I believe that one of the most important, ongoing lessons in my walk with God has been learning to be a giver of grace. The definition of grace is "the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings." Some synonyms used to clarify grace are dignify, distinguish, honor, favor, enhance, and glorify. The Bible says Jesus was full of both grace and truth and that from His fullness we have received grace upon grace. To be a believer is to be a recipient of endless grace and to be like Jesus is to be a giver of such grace.
Just by its definition we know that grace can't be earned. It is something that we are freely given and it is something we are to freely give. Grace can take on all sorts of forms. It can look like a gentle confrontation, especially when we are tempted to be harsh. An example of this might be the spouse who is struggling behaves in a hurtful manner. A wife can choose to confront harshly, or she can choose to not personalize her husband's actions and gently point out his behavior, asking him if everything is okay. Grace may be confronting a hurtful pattern of sin in a loving way that includes a declaration of love and commitment. Grace may also look like the extension of forgiveness for a wrong done, hurtful words spoken, or a contemptuous attitude. None of us deserves grace when we mistreat one another, but it something that Christ has shown us and something He calls us to do as well. Grace can also look like choosing to blessing another with kind words and encouragement, comforting another in loss, and choosing to honor someone because of the position God has bestowed on them. Blessing often helps to bestow the dignity, the honor, and the favor that has been stripped by living in a broken, sin-filled world neglect, strife, and hate are rampant.
I've been doing some soul searching and realized there are several things that hinder my ability to give grace. The first one is that in emotional moments I just forget. I forget who I was before I trusted Christ as my Savior. I forget His shed blood that purchased my salvation. I forget who He says I am now. When I get hurt, I tend to focus on the pain I'm experiencing and the truth fades to the background and I tend to react instead of being proactive, prayerful, and thoughtful in my responses to life and to people. When I feel anger surfacing, I find myself filling with shame and respond to this shame in a couple of different ways. Sometimes I respond by hiding, which hinders the giving of grace because grace can only be experienced and given in the context of relationship. At other times anger stirs my human pride and I begin to ruminate on the wrong another has done and believe I deserve better. This is when I tend to act out of who I was before Jesus saved me and I lash out and wound the one who is wounding me. When I forget or let my human pride rule, the other person's offense grows exponentially in my mind until it consumes me. On the other hand, when I remember all those sins I have sinned--the ugly thoughts, the thoughtless words, the rude behaviors, the withdrawing of my heart from others, the unbelief, the mistrust, and the hurtful defense mechanisms that ruled my life for so long--the other person's sin shrinks by comparison and God's grace is what grows big enough in my heart to give away and grace begets grace.
Another hindrance to giving grace is the strong desire I have to protect my heart from more pain. I went through some things earlier in life that left me deeply wounded. At the time, I didn't know how to deal with the pain of those things so I buried it. Every time someone did something even a little bit hurtful this great big pain would surface along with the new pain. I even got to a place I believed I couldn't survive the experience of any more pain. So I isolated and distanced myself from others who hurt me. I ruminated on the offenses, held grudges, and hid behind a wall of anger I turned inward until I at some point it would explosively spew all over those I cared about. After I worked on those early wounds, I found I could feel the pain of the present which occurs in ordinary relationships and move past it so I could be a giver of grace.
Another hindrance I found was that in the busyness of life and the disconnection that comes with technology it is easy for me to reduce a person to nothing but the behavior I see. Not knowing someone's heart, not knowing their story, not knowing their pain, and not knowing their desires makes it so easy to judge someone as the sum total of their actions. But when I really know someone I can find it easier in my heart to have compassion on the person who has been unkind. When I know their struggle, I can offer support. When I know their hurting heart, I can be tender. When I know they are repentant, I can be more patient as they are transformed and learn to live out of the person God has created them to be. When I know and accept that I am just as broken as they, I can be and less judgmental and give grace.
Finally, another thing that hinders my ability to extend grace is not spending enough time with God in my every day life. When I spend time in His Word and read the stories of others who walked with Him before me, it is like looking in a mirror and having a reminder of my failures, my weakness, and my redemption. I am also reminded how deeply God loves and can quit trying to extract perfect love from imperfect people. I am reminded of the grace required at my salvation and the grace that every other person craves to experience. As I read familiar stories, I am reminded of loving people who have extended grace to me and impacted my life in huge big ways--the pastors who taught me grace and answered Bible questions tirelessly, my Aunt Earline who lived in such a way I wanted the Jesus she had, the spiritual mom who loved me unconditionally and spoke truth into my life as she tirelessly shared her life with me and my friends, my friend who wrote me my first encouragement note telling me how beautifully she thought God had created me, the friends who have searched the Scriptures with me and showed me Jesus with skin on, my friend who encouraged me to write and to start the next book and the next, the Christian counselors who heard my story and let me talked through the pain and challenged me to let Jesus define me instead of the past, the daughter who encouraged me to do what God calls me to do and not to listen to the naysayers who didn't believe God was big enough to do the work He does through me, and my young friend who often reminds me that I am not invisible--these and many more are the graces of which the Lord has showered me. So often as I read the Word, I remember conversations with them centered around the verses I am reading and it brings joy to my heart. Walking closely with the Giver of Grace allows us to be a free-flowing conduits of the very Grace He has given us. Grace received and grace given is the way dignity, honor, favor, and glory is bestowed on people who were disgraced and marred by sin.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!