“To be alive is to be broken, and to be broken is to be in need of grace” Brendan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel
Sometime during my childhood I acquired a belief that mistakes were unacceptable, and so when they were made, would strike at the very heart of my worth as a human. Whether or not this was what was communicated to me, I have my doubts. But over the years it became my truth.
As I grew older I created explicit expectations for myself that I rarely met. I absorbed an underlying attitude that constantly whispered ‘it is all up to me’, and ‘I can stand anything but a mistake.’
I believed I had the responsibility to make all things good and whole and right for everyone in my life – family, work, friends, – yet deep down I knew I was not even close to having the resources to do it.
What made this worse was my illusion that everyone around did. My friends seemed to glide through life. They knew how to solve all their problems, and had little problems doing so— while I fumbled my way through each day, glad to make it to bed in one piece.
I needed help. Help to live life in reasonable peace and serenity, with just a bit of hope and confidence that I could contribute to my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others–that things will turn out OK with my wife and children, with my parents and siblings, with work, and so on and so on if only I managed well. That I wouldn’t screw things up!
I had no difficulty admitting I had problems—I had difficulty admitting I did not have a solution to most of them.
I recall the moment in time that I first came to the full realization that I would never, ever have ‘enough’ for whatever challenge was in front of me. Ironically, the effect was one of relief, rather than despair.
I had completely run out of what resources I thought I had. It was then that I experienced the true nature of God’s grace. It came to me one evening, alone, as I found myself on my knees, arms outstretched to whatever was left of the vestige of a God-concept, and I simply said “I need help”.
It was in that moment I experienced what the famed English Mystic Julian of Norwich proclaimed.
“All is well, and every manner of thing is well”.
While nothing outside of myself changed, it was as if I was re-oriented towards this world. But that evening turned out to be only the beginning of a fundamentally different approach to the vicissitudes of life.
As I have said in previous posts, I now realize that help was always there, available, and often granted to me in ways I did not recognize. From loving parents who always accepted and forgave me, to teachers, coaches, nuns, and friends who looked me in the eye and told me I was valuable as I am, but capable of even more.
To the day my new friend looked me in the eye and told me that I never had to drink again. And I believed him.
I grew up hearing the word ‘grace’ bandied around at Church and Sunday school. I had heard the classic definition: “Grace is a free gift from God”. But it always had an other-world feel to it- something to prepare me for getting into heaven. Like many spiritual concepts, it had little to do with my life in this exact moment.
I now have an experience of grace in my life that informs my understanding of it. I have experienced grace as God’s way of adding to my lack— so that what was not enough becomes enough—for any given situation.
A story may better illustrate this concept of grace:
There once was a small boy who had earned 75¢ from chores he had done around the house. He decided to spend his change on a toy he had been eyeing in the neighborhood drugstore.
He entered the store, found the toy still there, and brought it to the counter. He placed all his 75¢ on the counter with the toy, but the clerk frowned, and told the young buy it was not enough. The toy was a dollar.
Dejected, the boy started to turn to take the toy back to the shelf. But as he was doing so, an elderly man who had seen what was happening placed a quarter on the counter and nodded at the clerk, who wrapped up the toy and give it to the boy.
The boy joyfully went home with his toy.
How often have I walked up to the counter of life with what change I had, finding it not enough—yet turn to see the balance of the required resources being supplied by God- maybe in the form of a friend’s encouragement, or a teacher’s guidance, or a ministers sermon, or the perfect note, or an invitation, or a timely phone call.
Or, how often have I been the clerk at the counter, taking a precise account of what another is lacking, judging and criticizing them for not bringing enough.
And most important, do I recognize when it is my turn to be the elderly gentleman, ready to be the one to provide the extra change needed?
Yes, I have been given some resources. I have my 75¢. And, it is my job to bring it to the counter, day in and day out. But, it is rarely enough. I need help—
And it is up to me to remain aware of this basic truth of being a human in a beautiful but complex and as yet fractured world. To stand ready to turn and ask for help, and to recognize in my life how many forms this help takes.
We are to each other bearers of God’s grace. As such, we may provide, at any given moment, just the right help at the right time to someone else who has brought all they have, but are just short.
The grace of a smile, a quick note, a phone call, sitting with someone suffering, what the Catholic traditions call the “Corporal Works of Mercy” – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Or the “Spiritual works of Mercy”- comfort, console, pray with and for, counsel and teach, encourage, sometimes correct.
Without God’s grace, living life is reduced to a zero-sum transaction where I am once more simply trying to get through the next twenty-four hours. But with grace, in all its forms and faces, life is transformed to limitless possibilities.
On my own, I will never have enough—since even what I do have is a gift. But if I keep my eyes open, the elderly gentlemen is always there, placing his two bits on the counter—showing me how to do the same for others.
- Have you felt like this whole thing is all up to you, and you do not have enough?
- In what forms has God’s grace entered into your life and gave you just what you needed in the moment?
- What opportunities today are in your life to become “Bearers of Grace” to another?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts…