What a wordy title.
Well, I’ve always had trouble with the concept of falling of love, maybe because I’m such a perfectionist. There’s a part of me that can’t take that deliberate step off the cliff to trust someone with my heart and let them love me, because then I have no control over what they love about me. There’s a fear that they might love an imperfect part of me that I’m uncomfortable with anyone seeing. A part of me that I myself do not love. If someone loves me for something other than my accomplishments — my proof of value — the ways I have tried to make myself lovable — I’m not really sure why they love me at all. And it’s uncomfortable not to be able to calculate my value or define what I’m worth to them. If I don’t know why they love me, I have no control over it. They could stop tomorrow, and I wouldn’t know why. My whole life, I’ve tried to prove myself to people who already love me unconditionally, and it robs me of the joy and fulfillment that comes with being loved and loving them in return.
A while back, I let someone hold my hand for the first time in nearly two years. It alarmed me at first. There was some subconscious horror rising up in me that desperately wanted to voice the anxiety in my heart: “Why are you holding my hand?! I’ve never done anything for you, you know none of the things about me that I consider even mildly impressive, and you can’t hold my hand because I can’t handle you caring about me more than my accomplishments.” It was such a ridiculous thought, and fortunately I didn’t voice it. Instead, I made the deliberate effort to relinquish a little bit of control…and held his hand a bit tighter because I could either hold onto the unknown and hope it would catch me, or I could run away from it.
I think grace is the same way. The risk of grace is not something we can carefully calculate. Like love, grace is something we have to fall for.
And for us perfectionists, that can get a bit dicey. We hold onto our accomplishments like a security blanket. We like the thought of grace, so long as it supplements our works rather than replaces them.
Except…it doesn’t work that way.
Grace and self-sufficiency cannot coexist in ANY amount. If you base 1% of your salvation on works, it’s 100% based on works. If you haven’t taken that step of faith off the edge of the cliff, grace hasn’t caught you at all. Grace is a gift that only the surrendered can experience in all its beauty.
There are at least two super uncomfortable parables about grace in the Bible. The first is that really obnoxious story of the man who pays the same wage to the workers who worked 12 hours and the ones who worked 1 hour. It’s uncomfortable because most of us identify with the offended characters. Everything in us balks at the seeming injustice because it doesn’t fit into our worldview. Yeah — welcome to Jesus’ parables. Perhaps this is one of the few that actually retains its rhetorical impact for modern readers. Kingdom values are upside down and offensive to the proud. The reason this parable irritates us is because a lot of us think we’re the 12-hour workers. We’ve gone to church our whole lives, know the books of the Bible by heart, go on mission trips, and pray every day. And we don’t get any more grace than the hopeless sinner who disgusts us? It’s not fair.
The other parable is that of the prodigal son. It’s all too easy to see things from the older brother’s point of view: “I worked for you all these years, and you never even gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours who has squandered your wealth with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” And we’re like, “Yeah, where’s the justice in that?” Because we’ve been working all this time, but it seems an awful lot like drudgery when we see the rescued sinner rejoicing, and we wonder what he has to be so happy about. If he gets off the hook, what have we been working for all this time? That question, of course, leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: perhaps, all this time, we have been working for the wrong things.
No matter how hard we work, we will never be worthy of grace. Paul says that our salvation is by grace, not by works, so that no one can boast. Dear ones, God is not impressed by your talents; He’s the One that created them. I can just see Him shaking His head and laughing as we eagerly say, “See what I’ve done!” and hold up empty hands. For us 12-hour workers and older brothers, it’s time to face the painful reality that we have done nothing to earn His love.
It’s a frightening thing to take a step off the cliff and fall for grace. But when you do, you’ll find a heavy weight lifted from your shoulders. If nothing you do can earn you grace, nothing you do can take you beyond its reach.
As inconceivable as it may seem to us, God wants to hold our hand. He wants us to grasp His tightly and trust Him when we have nothing else to hold onto. He’s waiting there to catch us…if we’ll only fall.