“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” – Luke 15:31
As a woman with a personality that is great for getting things done well, for being responsible, reliable, hardworking and for always getting an A, I did well with the objective parts of life. I excelled. But I would also immediately focus on and worry about the next thing that needed done well, the next thing I needed to study for to get an A on in life. I’d move right on to working hard again. Working to always make the grade. Always fit in. Always be moral. Always be “good” in whatever structure I was internally performing in at the moment.
I have a great personality for success. Not so much for accepting the subjective, the losses, the failures and messes of life.
What this style of being in the world didn’t help me learn, and what my mind still forgets all too quickly, is that working hard, being moral and always seeking to be “good” is not an attainable goal. Perfection will never be possible.
I knew this truth in my head. I studied it, I read about it, I prayed about it and somewhere deeply covered in my heart, I knew I am loved. I “knew” I’m already “good” no matter what because of Grace. But my muscles still didn’t believe it. I lived all too often with a feeling of fear in the world. Grace was not something I felt as I went about life. As with my amazing ability to forget I just got an A+ on a test by instantly worrying about Acing the next one, I’d forget I’m OK in life. I’d forget I am declared good, I don’t have to work so hard at life. I’d not believe how no matter what grade I get on the next moment of life, I’d still be an A. Always.
My living up to the standards I thought I had to will not make me any more or less good than I am and always will be. Failing the standards, will not ever mean I fail, I’m bad, unlovable, unworthy, still in need of achieving or attaining my status again.
It is taking me more than 30 years for my bones to believe the Truth. To trust God’s Grace over my achievement. To trust deep in my muscle that I’m lovable because of God’s choice to Love. I cannot lose this kind of Grace. It’s taken me this long and I’m still learning it:
God doesn’t love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good. – Richard Rohr
Some say you need to hear things about 7x or so until you remember it. Well here I am to say, sometimes it will take you years. It will take real life. Experiences of failure and acceptance. Loving relationships that last. Relationships that don’t work based on a win/fail, good/bad, up/down, in/out dynamic modeled in culture and business. It will take many many moments of realizing “Oh. Wait. I’m still OK? Even after I did that thing, didn’t make the grade, didn’t (fill in the blank)… I’m OK. Life is OK.” to learn deeply that personal value cannot be earned, only accepted.
This deep kind of learning is a process. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t make logical sense. We actually need to do it wrong and still find Grace to learn Grace really does exist everywhere and always.
It may take doing it wrong and finding grace and acceptance on the other side or it may take seeing our not so perfect human qualities surrounded in an undeserved love from others in order to trust Love exists all around. That’s the mystery of God’s Grace – it will almost always take some sort of failure, suffering, mess to find true Life, Love, Grace.
In fact, the people in my life I love most and feel most loved by are the ones who know they are fully human. They aren’t shocked by their and my humanity. They aren’t shocked by the inconsistencies, the little failures, the ways in which they and I both fail and need forgiveness or how standards will never be consistently met. They love with a radical grace that does not make sense, one that reveals it is not goodness or perfection that create bonds. It’s something bigger, steadier, wider than our attempts to continually be good.
If this truth resonated at all in you, may you begin to trust along with me the real Grace of the Gospel is present around you and in you. May you mindfully hold this truth. May it begin to sink down deep into your muscles. May this Truth grow in you so you see the world as a little safer. You begin to see and accept yourself with a little more grace, despite your perceived “goodness”. And in time, begin to see and love others with this same radical grace you’ve found.
Hear this: You will never be perfectly good. You never had to be in the first place.
May today we all feel the unexpected, unearned loving embrace that comes as God receives us all with joy and Love despite our shame. May we, perfection-bent hearts who always tried so hard to do it right, trust that goodness really is with us already. It’s around us, given and declared upon us.
No matter how human we will always be. We are good now. Good always. Not because of ourselves or effort, but in spite of it.
Grace & peace.
Extra Musings and Random Thoughts
If you’ve not heard of the Enneagram before, it’s an ancient personality typing system that fits nicely with faith and helps you discover your way of relating to the world and to better be able to point out when you’re behaving based on stress or out of your true self. I would be a “perfect” (couldn’t help myself) example of a Type 1 – also known as the Perfectionist. There are a lot of great resources out there about it if you’re interested. One I enjoy is The Road Back to You.
Finished reading Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. I very much recommend it. Like this truth I’m learning, everything really does belong. Even the “bad” in God’s stories of redemption and hope.
Yesterday I listened to Rob Bell’s latest podcast which so perfectly went right along with this post. Find it here. Loved it.
If you know me well, you know I’m a very healthy eater but I’m also super frugal. One of my loved ones said I should share this little tip… if you want to eat the expensive sprouted grain bread on the cheap, pass by the discounted quick-sale bread rack hidden somewhere in your grocery store. It’s almost always there because it’s shelf life is so much shorter. Buy it, freeze it, toast a slice anytime you need 🙂