Wednesday, December 15, 2010

High and Low

"I don't deserve it, but grace is attached to my shadow. It follows me wherever I go reminding me that I'm loved when I don't love myself. It corrects me when I'm out of line yet then pulls me in to give me a loving embrace. It's sometimes hard for me to understand because it's so unlike me."
- Bryce Avary

“'Grace is high AND low.' The simplicity of that truth always speaks to me. This is the nature of God's grace. This is found in the highs and the lows – on the peaks and in the valleys. This truth is so difficult to accept in it's entirety: that fools like us have been 'given innocence again.'”
- Tim Foreman

I am beginning to wonder if I ever understood grace. If I did, I am not sure I would be where I am now. I think I did understand it to begin with, and even a few months ago I may have understood it (or at least, as much as any human ever can-- perhaps “accept” is a better word than “understand” here). But when I lock myself up in my own head and refuse to listen to any outside voices, maybe it’s natural that my failures would be louder. The failures are mine; the grace definitely is not.

I live a life that looks very good from the outside, if we look at facts alone. I have two jobs that pay decently. I am going to an extremely high-quality University, making very good grades. I have a massive network of friends. I am able to do a lot of things (photography, web design, graphic design, writing, play two instruments, so forth), and though I am not necessarily good at any of them, I am at the very least competent.

So perhaps it would seem odd that I am still so desperately incomplete. Four years ago, I never would have dreamed I would have made as much progress as I have now. And yet I need grace as much now as I did then-- perhaps more, because as my world grows I need more grace to cover all of it.

Lately this issue has come down on me a lot harder than usual, because I have tried to change so many situations and cannot. I get desperate and try harder, but it’s like throwing myself against a brick wall-- the wall doesn’t budge, but I come away bruised. And it makes me wonder why I bother trying at all if I can’t change anything. How do I love people if the purpose is not to help them (since apparently I can’t help them)?

I have had a lot of time for thinking, now that I am done with finals. I have read three C.S. Lewis books and started on a fourth in the last 48 hours, which helps. One thing I had to admit to myself is that for the past few years, 99.9% of my interaction with people has been based on a simple principle: what I think they need. Someone needs me to smile, so I smile. Someone needs silence, so I am quiet. Someone needs me to talk and appear confident, so I do so.

I am not sure anymore that this is right. First of all, I could pretend (and have) that it is selfless, but it’s not. It is pretending that I can truly fulfill any kind of need in someone, which is very self-centered and also impossible. There is no more of me than the people around me-- to try to give them part of me to make them whole is foolish, and will only end with one or both of us still incomplete. The only way any sense of completion can occur is if something from outside, Someone who is more, comes in and fills the holes. For me to assume I can fulfill any kind of need-- indeed, to pretend that I can even understand what someone really needs at the core of their being-- is a form of intense, sickening arrogance.

And yet in spite of this difficulty we are called to love. I am beginning to wonder if this is less about reaching down and trying to pull someone up as it is about crawling beside them, lending an arm to support them if necessary. There is nothing else I can do. God is the only one who can do any lifting, because He is the only one who is really higher anyway.

And yet I am not content with that. I don’t know if it’s habit or if I am simply a fool, but I can’t accept that it is not my responsibility to change someone. I spend hours thinking about it until I begin to go mad. The result is that as of late, everything has brought condemnation. I go to school and feel awful because my grades and my accomplishments make people feel inadequate and intimidated by me. I go to work and feel certain that there is something I’m supposed to be saying to the patrons or my coworkers that I am not saying. I talk to my friends and if they have had so much as a bad day I hate myself for not being able to turn it around.

Home is the worst right now. Every broken behavior I observe in my siblings is a direct reflection of my failure. Yes, they love me, but that’s not what I want. I want them to understand who God is, and in response to love each other. I don’t care if they hate me; they used to, and I know how to handle that. I would give up everything I have just to get them to love each other for even one day.

And of course I know the answer to all this. I know the theory backwards and upside down and inside out. I have to accept grace. I have to accept that God is strong in my weakness. I have to accept that I cannot change people, but that God working through me might still be able to touch their lives. There was a time, not so long ago, when I did accept this. I’m not sure why I can’t now.

I have a friend who has known me for most of my teen years. This friend is one of the major reasons why I can even grasp the concept of grace, because he has a habit of eternally giving me kindness I don’t deserve in spite of the fact that he knows me very well. This has baffled me over and over, but he doesn’t seem to want to stop offering grace even when I get mad at him for doing so, so I’ve decided it’s better to give up and accept it. This is just a tiny, incomplete reflection of how God is.

In a similar way, as I have been moving to my new room over the past few days, I have been struck with something fascinating. I was cleaning out my desk and found that probably 75% of the things I found were things I had been given by people I love-- people who love me, as baffling as that is. If I am honest, there were other things on my desk too, things I sent through the shredder because I couldn’t stand what they reminded me of. And yet for everything I shredded, there were at least 20 things I had been given out of love... notes and pictures and knitted things and more than I could mention. It also struck me that most of the people who have poured into me most are the ones who I have done a terrible job of loving.

And maybe that’s part of getting over all of this mess-- looking at the love letters God has sent me, not the wads of shredded paper from my own attempts to love. It’s not about me or what I think, and it’s definitely not about what I feel. If I say I believe in grace and then refuse to accept it when I actually need it, then I am either a liar or a fool. Grace is high and low. No, it’s not an equation that makes sense. But, as I quote so often when people ask me about grace... “the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” No, grace is not fair, and no, it doesn’t make sense. But it is beautiful... and maybe it is worth trying to understand.

“In the economy of mercy, I am a poor and begging man. In the currency of grace is where my song begins. In the colors of Your goodness, in the scars that mark Your skin-- in the currency of grace is where my song begins. These carbon shells, these fragile dusty frames, house canvases of souls. We are bruised and broken masterpieces, but we did not paint ourselves. And where will I find You?”
- Switchfoot

- Elraen -

[Sidenote: This is one of those posts I was hesitant to share. But I figured that only being honest when it doesn’t cost me anything really isn’t honesty at all. And perhaps as a disclaimer, I have no idea if there is any truth in this post aside from that these are honestly my thoughts, which may or may not be correct. I have edited this post like a million times.]


miruialiel.eternalprincess said...

Regardless of what we think or feel about things you said in this post, I will always appreciate your honesty. Never loose that trait.


Liz said...

The real, raw you is the honesty that speaks for itself. You can edit your life all you want but you will still be loved regardless :)

Also, to be honest, I know there have been times when you've tried "fixing" stuff with me that's been wrong and I really appreciate it and love you for it but I would also like to note that the times (most recently... a very vivid memory in my mind that still pangs me, i'm sure you know which i mean) when you didn't try to do anything at all but offered love and being there and the prayers, those times are where i saw God through you the most. Those are the times I remember most vividly.

And when you fully understand grace PLEASE help clue me in :P as much as i think i know right now, i don't think on this side of heaven it will ever be completely graspable. and that is okay.

love you very very much mary ♥