Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Journey to Grace

If you Google, "There are two kinds of people," you will immediately find 100's of quotes dividing the world's population into neat little categories: Conservatives and Liberals, "haves" and "have- nots", givers and takers, those who make the messes and those who clean them, and on and on it goes.

Theologians and the famous are not exempt from these declarations either:

There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done,"
and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way."
~ C.S. Lewis

There are two kinds of people: some willing to work
and the rest willing to let them.
~Robert Frost

There are two kinds of people: those who walk into a room and say,
"There you are" -- and those who say, "Here I am!"
~ Abigail Van Buren

and even this one:
There are two kinds of people in the world,
those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don't.
~ Robert Benchley
Well, I am jumping on the "There are two kinds of people," bandwagon and declaring that when it comes to matters of faith there are two kinds of people: those with a bent for law and those with a bent for grace. I, unfortunately, am the former. Growing up in a tradition that viewed spiritual maturity as a checklist of things done, or all too often things not done (drinking, swearing, dancing...) only served to strengthen what was my personality leaning already. I have been a believer since the age of eleven and it didn't take me long to figure this out. I am bent for the law.

Now theologians have written books on what I am about to say, and certainly they say it much more eloquently than I. Yet I have learned that writing something out is the very best way for me to really understand it and that is why I am making this attempt, feeble as it may be, to chronicle my learnings in the past year or so.

Three books have really challenged me to consider this issue of law vs. grace. Each has come into my hands by different means and at different times. Yet the three have worked together to help me come to know my Creator in a new and different and more intimate way.

First, back in 2007 The Jesus Storybook Bible found its way into our library and quickly into our hearts setting me on what I now call, "My Journey to Grace". You see what I have come to learn is the problem with law is that it's all about me, but with grace it's all about God. Law says that there is something I can do to merit God's favor. Grace says that all I need to do is rest in the assurance that Jesus did it once for all on the cross because of his great love for me and all humanity. Law is easy; it's a formula. Grace is hard; it's a relationship. This Bible was the first time in my twenty-five years as a believer that I truly got that - and all from a children's Bible!

Not realizing yet I was on a journey, just that I had read a great book in the Jesus Storybook Bible, dh handed me Tim Keller's book, Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. It is Keller's teachings on one of Jesus' most famous parables, The Prodigal Son. Amazing. Life changing. Defining. I loved this book.

In reading this parable growing up, I always identified with the older brother. I was the compliant, obedient child. My younger sister was the rebellious prodigal. I can remember feeling some of the indignation the older brother expressed when he said to his father upon seeing his brother welcomed home in the style of a king, "Look, these many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a goat that I might celebrate with my friends," (Luke 15:29) because I felt some of that same frustration when my sister would come home (again) having broken just about every rule put before her by my parents. Here is a quote from Prodigal God that sums up what the book meant for me:
The hearts of the two brothers were the same. Both sons resented their father's authority [Keller makes the case for this earlier in the book] and sought ways of getting out from under it. They each wanted to get into a position in which they could tell the father what to do. Each one, in other words, rebelled - but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father's heart; both were lost sons. ~ p. 36
The older brother followed the law. He thought all his good deeds should have earned him some brownie points with his father. It didn't. He thought all his younger brother's carousing should have alienated this son from their father. He was wrong there, too. And so was I.

Now don't get me wrong. If anyone were to ask me, then or now, what I put my faith in, I would immediately say it was in Jesus' saving work on the cross. Yet if someone studied my life they would most likely come to another conclusion. How a person lives day to day bears out what they really believe, no matter what they say. And there were the footprints of law all over my soul, all over my actions and all over my words.

And I have come to see I am not alone in the realization I have trusted in the wrong thing for far too long. While it is true that our hearts have been wired for a relationship with God, it is equally true that the fall has so affected humanity that everything we do is tainted by it, including how we seek to meet this inborn need for relationship. The fall was all about control, who had it (God) and who wanted it (Adam and Eve by the serpent's deception). And it's still about control today, thus the allure of the law: law = control. It puts us in the driver's seat and removes God from his rightful place as king of our soul. Law is our attempt to dictate to God how He should view us. When the reality is that grace provides a way for God to see us that we could never earn ourselves no matter how good we ever managed to be.

The third book on this journey, was Graced-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel. I ordered it off Amazon and it sat on the shelf until something a few months ago caused me to pick it up. Honestly I am not 100% sure what it was except to say a leading by the Holy Spirit. This book, oh this book. It is officially my favorite parenting book and I am committed to re-reading it, in its entirety, every.single.year. Yes, it's that good. I will write a complete review in a coming post but this book has brought everything together for me. It has painted a picture of the kind of parent I want to be with God's help. But you can't give what you don't yourself own. And I needed a new heart when it came to the issue of law vs. grace.

If the first two books were the skeleton of grace then this book became the muscle and skin. The first two were the "what" and this book was, for me, the "how". Earlier I said that grace is hard because it's about a relationship. If you are not wired for relationship then this sort of transformation does not come naturally, or at least it hasn't for me. Why? Read on.

