grace: God’s free and unmerited favor for sinful humanity
I’m sitting in Buenos Aires on my bed in my little room that is about the size of a Vandy-Barnard single back at school which means it’s just right for me and the stuff I brought with me. I’m taking some time to digest everything that I’ve heard and seen and done and said and been and heard and seen the last three days. And I’m starting to think it’s high time I give my own story a little grace.
One of the things that’s hard for me to overcome when I meet new people, especially a lot at once, is not knowing their story, and them not knowing mine. There’s a lot I could tell you about where I’ve been and the choices I’ve made and the things I’ve experienced that make me exactly who I am today (I kind of started this blog as a place to put those). But because I know how much my story influences who I am, I also want to know those pieces of everyone else I become friends with – I want to know where they’ve been and who they are and how those two things are tied together.
So when I showed up at the hotel Thursday with 40 other people in it and realized theirs would be the only faces I recognized in the city – it messed with my head a little bit that I don’t actually know anyone super well. I have some friends from my own school (praise!) but we’re still kind of getting to know each other better as well. It’s kind of like the first month of freshman year, we all keep joking.
And it’s kind of like the last two months I’ve had at home, where I know a lot of people but I’m not around them all the time so they know my story in really interesting and sometimes not very complete ways. Which is why when I got the chance to grab lunch with my friend Bekah, I really really loved it when we just sat down together at Panera and she said, “I want to hear your story.”
So I told her about my life the past couple of years that I’ve been in college. How doing eTraining with the Navigators had radically changed my understanding of how to live everyday life walking with God and make Christ the center of my life. I told her about how this last year of my life I’ve really struggled to know what love is and how relationships fit into God’s plan for my life. I told her all the pieces that have added up to make me the person I am today.
And you know what? The longer I talked, the harder it felt to share. This is mostly because I kept picking up on some bad habits. Some pieces were hard to tell because I was still carrying a lot of guilt and shame and scars from them. But some came spilling out, heavy on the details that shouldn’t matter after so much time, heavy on the details of ways I thought I’d been wronged. And a little lighter on the ways that God had moved in those things. Maybe a lot lighter.
Being a stellar friend, mentor and person, Bekah really saw all the guilt and the shame that I’ve been carrying with me. She saw it on my face and heard it in the way I told this story, and I think she felt the need to preach the gospel of grace over me.
She said to me, “If you believe that God is good and his plan for you is the best, than you can accept whatever circumstances you’re in.” And I was like, shoot. I don’t believe that right now. I believe the Gospel, but I don’t think that this plan and the way this ended was what was best for me.
I was wrestling through all of this in my head afterwards and I kept thinking, over and over – God, I do believe your gospel of grace, but it’s just not clicking with this circumstance right now. I believe that I am a sinful human and that the favor you show me is free, because there’s no way I can pay it back, and unmerited, because nothing I can do or have done deserves it. I just don’t believe that in this situation, you showed me any favor.
Yikes yikes yikes. That was uncomfortable to put into words. Who am I to call out the Almighty God and say that I know better than him what my life should be, or what His favor is? How do I reconcile pain and anxiety with the Gospel I know to be true, the one that has proved itself over and over in my life and circumstances? How do I get back in control?
Maybe, I thought, maybe instead of having everything in control, instead of knowing all the right answers, I need to get angry and let it all out. Maybe I do need to fight with God and tell him how much I don’t understand this situation and what’s happened. And maybe when I fight with God, it’s not because I want to be right, but because I want to know why I’m wrong.
And that’s not a fight anymore, you know? That’s when grace replaces guilt.
One of the things Bekah really impressed on me with her words and with the ways we talked about the Gospel taking root and action in our life is that my identity has to be, HAS to be rooted in the Gospel of grace. The world likes to trick us into believing that we aren’t full, that we aren’t given enough, and that’s why we simply cannot accept that the circumstances we find ourselves in are God’s will for us. When the reality of the situation is that in Christ, we are constantly and continually being poured into and loved deeply by God. Not just the truth – the reality, if we’d just choose to see it.
We feel pressure from the expectations our identities in the world’s eyes have for us. I know my story is full of examples, and I’m guilty of putting too much stock in those when in reality, we’re free in Christ from the bondage this world and people in it try to put on us. They may be logical and fair and right in many ways, but they do not define who are the way the Gospel does.
“Trust is not something that is earned. Confidence can be earned, but trust has to be given freely. Trust is the human form of God’s grace.” – my dad, Judson Chapel
I love this quote. It takes some trust to share a piece of my story with someone. But in the end, it also takes trusting God to leave a piece of my own story in the past. Since I’ve been here, there have been several times so far that I got really worried about how poor my Spanish must sound and how little I know. But today when this worry hit, I heard it clear as day, straight from the Holy Spirit: “Who told you that you weren’t good enough?”
The answer is me. I can blame my story and other people and stuff that has happened as much as I want, but at the end of the day, the only person telling me that is me. I’m the one dragging the past into the present and boasting of my scars instead of boasting in my Savior.
So here is my goal for studying abroad: give my story some grace. What happened before won’t happen again, because nothing is ever the same way twice (have you read Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life? No? You should). But more than that, I want to live in the present and I want to live out of that Gospel of grace. The one that says no matter what I’ve done or where I’ve been, He has made me enough – that no matter what my circumstances are, they are for my good and His glory.
I have a slight suspicion that when I give my story some grace, it’ll become easier to share. Because it’s no longer simply the things that have happened to make me who I am, it’s the things God designed to make me exactly who He’s called me to be. And that’s a pretty cool way to experience the new in new romantic.
Bonus prize for making it to the end. Photos from exploring today, my room, and lunch!