Grace Wins

The War Between Guilt and Grace

Something has been weighing on me all week. After I attended the March for Our Lives on Saturday, I posted a photo on Facebook of a friend holding a poster that said that if guns were in our vaginas, they’d be regulated. My sister said the poster was vulgar. She implied that my friend is advocating for abortion rights instead of against gun violence and that by attempting to shock people, she harmed the gun control movement.

I knew when I shared the picture of my friend’s poster that it might offend some people.  A year ago, I wouldn’t have done it. Too often, I have let myself be paralyzed by the fear of what people think. That fear kept me from expressing myself as freely as other people do. I hid the real me. The real me is not a social conformist. The real me is not perfect, the real me makes mistakes, and the real me loves people who are flawed like I am.

I can understand my sister being repulsed by the words my friend chose; I don’t like the mental image of a gun down there either. I don’t like guns period. Even that offends some people. But I understood the point my friend was trying to make and I chose to share it.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed when my sister said my friend’s words were vulgar. I thought about the people from church who may have seen my Facebook photo. Would they think that I’m a bad person for sharing it? But they already know that I am a sinner. Why should I worry about them knowing what they already know?

In the song, Grace Wins, Matthew West sings about the war between guilt and grace. I have been fighting that battle this week. In my mind’s eye, I see people shaking their heads in disgrace, disappointed in me, asking who do you think you are?

In my weakest moment I see you
Shaking your head in disgrace
I can read the disappointment
Written all over your face

Here comes those whispers in my ear
Saying who do you think you are
Looks like you’re on your own from here
Cause grace could never reach that far

Against You and You Only

My church has been studying Psalm 51, David’s plea for God’s mercy after Nathan confronted him about his sins. David asked God for mercy and said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

I cried and prayed this week about my own feelings of shame. There is no shame in not being the person my sister wants me to be though I am sorry for any distress I cause her. There is shame in not bringing glory to God. Against God, and only God, have I sinned. By being irreverent. By being full of pride. By not being pure of heart.

In my inmost place, I know that it’s not over. Grace does reach this far. I’m living proof, grace wins every time.

For the prodigal son, grace wins
For the woman at the well, grace wins
For the blind man and the beggar, grace wins
For always and forever, grace wins
For the lost out on the street, grace wins
For the worst part of you and me, grace wins
For the thief on the cross, grace wins
For a world that is lost

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time


If We’re Honest

A Facebook friend posted a Lessons Learned in Life meme that says: “As we get older, we become more honest and don’t have the patience for pointless drama.” I am beginning to resemble that statement. When you are young, you can afford to be inefficient with your time. When more than half your life is gone, you don’t want to waste it on pointless drama or pretenses.

Before I decided to let go of pointless drama, I would tell myself to put up with people who are obnoxious or offensive. Be patient and maybe they’ll change. But now I feel free to let them go. Why waste time hoping they’ll change their stripes? As Maya Angelou said, when people show you who they are, believe them.

In the past, I often held back from expressing myself honestly and openly because I worried about what other people think of me. I tried too hard to please other people instead of being true to myself. A few months ago, I resolved to do my best to be authentic, even at the risk of failing to meet the expectations of other people.

I have disappointed people since I made the decision to be more authentic. To be honest, it makes me feel bad about myself. In being myself, I’m not the exact person other people want me to be. In being myself, I sometimes make choices that other people don’t agree with. But I will never regret being my authentic self. I’ve learned to accept my brokenness. There’s mercy waiting on the other side.

If We’re Honest (Francesca Battistelli)
Truth is harder than a lie
The dark seems safer than the light
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide
I’m a mess and so are you
We’ve built walls nobody can get through
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do
Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest
If we’re honest
Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not
Living life afraid of getting caught
There is freedom found when we lay our secrets down at the cross, at the cross

via Daily Prompt: Inefficient

Hard Pills to Swallow

Some pills are really hard to swallow. They’re too big to go down easily. For me, the anticipation of how hard it will be to swallow a big pill makes it even harder to get it down. I anticipate it getting stuck. I expect that I might gag. I try not to taste it, but I know that if it doesn’t go down the first time, it is going to taste gross. I tense up. My throat constricts. And when I do manage to relax enough get it down, I sometimes have the feeling that the pill is stuck in my throat.

I read a definition that said that the idiom “a hard (or bitter) pill to swallow” means something that is hard to believe. For example, you might say that it is hard to swallow the excuses of a person who is untrustworthy. But I think that when we say that something is hard to swallow, it means that a truth is difficult but necessary to accept. You don’t want to accept the truth but you have to accept the truth just as you have to swallow a big pill for your own good.

Some truths are really hard to accept. They’re too big to go down easily. We resist accepting hard truths because they grate against what we want to believe. We resist tasting them and we resist feeling them because it’s unpleasant and we’re afraid we might gag. But the truth has to be accepted to do any good.


via Daily Prompt: Swallow

Photo by from Pexels



No Longer Foreigners

I don’t like the way many people in my country treat foreigners. The president wants to build a wall to keep people south of the border from entering this country. He and others unfairly accuse immigrants of being murderers and rapists, when in fact, most are good people. In America, almost all of us are descendants of immigrants. Immigrants are a valuable part of our labor force.