Most people find themselves typically energized by people or drained by them (we're back to the "there are two kinds of people" thing again ;) ). There are times when I can be very energized by people but more often I am drained by them. Tasks on the other hand energize me. I can clean closets, plan and organize for hours on end and still have energy at the end of the day. That's fun for me. Weird, I know. So you see, I am not wired as much for relationship as I am for tasks. I do need people. Very much. It's just that I don't need that many people, especially in this phase of life where I have three little monkeys sucking just about every bit of life out of me. ;) ;) ;) Ready for a really cheesy analogy? Imagine with me that we all have 2 tanks: a tank for tasks and tank for relationships. My relationship tank only holds about 10 gallons and the car that uses this tank is a real gas guzzler! It gets sucked dry pretty quickly. Now my task tank, it holds 50 gallons and the car that uses this tank gets 75 miles to the gallon. It can go forever in between fill-ups. Hey, I warned you it was cheesy!

Back to Grace-Based Parenting. This book helped me see what it looks like to operate from a vantage point of grace and what the true dangers of the law can be as it relates to parenting, and really all of life in general. It's a truly remarkable book.

I wish I could tell you I am now this person full of grace. I wish I could say that the transformation has been a beautiful one, like the transformation of the butterflies in my garden. It hasn't. It has been painful and humbling and downright hard. I am at the point where I see the ugliness and putridity of law, yet it is still my default as I have lived in the land of the Law for almost 37 years now. The land of Grace is still like a foreign country to me. I see the beauty of it. I have read the travel guides and studied the language and customs of those who live there. I even pop in for visits now and then. Yet the land that has been my home for far too long beckons me away. Not for long though, I pray. With God's help I will be operating from a new address soon.

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12 comments:

Laura said...

Beautifully written and poignantly true in my life, too.

I've read your blog for some time, enjoying the home schooling posts.

This post is a gem.

Blessings,
Laura

mimi said...

Great post. I've gone from a life of law to grace as well. Oh what a journey! Grace Based Parenting was the first book I read on grace...what an amazing first read!! I need to re-read it as well. Jeff VanVonderen has written great books on the subject of grace as well :)

carole said...

This is excellent. It feels as though I could have written parts of what you shared. May I copy and paste a few excerpts onto my blog?

Shannon @ Some Fine Taters said...

Interesting. I think we must have very different understandings of Law, or come to different conclusions about it. Law is not something I aspire to keep. I cannot! I am a sinful human and nothing I can do can bring me to God. Law points out this inadequacy that I may truly hear the Gospel. Law shows my failings so that I can see my need for Christ.

argsmommy said...

Beautifully said, and I look forward to your review on Grace-Based Parenting. Over the last three or fours years my big journey has been learning that obedience is how we show our gratitude for God's grace.

Jennefer said...

Carole,

Yes of course you may cut and paste anything you wish! :)

Mimi,

Thank you for the Jeff VanVonderen book suggestion!

Jennefer

Jennefer said...

Shannon,

I am sorry I somehow was unable to convey what I meant in a better way. . I have exactly the same understanding of the law you described. That's what makes the fact that I have trusted in it for this long all the more tragic. I know in my heart that the law is unable to save and is meant to draw me to Him yet this overachieving girl has clung to it for as long as she possibly could. :( If you have time, re-read my post with that in mind and see if it makes more sense.

Jennefer

Jennifer said...

Oh, Jennefer, if I sent sent this post to my husband, he would surely think I wrote it. : )

From growing up in law-loving church to the prodigal little sister. The Jesus Storybook Bible to Grace-Based Parenting. The task tank and the people tank. I'm right there. I have to remember to preach the gospel to myself every day. Thank you so much for a God-honoring, grace-filled, thoughtful and transparent post.

I have not read that Keller book yet, but it just moved up to the top of the list.

Grace and Peace,
Jennifer

Jennefer said...

Jennifer,

"Preach the gospel to myself" is a phrase that dh and I use all the time as well. It is so true though! I am so glad others can relate to what I've written. Sometimes being so "out there" in the blogging world can be a little scary!

Jen

Sheryl said...

jennefer,

I'll go way out there, probably sounding like a nutcase, but I think there is a sort of revolution or reformation going on in the church body. I think that way too many of us have lived trapped in the law, the hamster wheel, I like to call it. I think that many believers, including myself, are being asked by our Lord to take a better look at grace. To apply it to our lives and not just talk about it and use it as a catchphrase in our churches. Living in "radical grace" will transform our lives. I believe that and I think that there is a rumbling in the church and its roots are in radical grace. What will come from it I don't know. But I feel something in my spirit. I think something is happening. Just my thoughts. And I too have been trapped under layers of trying to please others, to be ther perfect Christian, to "work" for the love of God even when I know that it is not necessary. His grace is more abundant than I know. I am feeling a bit of freedom come from peeling all these layers off and trying to find who God made me to be and that I can best worship Him, by loving Him, by living in Grace, and by being who He made me to be and not some circus clown trying to please the crowd. Does any of this make sense? Its early and I'm hungry for pancakes!
Sheryl

Jennefer said...

Sheryl,

I completely agree with you and it's a very exciting thing. I have a post coming up about Gospel-centered resources for kids and I talk more about this there, too! I love the local church and I love that God is doing a great thing through it for His glory!

Jennefer

Amy said...

Thanks for sharing this, Jennefer. I read your blog often but don't comment. I really need to get Grace Based Parenting!