As we end the year and wake to a new, I am reflecting on how I’ve grown. And the answer is I’ve grown into a person greedy for grace. I’ve become a person more comfortable with the reality that I’m not as self-sufficient as I thought and that, really, I’m really dependent. The hard knocks of life this past year, both in my own immediate family, and in the lives of friends and extended family—all the disappointments and grief coming from shattered hopes and dreams, from sudden deaths, from lost jobs, from terrifying diagnoses and grim prognoses—these realities have brought me lower than I thought I could go.
And that’s a good thing. Not a happy thing necessarily, but a good thing.
Because we don’t feel happy about having to be dependent, do we? Somehow, feeling dependent is even unnerving, isn’t it? We like to be in control. We like to feel like we can manage whatever comes our way. And yet . . .
What happens when body, mind, and emotions revolt—when they don’t cooperate and we can’t live the way we want, the way we know we should?
Does God’s grace apply to those of us who are a wreck, which is all of us, even if we don’t admit?
I’m pondering God and His grace this first day of this new year. I’m pondering dependence and the purpose of an always good God bringing us to the end of ourselves—our self-sufficiency which runs deeper that the deepest well. And I’m seeing that dependence rightly directed is a holy state. Because holy dependence is where we discover our true selves and our true God.
Holy dependence is the place where we can wholly receive the full extent of God’s grace.
And the grace keeps going—each time we fail—each time we see our own weakness, our own brokenness—our own incapability to solve problems too big for us—to fix things that worry and grieve. God is there in weakness, always showing divine strength, always giving us Himself. And even in our failures—MOSTLY in our failures—when we turn to Him, He lavishes more and more grace upon us to sustain us and grow us. And God only knows how weak I’ve been this past year—how much I’ve failed. And still, I see Him smile because He knows his daughter—this daughter—loves Him and wants Him more than anything—even in the midst of her worst failures. Because the only time we really fail is when we fail to realize the extent of His great grace–when we give up on ourselves and others and God. God never gives up on us.
So I look back on a year and I see a list of woes that now shows glimmers of good. Painful? Yes. Have I perceived them as bad, even tragic? Yes. I’m not happy about the reality of brokenness in our children—and cancer-filled bodies of friends still struggling—and sudden deaths in our circle of family and friends—the latest, a year younger than I, whose unknown cancer had its last hurrah with the exclamation point of death on Christmas day when he had no symptoms even the week before. We are a fragile people. And we grieve.
I’m greedy for grace to live out each day in a way that pleases God and brings Him honor. Many of our friends with their own struggles are wanting the same—to honor God and bring Him glory NO MATTER WHAT. But what does THAT mean?
How do I please God and bring Him honor in the grocery store when I run into a neighbor by the ice cream toppings and she asks about our middle boy who ran cross-country with her son just two years ago in high school?
“How is he? How are YOU?” she asks.
I debate with myself quickly.
Do I say “fine”? Do I say “not so good” and leave it at that? Do I say nothing and instead turn the conversation to her and her son who is in college preparing for ministry? Or do I take a risk and just be honest—right there by the chocolate and caramel ice cream toppings in the Piggly Wiggly grocery store?
So I choose to risk. I choose honesty. And her eyes lock on mine and never leave. I see her care. I see I’m not too much for her heart to bear. And I tell her my struggle over whether to be superficial and avoidant, or socially polite, or spiritually stoic, or to be just plain honest in response to her question. I tell her I’m not doing as well as usual and neither is he and neither are any of us right now. And she says something that sticks good and warm and comforting to my heart.
“I’d rather you be honest because then I know how to honestly pray for you. I know I can’t fix anything, but I can pray and I will—we will.”
Those words, that intent, her commitment to pray for me—for my family—for our son—there is no better love gift. Because I know she will seek God earnestly and intercede on our behalf and beg for more grace because she’s a greedy person too. She knows tragedy. Her brother and sister-in-law were savagely murdered in their own home. She knows the range of human emotion. She knows that no matter what any of us experience here on earth in the flesh, no matter what emotions we experience, God’s grace is sufficient to bring us through—to save us from devastation.
And so I—the one greedy for grace—get more grace delivered by the ice cream toppings.
God is sweet.
When I look back on this year of challenges with our kids, and the scary news of cancer some friends received, and the extremely sudden and unexpected deaths that occurred in our circle of family and friends, and all the grieving we and others we love have experienced, I know . . .
THERE IS ALWAYS GOOD NEWS.
Good news doesn’t always cover our problems with sugar-saturated sauces just trying to make something horribly bitter taste sweet. Let’s face it. Sometimes we don’t get what we want when we want it. Sometimes we just have to walk through the pain that’s permitted and keep depending and trusting in the One—the only One—who will bring us through, not just sugar-coated but made sweet through and through—through suffering.
Because an easy life doesn’t necessarily produce a dependent life.
Only dependence—absolute, utter dependence on God’s grace ushers us into the throne room to meet our Maker. And often we wonder, we of such spiritual poverty, whether we will survive such desperate dependence on such an awesome grace. But our Maker is not like Queen Esther’s husband the king of long ago who could have had her executed for coming into his presence unsummoned. We are ALWAYS summoned by our God. We are ALWAYS welcome in His presence. He is ALWAYS wooing us to come closer.
Our King summons us to depend on Him. He only allows life experiences so difficult, so beyond our capacity to cope alone, that we are drawn to Him when otherwise we would keep living in our delusional state of self-sufficiency, separated from the One and only who can satisfy our deepest needs.
By the ice cream toppings, my neighbor friend says something sticky to me . . .
“Life is all about God drawing us closer to Himself.”
And there it is . . .
Truth that sticks to my insides like the bubbling steel-cut oats with a touch of cream I made on this subzero Wisconsin morning. Sustenance through and through—sustenance in the cold—sustenance to withstand the bitter. Not just syrupy toppings to cover, making pretty.
No matter what 2014 brings, grace will be delivered by the holy hand who sifts and pours only what He intends to lure us closer to His heart of perfect love. Because relationship with God, in the end, is all that matters.
He is greedy for us.
And I am greedy for Him—His grace—His love.
Greedy for grace, I am, because God is all grace and all I really have, for real, is God. What will 2014 bring? I don’t know except for one thing. More God. More grace. Is there anyone or anything I want more?
So today, I don’t wish you a Happy New Year.
I pray for you what I pray for me—a grace-full New Year—a new year where we allow ourselves to be pulled closer into the perfectly loving embrace of our truest lover.
Come what may, He is sufficient for us. His grace is sufficient. Let’s be greedy for grace.