Merited Grace

It would be a strong understatement to say that things have been a bit busy around these parts the past month.

The extreme allergies that we battle have an inconvenient way of rewriting life. They leave me desperately longing for the normal, day-to-day ‘busy’ of raising my three littles instead of finding myself knee deep in ambulance transport, hospital stays, and fear for the next reaction.

Even outside of medical drama, the past month has been full. Through a string of what felt at the time to be random events, I was given the opportunity to practice love. The timing couldn’t have been worse, or my resources more stretched. The issues involved were horrifying. It was obvious that nothing I might do or say would begin to make a dent in very real pain, struggle, and loss. Yet, I felt an undeniably strong call to reach out, to practice love.

It was clear from the start that what I was being led toward was not the easy-peasy, convenient type of love that I tend to practice because it fits easily into my life, schedule, and preferences. Certainly not the “this-love-will-probably-come-back-around-and-benefit-me-in-the-future” kind of love that finds itself at home in my heart more often than I’d like to admit. This was different. It was an opportunity to practice the kind of love that I dream and write about, the love to which I believe Jesus calls us.

And it was hard. Constant, and utterly exhausting.

It was also surprising.

I was surprised by the deep peace I experienced as I was following what I felt to be Jesus’ leading. I was surprised as well by how people from different churches, generations, and walks of life worked together to tangibly support someone they knew nothing about other than having need in a horrible situation. It was Jesus’ love in action, and incredible to witness.

I was also surprised by reactions from some in the Church. Many followers of Christ knew those in need, and used the painful situation to share what they saw as past failures and choices of which they did not approve. I heard that any attempt to offer support was a both undeserved and a waste, that my efforts wouldn’t end up changing anything long-term. I was told I was being taken advantage of, pouring out my time and energy only to be discarded when needs were met.

It was a sea of judgement, and waves of condemnation came crashing down.

I suspect some spoke from a place of having been taken advantage of before. Others shared from a place of past hurt or betrayal. Others still spoke out of a desire to protect me.

There was, however, another message that came through loud and clear: grace shouldn’t be wasted on the undeserving.

This idea reminded me of Mike Yaconelli’s perspective in ‘Messy Spirituality’—

“Nothing in the church makes people in the church more angry than grace. It’s ironic: we stumble into a party we weren’t invited to and find the uninvited standing at the door making sure no other uninviteds get in. Then a strange phenomenon occurs: as soon as we are included in the party because of Jesus’ irresponsible love, we decide to make grace “more responsible” by becoming self-appointed Kingdom Monitors, guarding the kingdom of God, keeping the riffraff out (which, as I understand it, are who the kingdom of God is supposed to include).”

Why do we, as followers of Christ, refuse others entry to the party by judging the merits of their attendance? How can we better extend grace as we’ve so abundantly been given? How do we move away from the false paradigm of merited grace?

And, one step farther, what are our words and actions toward our gay neighbors communicating?


9 thoughts on “Merited Grace

  1. Ugh, this is a hard one. I think shame plays into it, where we want to distance ourselves from those who remind us that we were once “like them” I think we get so caught up in the “washed clean” from our sins that we forget that it’s kind of a “need to shower every day” thing and that we’re pretty much just like the person who has recently asked for forgiveness and tried to “join the club” of the forgiven. We’d really like to think that something intrinsic has changed within us, and we can go on with our life as a new and better person. In reality I don’t know that there’s any more of God in us than there was before, and if we just continue on and maybe start making better ‘life choices’ we’re just a whitewashed version of what we were before. If we, on the other hand, take that of God that was already in us, and develop it into an actual relationship with the Spirit, our lives and our choices become easier, our grace flows more freely, and we live out God’s purpose for our life because we’re able to discern that through our new relationship with Jesus.

    To move on from that a little bit into the discussion about how we treat our gay friends and neighbors, I’ve been thinking lately about how we forgive (bear with me). I think there are ‘easy’ forgivenesses – the people who grovel, and who didn’t hurt us directly, or who we don’t have to see all the time. Within the Church I see this as the drug addicts, repentent criminals, etc. The dramatic stories with a clear “bad life” and “good life” with Jesus making the difference.

    Then there are the ‘harder’ forgivenesses – the loved ones who lied to us, the friend who betrayed us, the coworker who screwed us over – but once they ask for forgiveness, it’s simply a matter of time as we work through the process toward the acceptance and the true lifting of the burden from our spirit. It’s really hard work sometimes, and it can be (and should be) a long process, but it can happen and it, quite frankly, naturally does happen over time, especially when living in community. Within the Church, I see this as the sinners who covered stuff up better, who pretended everything was fine and then eventually confessed or were caught and asked for forgiveness. Sometimes they were in leadership in the church, or they were your friend, or they were your spouse, and it’s a lot harder to get over it. But it can happen, eventually.

    But then there’s the one where someone has done something you feel is wrong, toward you or toward someone else, and they don’t think that what they did was wrong at all. They aren’t asking for forgiveness, they don’t think they need to be forgiven, and they plan to keep right on doing things the same way. So how do we forgive? I honestly don’t have an answer to this, and it’s something I’m struggling with right now personally, in a close relationship.

    This is how I see the attitude of many people in the church with regard to gay Christians, bringing me to my long lost point. The thing is, if we get it in our heads that they are sinning, I’m not sure we can ever “love the sinner, hate the sin” because we can’t figure out how to forgive someone for a sin they don’t think they are committing, and aren’t asking us to forgive them for. If we can move away from the concept that it’s a sin, and accept it as either something that is not a sin, or something that is unclear (and therefore we can’t confidently label a sin) maybe we can move forward into something bigger and better than “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Maybe.

