What Do I Believe About GRACE?

Hello again. It’s been a while. January 2019 is so welcome, isn’t it?

Although I haven’t written anything for 6 months, I have been thinking about what I would write if I could. I expected to be able to write at least one or two posts over the fall, but life threw things in the way. I just read a couple of the last blog posts (Moving Summer and I Know Better). I noticed they both had the theme of expectations even though they were written months apart. Expectations still pose a problem for me, and I am being challenged to consider my beliefs, the desires of my heart, and my actions and reactions.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

My attitude was a bit sour this past Fall.  I was angry and frustrated about not being able to set up the house properly before the semester started. I have been increasingly fearful about our plans to move overseas next summer and my ability to get a job where I don’t know anyone, fresh out of school, and with no experience. And, we had to put our big dog down due to a sudden and unexpected health issue even though he should have lived several more years.  He’s the fourth dog, all different breeds, where we’ve had to do that.  I allowed circumstances to pull me under into a sense of desperation and defeat.

It’s time to deal with that properly.

I’ve noticed there’s a trend in choosing a word for the year.  The thing I’ve been thinking about this last semester is Belief. And more specifically, what does it look like to live out what I believe?  I have been struggling with what I believe about God’s grace and love for me, right now, even when I act petulantly and faithlessly.  Perhaps you can relate.  I think God’s grace is something we think we understand, but allowing that grace to fully saturate our lives and relationships can be a sticking point.  I invite you to join me as I see what God shows me through this particular lesson.

The verse that began this theme is this:

John 6: 29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (NLT)

This statement by Jesus challenges all kinds of inherent beliefs I have about my responsibilities and the way I choose to live and engage with others.  When I became a mom, I knew I had the privilege to raise and influence my children for a limited period of time.  I took my responsibility seriously, and I tried to do all the right things.  As a wife, I tried to support and honor my husband in a way that would please God and help us grow closer spiritually.  I prayed over my marriage, my children, my relationships with my parents and siblings, our many moves, my husband and his work, and even my children’s friends.  I attended and led Bible Studies, church services, volunteered at VBS and youth activities, did Bible studies at home, and tried to set a good example for what loving and believing God looks like expecting that all this love and doing good stuff would result in my family wanting to experience God in the same way.  I love doing all those things!

Here’s the thing –  my expectations haven’t been realized.  And I don’t know if they ever will. Meaning, I don’t know if my children and husband will ever want to be as devoted and engaged that same way.  So the thought occurs to me – Does their not wanting to be as involved in church mean I failed in setting a good enough example of love, forgiveness, and kindness?  I can tell you, I know where I’ve failed.  Even in all my attempts in doing things right.  I have and continue to fail again and again.

I hear God whisper, “My grace is sufficient for you.” But do I believe this?

So, when I don’t see the expected fruits of my labor, then my perseverance in doing good is weakened, and I feel worn out. I don’t have the heart to keep going. I stop praying. I stop having those amazing quiet times where God is speaking to me, encouraging me. I think about all the ways that I messed up, didn’t pray well enough, acted in doubt instead of faith, was impatient, and I take on the responsibility for what’s not right – according to my expectations.

Again, I hear God whisper, “Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” and “God knows the heart of a man.”  And I think, I believe this, but look . . .

I mix guilt with a little bit of truth, and I feel even more defeated. I know God loves me. I know I have received salvation and grace for later. I know I have asked for forgiveness, and that God forgives.  I know I am a child of God, but I must not be (good, faithful, obedient, fill in the blank) enough because I don’t see the fruit from my labor.  Inherent in that belief is that although I’m forgiven, grace doesn’t apply to my life at the moment, and I am still responsible for the fallout of my faithless actions.

God patiently reminds me, “Without me, you can do nothing,” and that “He is faithful, even when we are faithless.”

Do I really believe that?  Is that the truth?  Or are my failures so significant, that God can’t redeem and restore what I’ve broken?  If I believe and act as if the results of my messed up attempts at life and love can’t be fixed, then I am saying that my sin is bigger than God’s redeeming love and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Basically, I’m saying God’s grace doesn’t apply to me.  And I recognize the lie.

Guess what, making others believe and act in a certain way is not my work. God’s work is something more significant, creative, loving, and perfect than anything I could ever imagine.  And, I need to trust Him with my mistakes.  I need to trust His forgiveness is just as real and relevant in the present as it will be on judgment day. And, my work or joy in doing the churchy things I listed above are not the only ways people can show their own love of God.  How arrogant of me!

Back to scripture:

Regarding the fears  I have about getting a job next year:

Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Regarding the areas where I know I mess up:

2 Corinthians 12:9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

And regarding my efforts:

Ephesians 2: 8 – 10  For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Berean Study Bible)

God gives grace. His grace. Not just in the time to come, but now. And my work is to believe in Jesus Christ, the person of His Grace. If I doubt God’s grace is applicable to me as I live right now, then I undervalue that amazing and precious grace not just for myself, but for others as well. And there it is, the lie hidden in the works. I know God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. His grace is not just a one-time thing, at the point of salvation that just sits there until judgment day.

