Learning Grace: An Act of Change

Nine years ago, on November 13th, 2004, I wrote a letter to my future self to be opened on November 13th, 2013. Imagine my humor when I found that letter this past summer and tucked it away to be opened this week.

After being introduced to the concept of writing letters to the future by my sixth grade history teacher, I have always loved the idea. I expected that this note, including song lyrics and a list of my favorite songs (I guess I had just gotten my first iPod at the time), would provide me with an insightful and encouraging glance back and provoke a positive gaze forward.

I was sorely disappointed.

The bulk of my letter from 2009 was me complaining about the seemingly giant issues I was dealing with as a twelve year old. While I remember those difficulties, I don’t consider them important. Interestingly, even though they are not important to me anymore, the ramifications of those issues have shaped who I am today, in some way or another. This led me to wonder what role the past plays in who we are today, and how, if possible, we can change the trajectory of our lives.

Learning Grace (on chalkboard)

Let me just tell you: my preteen (and many of my teen) years were marked by an absurd amount of legalism. In fact, when I arrived at the conservative Christian college I am currently attending, I felt a bit of culture shock learning that Christians in other places didn’t require abiding by the same rules. My freshman year roommate, a girl with whom I have gladly become roommates again, shocked me with her “rebellion.” Freshman year was marked by a strange sense of “testing the waters” and letting go.

I changed when I learned that God does not want rule-keepers or religion-promoters. I was changed from the inside out when I faced my crap and realized I could never please God apart from his Son’s blood covering me and making me righteous and whole.

And I am still changing. It’s a process that is taking it’s own sweet time. My current struggle is learning how to give myself grace – it’s been my OneWord for 2013.

Grace is something I didn’t give myself when I was twelve.

Recently, I wasn’t able to complete the memorization of my middle English passages for recitations for class in their entirety. When I went to my professor’s office to recite the passages, I told him I would go as far as I could, but I disappointed myself with the number of lines I was able to recite. He told me my grades and I accepted them. As I was leaving, I said, “I want to give everything, but I don’t have everything to give.” He nodded and said, “That’s life.”

Thinking about it later, I realize that was a very gracious thing for him to say. He could have given me a zero on that recitation and lectured me about not working on my assignments. Instead, he gave me the minimum passing grade and expressed understanding. What a blessing.

Later that week,  a friend and I in that same class were completing homework together. We were doing research, so we divided the material in half and each researched our halves so we could present our findings to each other and turn it in together. It turned out to be a great system until I realized that we had not, in fact, divided the material equally, and my friend was confused as to what each person was to complete. I grew frustrated and a little huffy while still trying to whisper, since we were on the library’s “quiet” floor.

It hit me in the face, while I was peering over reference books beside her, that I had lost all sense of grace towards her. Her mistake was common, simple, and excusable, and here I was, extending little to no grace, when I had just been given grace earlier that week by a patient professor. Why did I find it so hard to give her grace and time?

It’s like the man in Matthew chapter 18 who is forgiven by the king for his huge debt, but demands instant payment from a fellow friend who owes a much smaller amount. When the man has his friend put in prison,

Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’

This is a parable relating the story of salvation and the Kingdom of God. God has forgiven our great debt that we could never repay, and we are ordered to forgive the debts our friends owe us. Thus, to show them grace and mercy. What a great gift grace is, both to give and to receive!

It is a slow process, but I am changing and developing into a new creation. The fact is that learning grace is a process of change. It does not happen overnight and it is not easy. I share my failings with you because I learn more from them than from my successes, but much more failings and successes are to come. Stay tuned.

Photo credit: karindalziel / Foter.com / CC BY (Adapted)