Choose Grace

Just at the moment when I think I can’t possibly sink to a new level of brokenness, I find it. Remember when I said that my dark night of the soul was leading me to a new intimacy with Christ? I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve either gone completely spiritually deaf, or he’s just not speaking to me. Not even “Just heal.”

I saw my counselor the other day and told him that I might be too broken to heal at this point. He assured me that I had a long way to fall before reaching that particular abyss.

Oh, goody.

I’m going to be honest. Most days, I don’t want to read my Bible. Church is boring me to tears. I get more peace from listening to Coldplay’s “The Scientist” than the latest worship song. And if one more person tells me to “forget the past” or “choose joy” or “listen to this awesome sermon I heard,” I might just strangle them with my cross necklace.

Maybe that’s a bit extreme. But what to do? Nothing seems able to break through this darkness, and my spirit screams in frustration.

I have no other option. I must choose grace.

It’s a radical concept, I know. My denomination has taught me for years that “real Christians” don’t experience crises of faith like this. If God seems far away, guess who moved? Real Christians are always in the Spirit. They are joyful all the time. They read their Bibles and pray every day. They get excited about fasting. If you’re struggling or suffering, it means you’re spiritually off track and need to do something to get back on.

It’s the Levitical approach to faith. X+Y=Z. Dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, and God will pat you on the head. Every time.

But that only works until it doesn’t. At some point, God (or life in general) pulls the rug out. “In this world, you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Jesus said that – to his closest followers. Later on, he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Jesus did everything right, was obedient even to the cross, yet even he felt forsaken in his darkest hour.

The old Levitical system is broken. This is what it is to live under grace.

Living under grace means accepting a world that goes wrong in spite of our best efforts. It also means embracing the love that God has for us. Psalm 145:9 says, “He has compassion on all that He has made.” Compassion. Not condemnation. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:17)

When we choose grace, we take on the Father’s compassion. We exercise forgiveness for self and others. We acknowledge our brokenness and cast ourselves upon the seat of divine mercy. We surrender our efforts to achieve holiness through our own strength and put our full faith in God’s provision.

So when you open your mouth to pray and nothing comes out, choose grace.

When you’d rather poke an eye out than stomach one more passage in the Psalms, choose grace.

When you’re trying to move forward and it feels like both feet are encased in concrete, choose grace.

When your kids won’t listen to a word you say and insist on causing trouble for the family, choose grace.

When you’ve done everything to make your marriage work and it still falls apart, choose grace.

When you’re struggling with your sexuality and no amount of prayer seems able to change it, choose grace.

When the Pharisees question your commitment to Christ and hurl stones your way, choose grace.

When the night is so dark you can hardly see, when your own wisdom seems inadequate to address the problems you face, when you open your eyes and stare out across a sea of black, when God and joy seem like light years away…

Choose grace.

Choose grace.

Choose grace. 

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12 responses to “Choose Grace

  1. Sorry, sweetie. Everyone’s path is different inside broad generalities.
    Our tests are all gauged to our individual needs. Much of what you have listed seems a bit trivial to me, compared to gang rape, a child’s death, starvation, real abandonment, life threatening things like that. A self identification as a Christian, and then we come up against things that destroy our sense of self…that’s given in the original definition. To be crucified against our own ideas of what is sacred, holy, good, moral and just is simply the requirement of the signup. I’m not really trying to trivialize anyone’s struggle, but have a very real question…by signing up for and hanging that cross around your neck, I don’t understand why you are surprised that you find yourself pulled apart…isn’t that what the symbol signifys? If you want balance, the chalice and blade of Judasim, the Ying/Yang of Buddhism, even my favorite, the perfect eight on its side for eternity are better bets. Inherent in symbols are path. In my own struggle, I am past faith–as odd as that may sound, into certainty. Not certainty in anything in my self, certainly not my own faithfulness, for I am human, but certainty in God. No need for faith. God simply is/is not. Anything I pose/reflecton/question (and answer) comes from my own understanding, which by definition is limited. Having been there and done that in my own way, I can only know that I know when I have missed the mark (sinned) by the absence of a sense of holiness. And that’s still just me doing it. I look to the lives of people who have what seem to be richer lives and then realize ( Mother Teresa comes to mind….she was spoken to by God once (once!) and then just did what she was told to do, without experiencing his presence again…) that I am in awe of that behavior, even knowing for certain we all have our own path. (My daughter went in college and worked in Kalligat so Mother T has always intrigued me) I am very clear it is a process. Thanks for sharing, it’s always interesting.
    After mothering many motherless chicks, raising my own mother and being cast off by two daughters, looking for any rhyme or reason here in faith seems doomed to disappointment. The certainty of knowing that it’s not mine to know, other than to turn it over and give to God what is already his and in that have peace of mind, free and joyful. Otherwise the crucifixion really would tear us to pieces. Wholeness/holiness is outside of that. Happy Mother’s Day.

    • Elise, sorry sweetie but what an incredibly arrogant reply. First you cavalierly dismiss other people’s pain setting yourself up as the judge of what is truly painful (as if you can know the depth of someone else’s pain) and then you pile on top of that a self-righteous assumption that you can also dictate other people’s spiritual path and faith. You seem to consider yourself a spiritually enlightened person, while being so callous of other people’s suffering or attempting to find meaning in suffering.

      Seriously this was breathtaking. Someone cries out from their suffering, courageously being open about a struggle of faith and your response is “hey the stuff you’re talking about ain’t that bad and oh yeah, you’re practicing the wrong faith.” Nice. And reinforcing the message of “oh if you’re suffering you’re just doing it wrong.” As if human beings have not struggled through all of history with the problem of pain and how do we reconcile a loving God with the fact that people suffer and how do we find meaning in our suffering?

