On Saturday I subbed in an English class. The part that I hate to admit: I was holding onto some resentments. Sure, I agreed to help out a colleague, but I wasn’t happy about it. No one’s fault but my own. (I've made my amends). I was also enjoying the Sweet-Tart of resentment at a couple of others colleagues. (The reason doesn't matter. What does is that I need to do Steps 4-10.)
Back to Saturday. The plans indicated that I would be free to do my own work after giving a quiz and talking through some information with the class. I only had an hour of responsibility. The students would self-manage their work for the remaining 3 hours of class.
Well, remember, “If you think you know the plans…”? J’oublie (I forget. A statement in French that I don't forget!).
The quiz took longer than planned. The mini-lecture took longer than planned. Students had more questions than time allowed. I had neglected to make photocopies of the day’s assignment on Friday. So, in the interim when students moved from the classroom to the library, urgently pleaded with the photocopier to comply with my needs. The power shut off in the middle of photocopying, lodging a piece of paper in mid-copy. After the power resumed, it was 10 minutes of trying to problem-solve before I waved the white flag, surrendered to machine, and ran down the hall to where students were trying to figure out my hasty explanations. Did I mention that I had been harboring resentments?
Students started crowding around me with questions about the assignment. And questions about assignments I didn’t know about. And questions about how to proceed with or without assigned partners. And questions about…
I so wanted to take the lid off the grudge sludge and dump it on the floor. But God intervened. Grace intervened. Lessons hard-learned over the last many years whispered truths, including one of the most difficult for me, “Be present. Be in the moment.” I saw the situation for what it was. Students trying to do their work. Students desiring to learn. The only person deserving of my irritation was me. My character defect, willfulness, was eager to lay claim to the moment. It was a decision-point:
Decide to show grace or to be___ (multiple choice):
A. A_ _
B. B_ _ _ _
D. All the above
I don’t take credit for the decision to show grace. It was God, in God’s great mercy and grace. God gave grace to me, so that I, in turn, could show grace to the students. Thank you, Jesus.
The evening before I had listened to two podcasts of Rob Bell preaching at Mars Hill Church. The first was a teaching on Grace from November 6, 2011. The second was a teaching on I John 2, about Love, from May 30, 2011.
Find them. Listen to them. These are the kinds of messages that Christians should be known for—showing love and grace—not anti-abortion, homophobia, “family values,” and “protecting our borders."
Anyway…a few things about grace that prepared me for Saturday (with thanks to Rob Bell):
Grace meets us in the moment when we are most terrified of being found out. Grace confronts us with who we truly are. It’s when we are afraid that our worst secrets, character defects, failures, doubts, hurts, perverse thoughts will be found out, that grace shows up.
Grace shines a light, not to embarrass us, but to say, “Yes, this is true. But now that you admit it, you own the fear, the secret, the failure. You seize its power. It no longer has power over you.” A friend one time reminded me, “Yes, you may not like what's going on. But it is a fact. And once you accept it, you will be able to deal with it and move forward.” And he was right.
Saturday I was afraid that my ugly side, my sick desire for the resentment Sweet-Tart, was going to expose itself. Grace showed up. Shined a mirror and a spotlight in my face. I was able to accept my nasty side and say, “No.”
Grace is a gift. It’s not something we earn. It is true gift. And part of what is so surprising is that the gift comes when we least “deserve” it. It comes when we’re so sure of our weakness and failure and deceit. It came on Saturday when I didn’t deserve it. I was not in a pretty place. But grace showed up.
When grace confronts us it also says, “You’re better than that.” It reminds us that we are made in God’s image. That, as the Hasidic tradition says, we each have a divine spark at our core. On Saturday grace reminded me that I was better than resentment and nastiness; better than A, B, and C. Not better in the sense of superiority, but that I could behave better. Made in the image of God, I had the opportunity to act better than my base instinct.
More profoundly, though, grace has shown up in dark places in my past—places where I have been ashamed. It has shone the light and invited me to step out and be free of the shame.
So, I haven’t said anything about the podcast on love. Maybe that’s for another entry. But, one of the daily readings Saturday morning, before I went to school, was I Corinthians 13:1-13. Thank you, God, for the booster shot I didn’t know I needed.
Nothing matters but love. Nothing. Absolutely NOTHING. Spiritual gifts. Prophesy. Knowledge. Faith. Actions. Self-sacrifice. Tithing. Giving gifts of any sort. Giving up of self. Nothing matters but love. Because love never ends. It is God. It is the Word. It is Jesus. It is Jesus living in us. Prophesies come to an end. Knowledge comes to an end. Actions come to an end. There is something eternal and cosmically connected. It is all love.
I listened to the Grace podcast again this morning. Bell plays the opening of the movie Tree of Life with the following narration:
The nuns taught us there are two ways through life. The Way of Nature and the Way of Grace. We have to choose which one to follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself and others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them, to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it and love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who ever lives the Way of Grace ever comes to a bad end.
Sounds a bit like I Corinthians 13, doesn’t it?
God, please don’t give up on me. Not yet. I need your grace. Today and always. Help me to live the Way of Grace, to be an instrument of your grace.
And here's another tidbit: Paul bookends each of his epistles (Romans through Philemon) with "Grace and peace to you," and "Grace be with you." I guess Paul thought grace was important.