“Grace demands nothing of us in payment, but everything of us in trust.” – Unknown
Understanding grace has been a lifelong struggle for me. As I have leaned into both joy and sorrow this year the very real concept of grace has come up a lot. As I began to talk about it I started to see just how many men and women around me struggle to understand and accept grace also.
Tim Keller says, “Come see a man who saw me to the bottom and loved me to the skies.” To be known and rejected for it, is incredibly painful. It can stifle our trust in grace but it can also expose the futility of our striving to earn our worth. When someone I loved most in life rejected me it shattered me, shaking my faith to its very core. I lost faith in myself and shame overtook me. Yet God keeps bringing me back to the truth: I am chosen, in love, for purpose that is beyond me, and so are you. Grace gives us the power to transform our shame from anger and resentment into acceptance of ourselves and dependence on our loving Father.
Returning to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-31, I was so struck by the son’s genuine repentance and grace; not when he recognized his foolish ways and wanted to repay his Father, but when he received his father’s welcome and abandoned his self-sufficient offer to become a hired servant. God, the Father, wants me as His daughter, not a servant.
In verse 13 we see the son squander his wealth, in 14 he begins to be in need, in 15 he tries to independently meet his own need and in 16 begins to be broken and humbled by his need. In verses 18-21 we see the son’s plan is to apologize because he finally sees himself for who he really is and what he really deserves. Yet, in verses 22-24 the outpour of unexpected love and grace from the heartbroken father is so powerful. This is a truth I often need to return to when I want to earn my way into His grace. In love, God shows me my shortcomings, faults and failures, not to shame me or have me earn my way back to him, but so that I can own and be accountable to Him for my feelings and behaviors. He gives me courage to see the aspects about myself that I was unable or unwilling to see. He does not reject me because of them. It is not out of obedience that I get my value, but rather I obey out of my value to Him.
Luke 15 shows me grace that longs more for relationship than restitution. It can be hard for me to trust that. Yet the evidence of the son’s repentance is his joy at receiving restoration of the relationship with the Father. As I have faced my past I’ve had to grapple with accepting the parts of myself that I don’t like, that I can even hate. Yet, these are still a part of me. In my insecurity I can feel like all of who I am is just too hard for people to love. In these moments I need grace for myself so I can still choose to give all of me to those around me, rather than some polished version of who I think people would want.
To love without self-protection we must live connected to Jesus. There is nothing He would not do to keep us close to Him. Like the prodigal son I can come with intention of repayment when God longs to show me grace and love. I want to earn others love as a reward for my service to Him. I come trying to work harder, and look better. When I do this I actually hide more, feel less and can’t see God in the midst of my shame.
Jesus’ love floods my soul in the moments when I’m truly emptied. I feel completely insufficient and I am humbled by the stark reality of how inadequate my self-reliance truly is. I offer myself – nothing more, nothing less.
Grace loves beyond what we can go to for self-worth, which cannot fill us beyond shame. As with the prodigal son the call is that of becoming and accepting I am a loved child. This stirs the heart to lasting repentance because it’s not about who others think or say we are but about the heart of our loving Father towards us.
I am loved infallibly in spite of all my shortcomings. It is this love that transforms me daily into a witness of who He is. How absolutely loved beyond measure we really are and can feel when we lean into His Word and allow His grace to fill us to our core.