    • YES! You perfectly expressed what Jeff and I have been mulling over lately. (And quite possibly saved me from finishing the post I have in-the-works, since you covered it wonderfully here.) It almost feels like we doubt the reality of God’s grace to the point that we usher in shame in its place by pretending to be something that we’re not (to allow grace to cover a lesser sin?), or go so far as to distance ourselves from others who remind us of our own brokenness. .

      “Maybe we can move forward into something bigger and better than “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I think you’re on to something big here, Meghan. I certainly hope so.

  2. I just spent about three hours talking with an Evangelical Christian who adamantly believes that the gay rights issues comes down to other people trying to force him to reject something he fervently believes in (historical marriage, etc..). It was an exhausting conversation, and at times very discouraging I can’t challenge him using the Bible because I don’t really care what the Bible has to say about it. But that’s the language he speaks.

    I can’t tell you how encouraging it was to come home and read words from a Christian that doesn’t view the treatment of others as a “But what about me?” issue. It’s so tempting, as a non-Christian, to write off Christianity (and Christians) as angry, bigoted people, but every time I want to do that, there’s somebody else reminding me that not everyone sees Jesus as a tool of division. Not all Christians think the Bible needs to become federal law. There are Christians who take the most loving interpretation of the Bible they can find, and if necessary, take the side of a God of love over the narrow words in an ancient book. These things give me a lot of hope for our gay friends, and our society.

    Thanks to you both for using your faith to help others when so many others use it to do harm.

    • Sorry to hear about your frustrating experience! Your story serves as a humbling reminder of the capacity we possess to wound or speak life to those with whom we’re in relationship.

      It feels important to acknowledge a distinction between the Bible itself and interpretations of it. I say this to encourage you from writing off the Bible as narrow or antiquated, though it certainly can be (and has been) interpreted as such. The distinction feels significant to me because I don’t feel forced to choose between a loving God or the Bible– on the contrary, I feel like the story in the Bible, the WHOLE story and not just pieces pulled randomly from here and there, reflects God’s overwhelming, constant, and relentless love. But

      May God give us grace as we attempt the messy work of transitioning our thoughts from an either/or paradigm (either a loving God or the Bible) to a both/and framework (both a loving God and a Bible that reflects that truth).

  3. Hmmm- my heart thrums as I read your post tonight!
    Here is a perspective from someone who lived in a committed gay relationship for twelve years of my life and someone who currently has an addiction to alcohol. (both considered to be the “riffraff” that Mike Yaconelli refers to in your quote above.)

    The ONLY thing that brought me into a loving relationship with Christ was someone who was Jesus with “skin on”!

    That person actively walked out love in every single way and still does today!

    Love is patient- she was and is patient even though I tried her patience. Love is Kind- she was and is kind and gentle. Love does not boast- she never boasted about herself only about how much God loved me. Love is not proud- she is human and therefore could be prideful, but admitted it when she was and demonstrated humility- what an amazing gift! Love is not rude- she was never rude. Love is not self-seeking- she never looked at our relationship as a personal gain but as mutual respect. Love is not easily angered- I gave her plenty of reasons to be angry, I betrayed her, I lied and I tried to push her away and she never demonstrated anger, which was a jolt to my system. Love keeps no record of wrongs- she forgave me immediately over and over and over- as if the slate was wiped clean and she forgot everytime I screwed up. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in truth- she reminded me about choices that I’d make that were worth rejoicing over and the others she simply asked me to think about the compare and contrast, which showed the light of Jesus even more. Love always protects- she projected my privacy, honored and respected my opinions and thoughts and encouraged me to ask questions in a safe environment. Love always hopes- she had hope when I had none, I borrowed hers. Love always perserveres- she is still perservering, she is loving me until I can learn to love myself and accept and feel the love of Christ.

    The truth is that her love was and is a GRACE REFUGE for me!

    I don’t know how long it will be extended or needed or even why she was chosen as the one to extend it, but I do know that it has been “messy” and “hard-beautiful” and I am FREE because of it!

    I don’t know much, but I do know that this is how it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to learn to love well and leave the rest up to Jesus.

    What makes her different than other Christians that I’d encountered throughout my 44 years on earth? Well, I think she knows what this means:

    1 JOHN 4:19 “We love because He first loved us”

    Thankful for Amazing Grace!

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective, Stacey! I appreciate your honesty and candid telling of God’s goodness to you. What an incredible friendship! (And you’re among friends here, Stacey. No matter what our particular journeys look like, we’re ALL the “riffraff” that Yaconelli described. You said it best– thankful for Amazing Grace!)

      Praying for God’s grace and wisdom to grow into a “grace refuge” like your friend has been for you. Can you imagine what life would be like if we each leaned into this calling?

  4. This is a beautiful post, Kim, and I love the conversation it’s raised in the comments above. Both your post and the comments give me hope for my Christian community. I love the metaphor Megan uses in the first post, and then the conclusion she reaches is straight on. I honestly think (cynically and, by turns, hopefully) that the way we will get to a different place about gay folks is to understand the Bible in a different way than most evangelicals do now. I’m just beginning to understand that difference myself. At any rate, your post makes me want to sit down and have a “real” conversation with other like-minded folks (and even those who are not like-minded).

    • “…The way we will get to a different place about gay folks is to understand the Bible in a different way than most evangelicals do now.” These words seem to bear deep truth, Melanie! I suspect that the ‘real’ conversations you mention will be holy places where God meets us and hearts change. I’m challenged to consider ways that I’m able to work toward creating space for those sacred conversations.

    • “I honestly think (cynically and, by turns, hopefully) that the way we will get to a different place about gay folks is to understand the Bible in a different way than most evangelicals do now. I’m just beginning to understand that difference myself. ” YES!

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