It is no secret if you have ever read this blog before, talked to me in real life or randomly saw me walking on the sidewalk that the concept of grace and I have a complicated relationship. When I started counseling almost five years ago, it came out early that grace was a tricky reality I had simply accepted but moderately despised, as I also feel about being offered Pepsi when I ask for Coke. It happens. It exists. I accept it and I try like hell to avoid establishments where Pepsi is served. Same with grace.
But with almost five years of counseling under my belt, I can say in that time that grace and I have moved from a cage fighting stage to an inflatable sumo wrestling competition to a good old fashioned arm wrestle to the pointless version of thumb wrestling to a good side eye stare to where we are now: moderate acceptance.
I say moderate because while I have come leaps and bounds something about grace still feels a little foreign to me. Like math. I am not good at math. I am embarrassingly bad at math, but people in my life are often amazed to hear that I made it all the way to Pre-Calculus in high school, often times with a solid B or a rare A- all the way through. This astonishes them because if you ask me what 74+25 is I will pull out the calculator on my phone. (It’s 99, ok? We get it, math people. You are very smart.) I am also very smart but I am not good at math. How did I make it so far in math before calculators were on phones? Easy. I memorized a whole lot and I learned to look for patterns. I never mastered the concepts of math, which is what makes math people so math-y. I simply learned enough to make very educated guesses. This is why teachers who required you to “show your work” were my worst nightmare. I couldn’t show my work because my “work” was closing my eyes, recalling what other problems I had memorized the answers to, finding a pattern to apply to this new problem and then making a solid guess at what the correct answer is. I got very good at it. And still to this day I am a good problem solver because I rely heavily on past experiences and finding patterns. But also to this day, I am terrible at math.
And that’s where I currently lie with grace. I can identify it in others. I can see the actions they do, I can mimic them, I often pester the grace-filled people in my life with questions, trying to figure out what makes them tick. I have lived under the assumption that everyone else is also working really hard to live with grace. I assume it’s work for everyone. And I want to know your tricks and tips about living with grace the same as I want to know the tips and tricks you used in teaching your 7 year old how to tie his shoes, because dear Lord, we are doomed to velcro over here. I assumed it was work for them as well.
But as I became closer to people who live with grace and as I watched for the patterns and listened for tips and tricks, I have realized a key difference between me and them. I had learned over the last few years to extend grace to others pretty easily. Using the transference principle (suck it, math people), I could acknowledge that a Power greater than me possessed all the grace in the world. And that I, being a vessel, could reflect that grace onto other people. And it worked. I am a little mirror of grace. I can reflect it onto just about anyone I encounter who needs it. It takes a little work but I can re-position the mirror, take good aim and reflect grace.
But these grace filled people I was encountering, they weren’t doing that. When I stood back and watched them in action, I realized they weren’t reflecting grace at all. They were beaming it. It was like the Care Bear stare…if you don’t know what the Care Bear Stare is, please don’t tell me because I will feel old. Just watch this and keep quiet.
These friends of mine who are so effortlessly kind and forgiving and patient and loving are able to do so not because they are simply reflecting the grace of God to others but because they are absorbing it for themselves and then beaming it to others. The Care Bear stare. They are able to absorb God’s grace because they are willing to accept it.
And herein lies my final obstacle to grace. I need to accept it for myself. I’m an Enneagram One so anyone who knows anything about the nauseatingly popular Enneagram way of thinking just went, “OOOOHHHH, rough luck of the draw there, Reagan!” Here is a One in a nut shell: nothing I do is ever good enough. It might be good. It might actually be dang near perfect, but it’s not good enough. As a result I also fear that I am morally bankrupt and nothing I do comes from anywhere good. I desperately follow the rules in an attempt to be good enough. My mistakes haunt me for weeks. Grace shatters all of that.
The very idea that grace could be given to me, that it could be proclaimed that my not good enough status is more than enough to be accepted and loved makes my heart pound faster but my intellect demand that can’t be possible. I can’t Care Bear stare right now because I haven’t allowed grace to penetrate my heart that deeply yet.
But I’m working on it. I’m cutting myself some slack. I’m sitting with my mistakes a little less than I did before. I’m making peace everyday with the fact that my imperfections don’t exclude me from anything, least of all grace. And maybe one day soon I’ll remove my little mirror and take my place in the Care Bear formation…let’s get real, we all know there will be a rain cloud on my tummy but even old rainy bear got to help in the stare every time.
It’s the Care Bear Countdown…five…four…three…two…one.