those wounds the healing salve of their grace and compassion and empathy. That cannot happen through hiding; it can only happen by opening my heart to God and to others.
Patterns: The key question here for me to consider is this: What things do I do that feed the lie that grace is earned? When I stifle my negative feelings for fear that they are not what a good Christian should be feeling, I am feeding the lie. When I hide my sinfulness, I am feeding the lie. When I want others to recognize the good that I have done, I am feeding the lie. When I pressure myself to work harder or accomplish more, I am feeding the lie. When I overwork and fail to take the rest that God has designed for us, I feed the lie. When I avoid others who may “damage” my reputation, I feed the lie. If I want to embrace grace more fully I need to practice habits that are in keeping with grace. I need to practice rest and Sabbath more than simply work. I must practice forgiveness more than judgment and resentment. I must practice self-acceptance rather than over-criticism of myself. I must practice honesty over denial, and confession over hiding. Some of these patterns will be difficult to change.
I am very grateful for the month I have been able to spend in Scotland. The Lord has spoken to me in rich ways. I have enjoyed meeting many wonderful people. I have been blessed by the kindness of many people.
Very early tomorrow morning I will drag my suitcase to a bus stop about a half mile away, catch a bus to the Edinburgh Airport, then catch flights to London, Dallas, and finally Sacramento. Debbie will pick me up from the airport at 11:20 p.m.
Early on Wednesday morning, Debbie and I will fly to Colorado for some time at Marble Retreat Center. Here we will have an opportunity to do some indepth Christian counseling. We’ll be able to explore further the things God has been showing us during this past month. I am looking forward to it and would appreciate your prayers for God to do rich things for us while we are there. (And I wouldn’t mind your prayers for all the travel connections to go well tomorrow. Thanks.)
During morning prayer time at Kinnoull Monastery yesterday before I left for Edinburgh I had the image of a truck driver backing up his truck on a windy hill…not quite paying attention to what was going on around him. While concentrating on his task of backing up, the front left tire went off the road…and the truck was in danger of sliding down the hill. I actually think I was starting to fall asleep and beginning a dream (this northern light that pours into my window until after 10 p.m. and wakes me up in the morning before 4:30 a.m. is my excuse). Anyway…as I reflected on that image I realized how fitting that picture can be for me. I am often so intent on completing the task before me or at getting where I want to go that I miss paying attention to things around me in the moment that I should pay better attention to.
While walking through Kinnoull hills with Goodwin (a Catholic Brother working with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity) I was so intent on finding the right trail for us to be able to get to where we were going that I failed to see the deer that Goodwin noticed. Shortly after that I nearly missed another deer. After that I did a better job of watching for the deer in the woods than just looking for the trail.
The second example bothers me more. I wanted to extend some words of encouragement to two people from the course at Kinnoull who were on my heart. While getting ready to leave I prayed that God would give me an opportunity to talk with each of them. When I finished what I wanted to do that morning and got all packed for traveling I started to leave the monastery. It happened to be right at the time of the morning tea break, so I went in to see if they were there. Edmund was having tea, so I got a chance to say to him the words of encouragement I wanted to share. Then I hurried away. I didn’t wait for Sue to show up because I was focused on getting to the bus stop on time. I got there about 20 minutes early. I got my bus, but I didn’t share words of encouragement with Sue that I wanted to share with her. I prayed that God would give me an opportunity to talk with her…but I did not give God much chance to answer that prayer. I am certain that if I had waited a bit she would have shown up for tea…but I was too focused on getting to the bus stop.
How many other times in life do I “slide down the hill” while overly focused on the task I want to complete?