Grace, I learned many years ago, means – unmerited favor, among other things. The strange cultural paradox we live with, however is that we desperately try to earn God’s grace. This presents a psychological and social conundrum.
I know in my head that grace is a gift and nothing I do will increase or decrease its presence in my life. But, in my merit-based, learned culture (American, baby-boom, middle class, Christian), the subtle teaching is that you only get what you earn, what you work for.
In fact, I giggle at most statements that begin with “I deserve…” My cultural-thinking goes right to, “did you work harder than the next guy, that you deserve it and he or she doesn’t?”
The rule my generation and prior, have lived by is that you reap what you sow. If you don’t work you don’t reap a reward via a paycheck on payday. Then there’s payback. Reaping and sowing laws, unmediated by the whole story, portray God as big on payback, and He does it one of two ways. The hopeful way is, “give and you shall receive.” The negative way is, “the wages of sin are death.”
The cultural imperative I grew up with was, if you work hard, you can become anything you want to be. A burgeoning woman in the time of the feminist movement, it was incumbent on me to do more, be somebody, climb higher than women climbed before.
So, a combination of feminist thinking, the rebellion of the 1960s, and the growth of the gifted/charismatic, Christian church, mingled to engender a mind-set of trying; and unknowingly ushered in a make-it-happen, stressed generation. I grew up with the children’s book first published in 1930, The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can;” and Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952).
These positives are not bad in and of themselves, they even provide hope as well as incentive to work. However, taken too far – and I don’t know where that line is – these positives created a mind-set that we can make anything we want happen, if we try hard enough, believe for it, stay constantly positive, and turn the magic key in the invisible lock.
The problem is, it’s never enough. When your invisible goal persistently looms in front of you, the only thing to be done, is try harder, do more, and work at it.
I think we defined the term, go-getter. We are the get-er-done or pass out- trying generation. Use it or lose it is our cultural motto.
Some of us have had enough. Frankly, part of it is, we’re just tired from all the years of work, earning our grace. I’m done, as in fried, baked, and roasted, trying to get what I want.
Those of you who want to, keep trying, trying, and trying again. Godspeed, but do it without me.
My “counter”-anthems to all that trying are bits of song lyrics that confirm the stirrings in my spirit, some of which are: “Stop, Look Around…” (Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth, 1966); “Let It Be” (The Beatles, Lennon & McCartney, 1970); and “Breathe, Just Breathe…” (Anna Nalick, Breathe 2 AM, 2005).
I prefer going back to grace, the un-merited, gift part of the gospel message, the part where Christ did the work and by His graceful gift, I receive the benefits (Ps.103:2). After all, gospel means good news. I’ve already done the “work out your own salvation with trepidation” (Phil. 2:12) and the “join in Christ’s suffering” (1 Pet. 4:13) part of Christian stewardship. I’ve sown, watered, tilled, and fertilized.
Now, like Buffalo Springfield, I’m just looking around, taking it all in: “What’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down. . ..”. I’m breathing consciously with Anna Nalick, including the exhale; and feeling the sun on my face with The Beatles, positioning myself to reap.
Grace, grace, I cry grace to the mountain, which shall become a molehill (Zech. 4:7). I’m in a place where I’m observing a whole lot more molehills and fewer mountains. … Sometimes I let the “I gotta-get-it-done checklist” in the back of my mind, begin to fade into perspective.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that trees, flowers and grass grow in silence. I would add that we humans grow, in rest.
With this column, I’m reaping years of research done and experiences had in my academic, social and spiritual/psychological past. This outlet through which I share with you every week happened out of the blue, just when I’d let go of what I thought I wanted.
Back in 1979 I experienced the protestant version of deciding to become a nun. Concluding that marriage wasn’t for me, I started planning my future in youth ministry. As these things go, the dawn after that decision, I met the guy. Plans changed.
Soon after my husband’s and my fortuitous meeting, I had occasion to relate to a young friend of a friend who desperately wanted a boyfriend, the wisdom of a precept which I will call: the thing you want will happen only when you stop trying to get it. Seriously, this is one of the truest things I know, but the hardest thing to experience.
“The best things in life just happen” (LeVan 2016). To workaholics and control-freaks, this concept is counter-intuitive. If we didn’t work for it, control it, or make it happen through our own effort, we’re at a loss as to how it can be. Similar counter-intuitive precepts are: surrender to win; less is more; die to live; decay is fertilizer; give it up, or set it free, to get what you want.
Like a child growing into my new clothes, I’m growing in grace. Grace doesn’t just mean unmerited favor, the definition extends to agility, balance, elegance, beauty, cultivation, and the effortless fluidity of life from one step to the next. This extended definition is what I’m going for in 2020 and beyond.
I shall leave you with some excerpts from Lennon & McCartney’s 1969 song, Let it Be: “When I find myself in times of trouble… And in my hour of darkness… Whisper words of wisdom, let it be… And when the broken-hearted people… Living in the world agree… There will be an answer, let it be… For though they may be parted… There is still a chance that they will see… There will be an answer, let it be…And when the night is cloudy… There is still a light that shines on me… Shine on until tomorrow, let it be… Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”