Learning a New Way of Grace

This season seems to be about un-learning, detangling, undoing what I have done for so long that it no longer seemed optional. I’m questioning everything – relationships, beliefs, career choices, patterns of behavior. I keep being surprised by grace. Asking questions I was afraid to ask, even to God, and finding lightning didn’t strike, and God is still good, on the other side of the questioning.

I was talking to a friend this week. I’d been afraid to call him, because I was calling to say no to an offer he had made me and I’m a decades long people-pleaser intent on causing no disappointment to people who love me. With a shaky breath, I told him I couldn’t commit, that I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but that I had no energy or excitement for what I knew would require both. With kindness he said “You’re hurt, Jen. I completely understand and love you – we are family anyway.” He told me he had pastored long enough to know that God’s timing was better than our forced timing and that he trusted what God is doing in me now. He offered me grace, and I gratefully and shakily accepted it. Grace. Even now telling the story I have tears in my eyes.

I feel like, for years maybe, I had slipped into a way of living that focused more on performing and pleasing and forgot about grace, and oh how I missed it.

This morning I was reading the book God sent me for this season, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I’ve underlined about 3/4 of the book, which has utterly confused my youngest daughter (“Mommy – you shouldn’t color in your books”).

You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry. Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it… You must ask yourself not only what fruit they bring to the world, but what fruit they yield on the inside of your life and your heart.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I was surprised to find a holdout of that old, terrible doctrine: if it hurts just awful, it must be God’s will for you. And the other side of that same coin: if it produces fruit, it must be God’s will for you.

Later in that same chapter:

7131869-small-stream-running-over-moss-covered-stones-stock-photo“I’m reveling in the smallness of my capacity. This is it. This is who I am. This is all I have to give you. It is not a fire hose, unending gallons of water, knocking you over with force. It’s a stream: tiny, clear, cool. That’s what I have to give, and that small stream is mine to nurture, to tend, to offer first to the people I love most, my first honor and responsibility. 

The twin undercurrents of being a woman and being a Christian is sort of a set-up for getting off track with this stuff – women are raised to give and give and give, to pour themselves out indiscriminately and tirelessly. And Christians, or some anyway, are raised to ignore their own bodies, their own pain, their own screaming souls, on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church.”

Can I confess something to you? I’m visual and I see things in my mind sometimes that I don’t understand until later. For years I have had this image of myself that I have seen over and over in my head in times of exhaustion. I’ve seen myself step outside my house, seemingly calm but with an upright back and clenched fists, and I will walk outside and scream to the sky, with no sound coming out. I never understood it, I always knew it was bad, but I didn’t understand why I was screaming, why I was silent, why I kept seeing it, why it felt like it was all I could do in those moments. When I read this it didn’t become all clear, but part of it clicked. I’m not sure I ever thought I had the authority over myself, over my circumstances, over my life, to scream or even to stop. What she wrote about “ignoring our own bodies, our own pain, our own screaming souls on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church” rings so true to my life over the past decade (and in the lives of so many people I’ve served with in that time).

And now I have stopped. People keep asking me what I’m doing next, what is the plan now that I don’t work at a church anymore. I simply don’t know, which as a first-born planning-obsessed person, is a hard answer for me to give. I’m still untangling all of this. But I have found quiet, and stillness, and gratitude, and my family, and God and GRACE in this place of stopping. And I will stay here as long as it takes to heal and find my way again. I am a tiny stream, and I’m learning to even be that well.

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