It’s a line from the wonderful (and underrated), Madeline L’Engle: “We are suspicious of grace. We are afraid of the very lavishness of the gift.”
Jesus confronts us with the counter-principle in Luke 11:13: “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” We are not strangers to kindness. We understand how it works with children and candy.We still have a heart for Christmas and get a buzz from “brown paper packages tied up with strings” arriving unannounced at the door.
Jesus’ point is this: The concept of giving and receiving gifts should ready us for the understanding of God’s grace.
And yet we stand at the door, quizzical, and check the address. Is this really meant for me?
I think it was Luther who (despite all that fuss about indulgences and theses-nailing), said something like, “If God put Grace on sale, we’d buy it more readily than when He offers it free.”
I remember one time, years back when the kids were very little, we were really strapped. Some money was due in the following week, but we just had to wait for its arrival. We were trying to fashion a meal out of a few potatoes and trying to pretend that we didn’t want salt and butter with it. It was do-able, but miserable.
And there was a knock at the door, and a fellow I knew just very slightly counted out a hundred pounds into my hands. A vast sum then. God had told him to give it to me.
It was the strangest thing, but within a nano-second my brain had formulated several good reasons for not receiving the gift.
Suspicious of grace.
One of the terribly sad times in my life was when a close friend committed suicide. He was one of the funniest people I knew -we even did a stand-up routine together (where I was the stupid one).
But there were some serious underlying issues that took him for some time to a psychiatric hospital. I remember seeing him there, introducing me to the other patients and making spontaneous jokes about the whole (grim) situation that had me crying with laughter for the whole afternoon.
So when the news came, I was completely devastated. I just couldn’t understand how someone so full of life could do this. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy told the family (who told me) that there were “lesions on his brain” which diminished his capacity to receive information. More specifically, “emotional information.”
Now I know nothing about medical science, so forgive my blundering language, but I’ve often wondered how many others struggle with a diminished capacity to receive “emotional information.”
I certainly feel a bit like that myself.
I see other people who seem to pray easily, with fervour, who experience powerful worship times and live with generosity, giving and receiving love all around… well, I guess I feel like something of a fraud, like the guy who came for the funeral but went into the wedding reception by mistake.
Do I really belong with all these lovely, happy people?
It recalls an odd line from John Calvin: “The Word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depth of the heart.”
Stop all that flitting about, that anxious overthinking,intellectualising, worrying at life like a dog with a bone… If I am to stop being suspicious of grace, then there needs to be a big change, a paradigm-shift, a being-born-again into a new way of seeing things.
John Donohue called grace “the permanent climate of divine kindness; the perennial infusion of springtime into the winter of bleakness.”
The word “infusion” is very important. Springtime infuses the “winter of bleakness.” It grows within it, amidst all the deadness, nudging aside the outer husk, using its very decomposition as nutrient for tiny tendrils of new life.
All I have to offer you, Lord, is brokenness and strife. That’s why I’m suspicious of grace.
Here’s a powerful “Grace-note” from Anna White’s book Mended:
“I want to share my story, and I want to know yours. I believe with all my heart that sharing our stories, the real, ugly, broken ones, is one of the most powerful things in the world, because to share our story we must first accept it. We must own it. We must stop running from it or shoving it into the corner when company comes over. To share our story is to admit that we’ve been changed.
“I am still not good enough. I am still not whole enough. I am still not pure enough. I am still weakness and sharp edges and broken, but He is good and pure and whole, all that I strive for but am not.
I wake up every morning and I sit in silence and I choose to believe. I may speak. I may not. I let Him wrap up all my broken in to His grace. He takes me imperfect. This is the great mystery I never knew.”
“I love that there’s no cutoff where we get labeled and sent off to a home for hopeless, cranky, depressives. Every day is a new chance to listen longer and be braver and love more. We get to try again and again and again.”
And the Lord says,
“Look, the winter is past,
and the rains are over and gone.
The flowers are springing up,
the season of singing birds has come,
and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.
The fig trees are forming young fruit,
and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.
Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one!” (Song of Solomon 2)