Exodus 22:9 says, “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” Psalm 146:9 says, “The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”

I was once a foreigner. I am a Gentile by birth but I was adopted into God’s family. He destroyed the dividing walls. He welcomed me in. I am no longer a foreigner but a fellow citizen with God’s people (Ephesians 2:19).

This is my father’s world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet

via Daily Prompt: Foreign

A Lonely Believer’s Story

In The Lonely Man of Faith, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik summarized the dilemma of his faith in a three-word sentence: I am lonely. The kind of loneliness he wrote about does not come from being friendless or alone; it is the result of feeling “rejected and thrust away by everybody,” even by one’s most intimate friends. The Rabbi wrote that this experience of loneliness is a paradox: painful and frustrating but also stimulating and cathartic. I am only beginning to understand this loneliness myself.

Sometimes I feel like a stranger in this world. I am surrounded by people who are focused on the material world, striving for money and fame and success. I no longer share their ambitions. I don’t even understand the values of the millions of Christians who have a completely different take on the word of God. The lack of soul connection makes me feel lonely.

In Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,  he said that spiritual loneliness is the natural result of saying yes when all your friends say no.  They are defined by what they are against. I want to be defined by what I am for: the power of God’s redemptive love.

How can I explain my loneliness?

Imagine a four-story building. There is a beautiful chapel on the ground floor where believers gather every week. Many are good, righteous people who come to worship and learn about God. Some of them are here to be entertained and some of them are here to be seen. Although most of the congregants call themselves Christians, many cling to the laws of the Old Testament. They insist that the Ten Commandments be prominently displayed both here and outside the building. Others call themselves Evangelicals, but never share the Good News. If you spend any time looking around, you’ll see that modern-day Pharisees have put locks on the doors and bars on the windows to keep undesirables out. They don’t understand that this is God’s house and the doors are open to everyone.

On the second floor, joyous believers gather, grateful for God’s love and forgiveness. They are eager to tell everyone how Jesus changed their lives. You’ll find reformed sinners of all kinds here, people who once had no hope, people who once felt imprisoned by their sins. It’s as if they have been born again! The people on this floor readily share the reason for their hope. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).

On the third floor, mature believers sit in groups of two or three having deep conversations about spiritual matters. You’ll also find individuals sitting in quiet, contemplative solitude – people like me. These believers have been humbled by life’s experiences. The concerns of the first half of life no longer have any appeal. They no longer feel the need to prove that they are worthy. They see the world with grace-filled eyes because they have experienced God’s mercy firsthand and know that we’re all flawed and in need of grace. Look around, and you’ll see the Jesus Creed prominently displayed: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

The fourth floor is a very busy place. Here, you’ll find servants and activists, people who were called to put their faith into action. Some are busy caring for refugees, or the sick, or the homeless, or the imprisoned. Others are advocates for social justice. They are the hands and feet of Jesus. In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. (Luke 22:25-26).

There are no elevators in this building. There is no easy way to climb from one floor to the next. It is a painful climb. The stairs are steep and unevenly spaced. Those who ascend do so stumbling and falling upward.

Visualizing the dilemma of my faith in this way helps me to understand the confusion and despair I’ve been feeling over the past year or so. I expected other Christians to see things the way I do because we read the same Bible and pray to the same God. Now I see that even if we share some common beliefs, we are not on the same plane spiritually and perhaps never will be.

When I gather with a small group of friends from my church, the difference in thinking is abundantly clear. My Christian friends are stuck on the first floor, building walls to keep other people out. They say ‘no’ to anyone who is not like them – gays, Muslims, immigrants, liberals. But I am on a different journey and my capacity for loving other people is growing. As Rohr says, “if your politics do not become more compassionate and inclusive, I doubt whether you are on the second journey.”

Changing Expectations

Richard Rohr has some good advice for people like me. “Don’t expect or demand from groups what they usually cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary. ” Groups are often not receptive to change because they are focused on protecting the group’s identity and preserving the status quo. Rohr’s book reminded me of the parable of the soils. Seeds don’t grow on a busy path or in rocky soil. If the soil is not receptive, seeds won’t grow. I used to tell myself that I could influence my friends by sharing my perspective. But now I see, that if their hearts aren’t ready, I might as well be chasing the wind.

Embracing Solitude

Soloveitchik found something positive and stimulating about this loneliness. Rohr would agree. He said that the confusing feelings of spiritual loneliness are far outweighed by the happiness that comes from spending time alone. Soulful people like me need alone time to “unpack” all the stuff that life gives and takes away. I am naturally contemplative and thoroughly enjoy time spent alone reflecting. At the same time, I find myself wishing I had a spiritual mentor or a small group of friends who are at the same place in their spiritual journey.


Image credit, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art:

Joseph Pennell
The Times Building, 1904