Is the first of February too late to talk about New Year’s resolutions? Or have I found that sweet spot in between everyone blogging about their new words for the new year and that random person who makes a New Year’s resolution in July, claiming they can’t be bound by society’s standards? Yes? Fantastic! Here we go.
As you know, I really love New Year’s resolutions. The rule following, disciplined, goal oriented part of my personality loves that for a short month or two everyone else is just as pyscho about being as disciplined as I am. So I usually begin thinking about my New Year’s resolutions around Thanksgiving…that’s a lie. Its more like Halloween…or Labor Day…whatever. The point is I love resolutions and I put a lot of thought into them. But this past fall I just wasn’t feeling it. My resolutions normally start as a nagging thought and then progress into a feeling of deja vu as that particular theme seems to be suddenly always popping into my life and then lands itself as a resolution when it reaches a screamingly obsessive pinnacle and I am forced to acknowledge that I will spend the next year living it out. This fall nothing was surfacing. I chased a few rabbit trails but it just felt like I was trying too hard. Plus, Greg and I were in the process of purchasing a new home that was going to require a whole lotta love (read: money, time and ultimately, our souls) so when I sat down at a church service on New Year’s Eve and realized I still didn’t have a New Year’s resolution, I felt pretty ok with it.
Side note: I am not so uber religious that I feel the need to attend church on New Year’s Eve. Our church has a service every Thursday night and this particular Thursday night was New Year’s Eve and a good friend of mine was teaching that night so I went half out of sympathy towards him having to preach to a near empty room and half thinking maybe it would keep me awake a little bit closer to midnight. Little did I know, however, I would leave that half empty room with a mammoth of a resolution and a little annoyed with my friend for having disrupted what I was hoping would be a resolution-less year ahead.
I actually made it all the way to the near end of the sermon still with no resolution until my friend brought up one of my favorite authors in an illustration. Brennan Manning. Now, I know I have waxed not so eloquent about my recent adoration of Brene Brown, but my love for Brennan Manning goes back almost a decade. I have read every single one of his books so many times they are all dog eared and over highlighted and I should probably just buy them again. But my friend brought up a book by my hero that I have read only once, despite the fact that it sits on my bookshelf with all the others. The title of the book is All Is Grace. It was supposed to be an auto-biography but at the time in his life when this book was being written, my beloved hero was too far gone into his serious relationship with alcohol that the publisher had to hire another writer to go sit with Brennan Manning and try to make a book about his life by interviewing the perpetually blitzed fallen hero.
If you have read any books by Manning then you know that he is not shy about writing about his struggle and while he never claims to have any sort of control over his addiction, most of the time he writes with a sense of hope and an overwhelming faith that his Father still loves him fiercely in the midst of his fallen nature. But in this particular book, Brennan makes no excuses for himself. He comes clean with the timelines of his benders and his times in and out of rehab and you suddenly realize that while he was in the midst of writing these books that would come to shape my own personal faith and understanding about the fierceness of the God who loves me, that he was often in the midst or on the precipice of a great fall in to the arms of his addiction. He spares no detail in describing how badly he hurt those who loved him most. The hero steps down from the podium in a way that is flat out depressing and not at all endearing. And then, if you followed his life at all, you know that Brennan Manning succumbed to his illness shortly after this biography was published.
I’ll be honest, I know that my friend who was preaching that New Year’s Eve probably had a great point in bringing up this particular book and he probably made some sort of brilliant connection that I’ve forever missed, because I was sitting in my seat thinking about that book of my hero’s I had read only once and turning his influence in my life over and over in my head. In college, I had some significant break throughs in my faith because of words Brennan Manning had written….while most likely he was on the verge of winding up drunk in a New Orleans ditch the next day. I still turn to Ruthless Trust when I start to feel my heart hardening to the fact that God loves me all the time, no matter what. And my hero most likely penned those valuable words with a brown bag of cheap vodka at his side.
I read that one book only that one time because the justice seeking side of me, the Pharisee inside me who can’t stand to see the poor sinner get Jesus’ attention, just couldn’t handle that someone who had influenced my life so greatly was often times “too weak” (in my mind) to handle his own sin. The book rattled me too deeply in my black and white world to be given a second glance. It sat on the shelf and collected dust.
And that New Year’s Eve in my seat I began wondering how I would have thought differently about my hero if I had connected all those dots way back when I was in college. I was ashamed to admit to myself that if I had known all of his woes so vividly that I probably would have deemed him a hypocrite. I would have immediately rolled my eyes and wondered why someone didn’t blow the whistle on this forgery. And I would have missed out on some of the foundational truths about my faith that have shaped me into who I am today.
Sitting there on New Year’s Eve and watching the “what if” reel of my life without those powerful words my hero penned made me feel ashamed and embarrassed but it also brought to mind another question: Who have I ruled out of my life today because I have deemed them as too weak in their failures? Its no secret that I struggle to practice grace in my every day life. I long for grace to be my first reaction when I am presented with my own or someone else’s failures but most often I find myself sitting on a throne of judgement that I never earned. Grace alludes me most of the time.
And suddenly, there it was, my New Year’s resolution. What if I spent a year living as if I truly believed that all is grace? Its a hard resolution, its not terribly tangible but I can tell you that in the short month I have been trying to make grace my first reaction in all situations that it becomes a little less of a struggle each time…a tiny minuscule minute less of a struggle but still, we’ll call that a win.
I’m trying to practice more grace with myself in all of the ways I fail on a daily basis as a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Half the time grace in those situations is owning up to those shortcomings and not giving up on myself to one day be a little stronger.
I’m trying to practice more grace in my friendships. I’m trying to love people for who God has created them to be and not who I want them to be.
I’m trying to practice more grace with strangers, with the mom who cut me off and snagged the last parking space at Levi’s school during drop off. Or all of the many contractors and tradesman that I am dealing with as we work on the new house and hit obstacle after obstacle.
It’s a challenge. I grit my teeth a lot and I find myself asking for forgiveness a lot in the midst of my failures. But I feel my heart softening a little more each day. I feel justice moving aside and losing its ground a little more.
And if nothing else, it should be an interesting year, don’t you think?