Stubbornness, Sprains & Stepping into Grace - let me tell you.
This post was originally published on Stacking Chairs Blog, a beautiful collection of writing you should check out!
I’ll be honest: I’m not very good at accepting grace of the ordinary kind, let alone grace that is free and extravagant. In Ephesians, Paul proclaims that in the eyes of God, through Christ, we are chosen, holy, blameless, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven – all “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:1-7, NIV). Some days, I sit in the middle of my broken mess and I just don’t believe that those things could possibly be true about me – that I am redeemed, or holy, or adopted, or chosen, or worthy to be loved by a great God. But in these past few months, He’s been teaching me in those moments that maybe accepting His radical grace in the big things is so difficult because I refuse to give myself grace in the little things.
At the end of April, I was at the halfway point of my study abroad semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Every day I was learning more nuances of Spanish, of navigating a big city, of being confident in my own skin – as well as more of who God is and who He’s made me to be. I was happily, if hectically, dashing to the bus stop one day, weaving through crowded sidewalks, when I stepped off the curb and turned my ankle, suddenly and sharply. I knew immediately it was sprained, but it wasn’t until these past couple of weeks back home in the United States that I was able to do very much about it.
In the meantime, I depended on an ankle brace for the rest of my trip. While I appreciated it while I was there, when I stepped off the plane in the States to summery sandal weather, I was determined to cast off that brace once and for all. You can take it, my stubborn pride whispered. And at first, I certainly could. I adjusted quickly to a brace-free, cute-shoes rhythm of life, and I didn’t feel much pain as a result. In fact, it wasn’t until I decided to walk a couple of miles around the neighborhood one evening that I strapped the brace back on – just in case, I thought.
It was only a matter of minutes before relief hit me like a ton of bricks, toppling my stubbornness. Until I put on the brace, I didn’t realize how badly I needed it, but the support and stability it offered brought to light stiffness and soreness I hadn’t even known was there.
It made me wonder: what if there’s hurt in my heart and a spiritual slump in my step that I don’t even realize is troubling me, until I fall back on the stability and support, the promises and power, and the freedom that God offers? And if so – what holds me back?
Dictionary.com has many (human) definitions for grace – mercy, pardon, favor in granting a delay, a manifestation of favor. Casting off my brace too soon can be traced to many broken pieces – pride, impatience, contrariness even – but in reality, all of those boil down to a refusal to give myself any mercy, leniency, delay, or favor – any grace. Even something as simple as depending on my own strength in order to walk without a brace revealed to me the consistency with which I continually put unnecessary pressure and unattainable expectations on myself. Not only does my obstinate spirit fuel a hollow sense of identity, built on self-sufficiency and doubt, but it holds me back from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.
There is good news for us: He does not want to leave us where we are. Moment by moment, through the little things, He is constantly coaxing me out of my perfectionist ways to walk in the wild freedom He offers, and to accept the divine definition of grace – God’s free and unmerited favor for sinful humanity.
Grace doesn’t come naturally to us – I know I’m not the only perfectionist out there who struggles to start with grace for myself so that I can come to know and understand that, to quote Proverbs 31 Ministries writer and fellow self-proclaimed perfectionist Amy Carroll, “God is calling us from the hollowness of self-made perfection to the wholeness of God-given completion.” Giving myself grace is the first step on a path of humility – of showing up with open hands and a heart that knows it doesn’t have the answers, or even the right questions. Stepping into the radical grace of God is not simple and it’s not without its missteps in my story – but it leads me find freedom in dependence on the work of the cross, my identity in what God has proclaimed true of me by the blood of Christ Jesus, and my calling in the person He has made me to be. He is just waiting for us to reach out and claim the grace that is ours – and it’s worth it.