      April, I am sorry for the place you find yourself but think you also have the right answer in seeking God’s grace. And if you have a problem with the tenor of my reply, please don’t hesitate to delete it, I was pretty angry and may be out of line in what I said.

  2. Oh April – still in the desert 😦 in my faith tradition, we have lots of histories of saints, and many of them experience this “withdrawal” of God-some for years even (I’m sorry, but maybe it is better to be prepared?) . You are in very good company! That said, the last time this happened to me (4-5 years ago now) I found that my life was sadly out of balance. Too much work, not enough rest, not enough time; burning the candle at both ends is what I was doing! It is lovely that you share so much of yourself, but I am by nature a “fixer;” when I see people suffering I want to help. I don’t want to offer unwanted advice though, and you said you had a counselor. If you’d care for more, ireply, otherwise I’ll just hold my busy tongue!!
    I’m sad that you are getting no glimmers. Faith becomes all work and no reward at that point, as dry as the desert dust. So very sorry…

  3. I’m sorry if it seemed cold or something…I have nothing but compassion for the pain we suffer and suffer over this…it’s just inherit in path. We can never understand another’s suffering. We can only say, I’m sorry you are having this. If my sorry is not acceptable, okay. All people who struggle with God have barren and difficult times. A friend ( who did compare) felt that her kitten dying was not equal to the grossest things that were brought up by others in our space, but what seemed true was that if that was your crisis of faith, it would have been horrible –for what a gentle loving life you had been blessed with up until then. That’s all. Sorry for the confusion and no one wins. I see only that we under go ( suffer means under go) and that it’s sad to suffer over our suffering, when we have the certainty of God. Therefore be joyful in all things. Sorry if I cannot be understood.

    • Language is quite inadequate sometimes, and of course, electronic devices have no tone, so misunderstandings are frequent and inevitable. Speaking for myself only, I did not have any particular problem w what you had to say: suffering is inherent in the human condition. Many great philosophers have grappled with this in depth; many crummy superficial ones too, I might add. April seems to be acquainted with people who spout the more superficial and pernicious crap; they don’t get it, they are too insulated, and they avoid real suffering and sorrow like the plague, because it HURTS. Even secondhand it hurts. Someone reacted to your first post unfavorably-without tone, your reply started out sounding flippant, which I think upset that person so much that they viewed everything you said through that negative lens. I have the good fortune to encounter your posts on other sites, so I feel that this was a misunderstanding of sorts. Trying to assist someone who is wrestling with this sort of thing remotely and electronically is nearly impossible- you can’t (((hug))) them!

    • Elise,
      I am sorry to have misunderstood you. JC is correct, your tone came across very flippant to me and I should know better by now than to assume a “tone” online especially with someone I do not know. My reaction came out of a sense of protectiveness for April and also the fact that I have had painful experiences with people both dismissing my pain and blaming me for my suffering of things for which I held no responsibility. And I agree that suffering about suffering is counter-productive, but some people struggle with messages laid down during their formative years in which any expression of need or pain were treated as a completely unreasonable demand and it takes a lot of work and experience to do away with those feelings which were inculcated, even when our faith teaches us otherwise. It is one thing to say “it is sad to suffer over suffering” and another to turn off those feelings. So I think I overreacted out of my own experience and ask your forgiveness as it is obvious I misread your intent.

      AG

    • It’s ok. I have not been wounded by anything you said. I agree that it can be difficult to find the right words when addressing another person’s suffering. I myself am spectacularly bad at it sometimes. 🙂

      I will say for the record, as often as I have written about my suffering here, only a bare handful of my readers know all the gritty details. (Attachment Girl happens to be one.) There is much about my particular situation that I am not yet comfortable or capable of revealing here. Sensitive personal and family matters are involved, and several family friends read this blog.

      Please know that I appreciate all of my readers’ comments and the compassion you have offered. It’s just a really tough situation, and unfortunate that your sentiments were taken in a way you didn’t intend. But all is well now. 🙂 Be blessed.

  4. No anything taken. Thanks to all. Everyone’s path is truly different, we all have our own thoughts to deal with. Indeed, the thoughts that are similar to RAM that overlay the ROM of my brain are often so hard to eliminate that I just hand everything over to God, relaxing into not knowing what anything is for and looking for the lessons in everything. I am responsible for what I see, and apologies if that shows up as anything but love, for that is what I know to be what we truly are. Sometimes truth has a sharp edge, and dancing away from the fear of emptiness is something I too,have dealt with. Getting the desert to bloom is no small thing and a recent trip to Israel showed me that. The internal desert is no less difficult, getting the unuseful thoughts out of the way, is what I have come to think of as my journey. From my circumstance, I have a sad personality. (Incest, rapes, poverty, hunger,1st hierarchy of needs not met, no education, physical abuse, severe disease leading to physical deformity, surgeries, emotional abuse leading to long term marriage to an addict divorce, (he was gay) and more abuse, lots of, in a word, difficulties) I figure I have my stripes. But there is a difference between history and story. When I came to realize, after a long stint as an Evangelical Christian, that I was really ( by birth) a Jew, everything changed, and my understanding about God has grown immeasurably. (Jesus is after all, a Jew)
    I try to read and learn from everything (as my time with a Zen master taught me) and know that God speaks through everyone and everything. Joy is mine because I have had to learn to look beyond circumstance. Blessings to you all.

  5. It takes a lot of courage to express the struggles you are facing like you have here. I think it’s refreshing to find a Christian blogger who isn’t trying to “paint yourself perfect” as many of them do.