I didn’t even realize what my belief of limited grace implied until I was challenged by that one verse.

God gives grace. God gives faith.

And, I know that God has been patient and gentle with me. Why wouldn’t He be the same with everyone else?  As far as the guilt I feel for the ways I have messed up, said hurtful things, or lacked discipline and wisdom, I imagine God as a teacher, knowing the mistakes I have and will make, and allowing me to make them because He’s got it all worked out already.

My work is to believe in Jesus, the one God sent. And believing in Jesus means I need to trust God’s grace – for me, for others, and for right now. He knows it’s going to be all okay in the end.

So that’s my word for 2019

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I Know Better

Expectations and hope are not the same things.

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I’ve been reflecting on the differences between expectations and hopes as I wrap up my practicum internship in a counseling office, and as I consider Mother’s Day quickly approaching. Expectations can get us in big trouble. Hope can pull us through trouble.

When I started the internship at the counseling office, I expected that by the end, I would have developed enough skill and confidence to feel like I knew what I was doing in at least one area. However, as the end of the semester neared, I became impatient and concerned because I wasn’t seeing the progress I thought I was supposed to see. Instead of feeling more confident, I was feeling less capable and overwhelmed with all that I didn’t know. It turns out, according to my supervisor, that’s quite normal, and it’s a good sign. This is how good counselors are made. I decided to trust her experience, allow myself more time, and hope that I develop into that kind of counselor. I’ve had more than one professor tell me to trust the process.

The concentrated experience of the practicum learning curve gave me new insight into the learning curve of being a parent and daughter.

As a child, I was obedient, kind to others, ready to serve, and put my needs aside for the sake of others. This is what I was taught to do, and how I believed God wanted me to live. I expected that my sacrifices and kindnesses would be noticed, appreciated, and I would be more liked and favored. I would earn being loved.

That didn’t happen.

Disillusionment gave way to festering bitterness and anger that almost destroyed some of the most important relationships in my life, especially with my mom. Having an analytical nature, I formed opinions for when I was going to have the opportunity to be in control, to make my own decisions. And when the time came for me to leave home, I told my mom –

I know better.

From my 22 years of life experience, I believed I had the answers to making things work out the right way. I just needed the opportunity to prove it. My husband and I had similar ideas of what raising a family was supposed to look like. He and I did a lot of things the “right way.” We weren’t perfect, but we worked together as a team, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We practiced demonstrating love in such a way that we expected there would never be any doubt in our children’s minds of how much we loved them. Families are like recipes, you put in the right ingredients, follow the instructions, and everything comes out like the Instagram perfect picture you expect. Right?

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Mother’s Day Breakfast

Well, now I know better.

The truth is, my parents loved my siblings and me. They still do. But when life is hard and there are things beyond our control, we don’t always feel loved. Sometimes, we get angry and reject the love of those who love us the most. We compare our lives with someone else who seems to have something better, and we feel gipped, neglected, or that we somehow missed the mark and are the ones lacking. The truth is, we live in a fallen world where even the best love we have to offer can be missed, misunderstood, or even misapplied. As a parent, I know there have been times I misapplied my love. Who among us can show perfect love?

But then there’s hope.

Instead of expectations based on my abilities, I am learning how to be patient with myself, and with others. I am learning how to extend and accept grace in ways I could never imagine before now. And to be perfectly honest, I see now that I don’t have as much control over the outcome of things as I imagined. Letting go of expectations makes more room for hope. Honest hope and faith. My children are now young adults, and guess what, I’m still on a learning curve. I thought I had it figured out back when I started, and if not then, certainly by now. See how those “I know better” expectations can trip you up?

Mother’s Day is on my mind. With my children no longer dependent on me for daily living, Mother’s Day feels different, like somehow, I’m no longer really part of the mommy club. That makes me consider how my mom must have felt as we all became adults. I regret the pain I inflicted on my mom with the words I said to her. Over two decades later, my mom and I have worked very hard to find a new way to relate and understand each other. Neither one of us gave up hope. And she’s still my mom.

God continues to teach me new things, new ways of relating to Him. I still fall into the trap of trying to earn God’s favor (love) by trying to do things the right way. We can’t earn God’s love. We already have it. My mom forgave me and never stopped loving me. My own children have my and my husband’s love no matter what. We know that, but do they? Did we make that clear enough? I hope so.

As a counselor, I recognize the trap of placing my own expectations on my clients. That doesn’t help anyone. It actually can make things much worse. Ah, but what does help is guiding them to find hope. Hope that things can get better, that the way things are now is not how it will always be.

The trials of my life caused me to doubt God’s love for me, my parents’ love for me, and my self-worth. As a young adult, I thought I could do things on my own, my way, and get it right. I thought if I read enough and gave enough, it would be enough.

I know better.

There’s a learning curve to life. Things don’t always work out how we expect. And here I am, still learning how to trust God. God is patient, and I know he sees how much more practice I need to learn how to do this parenting thing. He reminded me recently, I am His child. My husband is His child. My children are His children. He is enough.

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Hope leaves room for more possibilities!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18 – 25 (HCS)

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)