Friday, July 13, 2012

Grace and Guilt

We all feel a little guilty about stuff like this.  About taking from people who are giving it away, I mean.  Four days ago, my neighbor asked me to come over and hang a new toilet paper holder for her; yesterday, she told me she felt so bad asking me to do that.


I think it's because in our need, we know exactly how little or how big of a favor we're receiving (asking, in some cases, but always receiving) and we count the cost of our depravity, for lack of a better word.  I think that's normal, for us to know how much we're getting or receiving and for that to make us bite a little and grit our teeth.  The receiving end is so often a tough place to be.

But not with grace.  And I think that's the problem with some of us, who get stuck in this mindset of all we are getting from the world around us and feeling like we're not giving enough.  We all know these persons - people who will give you everything they've got, then beat themselves over the head with guilt for weeks if they dare need ask for even the tiniest help.  Look at some of those people - they are full of grace.  They feel like they're taking a lot because they're counting every iota of depravity...and extending grace without counting a speck.  As it should be.  That is grace.

Grace, though, has this unique quality to it that later removes guilt by its very nature.  There have been times in my life where people have loved me well, and I didn't even know it.  I felt like I was sucking them in, taking everything I could get out of them, draining them dry even though in hindsight, it always seems like such small things.  That is the measure of depravity - that even when you're getting what you need, you always seem to see only how incredible much you are needing and it kind of skews your vision of the whole moment.  I know I could (and have) beat myself up for days, even weeks, over the some of the things this world has given me.  Until my heart opens and I understand that the entire exchange was always less about my emptiness and more about grace.

Here's kind of how you know, and why it puts your heart at ease.  Remember, grace isn't counting.  It's not tallying all it has given you, not putting anything on your tab.  It's not waiting on that moment when you've had enough, waiting to cut you off.  The cool thing about grace is that when you find yourself needing it again (and if you're like me, you need a measure of it just about every moment), it's right there and it doesn't seem to remember that you were knocking at its door fifteen minutes ago.  It's just how it is.  It's not counting.  Not keeping score.  Not measuring itself out.  A measure of grace?  It's kind of a paradox.  When grace falls, you get a whole pouring out.

And we like that grace doesn't seem to remember how often we need it, that it welcomes us anew each time.  It makes us feel less depraved, less like a special case and a total drag and a repeat offender.  It just meets us here again and again.

Remember, too, that grace isn't arrogant.  It isn't using you to prove itself.  It isn't bragging behind your back about how selflessly helpful it is to poor, pitiful people like you.  There's not an ego boost hidden in grace.  If there were, it wouldn't be grace.

So we like that grace isn't building its own reputation by putting us down.  It makes us feel less depraved, less like we don't measure up and more like we are a part of something bigger, a part of love and the story around us because there's something out there that helps us to stand.

Finally, remember that grace doesn't name itself and doesn't remind you what it's done.  It doesn't even tell you what it's doing.  When I gave away my paycheck, I didn't announce, "Take this!  It is a measure of grace for you!"  (Though I'll admit it's been kind of awkward and difficult to try to write about it with grace because it's kind of contrary in itself to do so.  I hope you are getting my point and losing my details - that's the goal.)  When I walked into my neighbor's house to hang a new toilet paper holder for her, I didn't march across the street shouting, "Ok!  For you need a little grace today!"  When people have taken their time to sit up with me or to meet me at the ice cream stand or to talk with me on the phone, they haven't attributed to grace.  Grace defines the moment, but the moment does not announce grace.  You only kind of figure all that out later when it finally sinks past depravity and into your heart.  And grace never reminds you what that moment was.  I can't imagine a moment when I'd say to my neighbor, "Hey, you remember that time I hung that toilet paper thingy for you?"  I've never had anyone call me back on a grace they'd offered me.  "Don't you remember that time I stayed up until 2 a.m. with you because you were having a rough night?"  Grace counts everything in the moment and knows exactly what it's giving, but shortly after, it simply lets it go because remembering isn't really a part of grace.

Grace's letting go lets you let go, too.  It lets you forget for a bit your depravity in that moment, lets you turn aside whatever troubles your heart about having received.  Because somewhere down the line, that moment comes into your heart as grace.  Undefined by any word, but known by the heart by its very nature that this was grace.  Then it sinks in and does two things: frees you to have accepted the gift (and not feel guilty about it) and inspires you to be grace for someone in some other moment.  In that same quiet way that somehow, someone in your moment was grace for you.

I think there's something wrong with you if you don't feel a little guilty at first, receiving a gift so freely given.  But when that encounter sinks into your heart and you realize it as grace, I'd think there's something wrong with you if you can't let go of that guilt and give in to grace.  Simple grace.  Simply given.  To be simply received.  With simple thanks.

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