I think I am beginning to experience grace. Like real, honest to goodness grace. And it looks nothing like I thought it would and it feels nothing like I thought it would and so I don’t think I’ve been recognizing it, but I think this “something new” I’ve been feeling lately is what it is.
I was talking at counseling recently about how I’ve been having all these “revelations”, about God and the hard things in life that cause me pain and heartache. I thought I was just finally seeing things clearly but I think I am actually seeing things through the lens of grace for the first time.
Recently I couldn’t sleep so I decided to journal for a while to see if that would calm my brain down enough to rest. And the journaling was helpful but just on a whim I started looking back through past entries from this tumultuous year. And I came across this one liner I had written back in March, when I was wrestling through the story of the prodigal son. It said this:
Maybe grace is less about the journey out and more about the return home.
I’ve been so focused lately on searching for grace along the journey of everything going wrong but I think I am realizing that now, in many ways, I am the Prodigal returning from his long journey of running from God. I’ve been hiding behind my self-righteousness and my anger. I’ve been hiding behind my insatiable desire to always be doing the “right thing” and to always be checking all the right boxes. And now that I have stopped running from those things, I am the returning Prodigal and Grace has come running out to meet me in the middle of the road home.
Grace is hard to identify when you are on the journey of self destruction. I believe that it is there but its overshadowed by the belief that you can go it on your own, that you know better than God for the moment. Grace takes a backseat to pride and selfishness. It never leaves but it is shouted down by the voices of self loathing and perfectionism. But when you turn around and make the long return home, it is with you at every step of the way.
Grace isn’t concerned about the journey of how you wandered out. It rests in the return back home.
And I’ve been worried that because I couldn’t find grace or experience it myself that I wouldn’t be able to give it. And I believe that that is indeed true but I think my problem was more in the fact that I had confused grace and approval. I’ve been asking myself lately how you show acceptance to someone without giving approval to decisions or lifestyles that those you love are making. I think I thought as long as I loved them well that grace would come flowing in. But I’m not so sure anymore that grace worries about a love that stems from approval. Approval is something that we as humans have concocted in an effort to relate to one another and in some sense, maybe even to inadvertently maintain dominance or power over one another. We need approval and we need to feel like we have the power to give it or withhold it. But I don’t know that “approval” is in God’s vocabulary, particularly when grace is involved. Where we use approval, grace substitutes “acceptance”.
Please hear me correctly, there are absolutely rights and wrongs in this world and in God’s world. I believe in absolute Truth and in a world of absolutes but I am beginning to wonder if we have strayed off the path of grace in those absolutes by feeling like we need to bestow our approval.
I have no doubt the Prodigal’s Father did not approve one tiny little bit of the son’s decisions and lifestyle while he was out on his journey. And yet, only grace is seen standing in the pathway home to the Father. The Father didn’t seem to be concerned with how to extend acceptance while withholding approval. Approval never entered his mind because Grace abounded. We don’t see him ever even address where the Prodigal had been or what he had been doing. And yes, perhaps there is an argument to be made that the Prodigal was admitting his guilt by returning home and the Father didn’t need to provide any correction, but I have a sneaking suspicion if the son had slunk back home simply angry that his life hadn’t worked out the way he wanted and not at all apologetic for the hell he had wreaked on his family, that the Father would have still been standing in the road back home covered in Grace. Because Grace doesn’t crave the power of approval. It simply accepts.
I want to find a way to test this theory of grace and acceptance. I want to spend some time forgetting about approval. I want to find a way to resist seeking it from the people I love and to resist withholding it from some of those very same people. I want to parent Levi for a while with the understanding that he already has my acceptance and therefore my approval isn’t necessary for him to feel the extent of my love. Discipline still enters the picture in that relationship but it is based upon the idea that no decision he makes should be rooted in seeking my approval of him. I wonder if a child who feels warm and secure in their parents’ acceptance of him will instinctively make better decisions than one who feels the constant need to seek their parents’ approval?
It’s all easier said than done, I know, but I think uncovering true Grace and living in its true freedom might be worthy of the trial.