My dear friend, Janice, prayed for me two nights ago that I would be gentle and kind to myself. Those words came like a rush of water over me. I noticed my body and felt it – in my stomach, in the pounding of my heart: that prayer, those words, they stirred something in me that was unexpected. As an achiever and a visionary I like to see things happening and get things done and laziness was never an issue or even ever allowed in our family growing up. We were disciplined even for .f e e l i n g. lazy. (I know that my parents had the best intentions and they did their best and I am so thankful for them, but what a pressure to have as a kid!)
Are you kind and gentle with yourself? This is not a cheesy and fluffy question from a self-help book that I so strongly resent these days (It’s only a season ☺️). When you are reading this question, what does it stir in you? What are you thinking? What are you feeling?
How is this pandemic season finding you? Did you take on the “machine” approach and you are overworking and never-stopping? Or four weeks later you are still confused and still gathering yourself and trying to figure out how to live this life and this strange and unexpected new normal? Are you kind and gentle and patient with yourself?
This prayer swept me off my feet and I so needed to hear these words. They felt like a rush of water that washed over me. They reminded me of grace. The grace that is given to me daily, from my good Father. This undeserving, unobtained, mind-blowing, inexplicable, heart-enlarging, whole-being-changing gift of love and forgiveness and redemption and worth. I see it. I see it for others. I see the Father’s love for those around me. I preach it. I believe it for them when they don’t dare believe and accept it. But I forget that it is also extended to me.
My journey with grace has always been weird. I feared it growing up because I thought it was making people irresponsible and lazy and careless. I could not wrap my mind around the fact that Jesus loved that one wretched man dying on the cross next to His, like He loved the little children, or those who followed Him devotedly. I just couldn’t. Then, over many many years, I started to understand it a little. Because He is love, He loves. This is what He does because it is His nature, His essence, His character. I also knew that He is just and holy. This is also His nature, His essence and character. This I got from the very beginning. It was preached a lot. It resonated with me and my nature. I liked it. A just God who cannot stand in the presence of sin made the most sense. He is on a Throne and I pictured Him “there”. This means that I pictured Him far far away, over the moon and the stars. He was distant and I was not even aware of how far away I was placing Him. And then, over more and more years, decades even, I am starting to get it. He is both there and near. He is both holy and love. His nature is not in contradiction, at all. Not in tension, at all. When Jesus was on that coarse, rough, rugged cross, hanging between heaven and earth – He was fulfilling both the justice that we needed in order to be in a relationship with a holy God, as well as the love that embraces the worst of the worst, the least deserving. This is why I cannot fear grace. Those who understand grace are people of grace. They don’t take life and sin lightly, as I initially feared. They fall in love.
You see, I am starting to see – love is the greatest motivator of all. More than fear, more than comparison, more than greed.
Love makes a person respond not out of duty, but out of pleasure, out of communion and intimacy.
Close to the end of my 4th decade living on this beautiful earth (that means I am in my late 30s), I am starting to have some courage to receive the words of Jesus about the greatest commandment: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 29-31) I had no problem with the first part – yes, of course, Love the Lord with everything that you are. Even with the second part, love your neighbor. Isn’t this what Christianity is all about? The “as yourself” part, though, I really struggled with. So much. I still am, to be completely honest. I still associate those “self love” people with the fluffy Christians who don’t really want to follow God but they want His salvation and they found this “middle ground” and found a way to make it work for themselves. I am sorry for thinking that. Please forgive me.
This is my raw, unfinished, crazy, weird journey with grace. Oh, how sweet the sound! ~ for others. But not just others…not anymore!
So, I come to the cross of Jesus, undone, tender, bare, open hands and heart, and I let go of my self-righteousness. Because the self-righteous people cannot love themselves. They love their image and reputation (I, sadly, know this oh so well!), but not themselves.
The words of Jesus, inviting me to Him make so so much sense…
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
If He is gentle and relentlessly-tender with me, who am I to be rough and so harsh with me? Isn’t this self-worship and pride?