A while ago I was asked to write an article for our denomination’s magazine The Covenant Companion. I did and it was published in the most recent edition. Some of you are asking if it is online and it is not – yet. So here it is. Enjoy.
Becoming God’s Masterpiece
There is a difference between belief in the grace of God and embracing its reality. I grew up with grace, believed in it, and depended on it. But the enormity of what it was didn’t come till later.
First I became acutely aware of my lack of merit of such a gift. Then grace hit me like an avalanche, overwhelming me with God’s acceptance. Even the sins that I still carried around as guilt were covered by God’s grace! Paradoxically, the only thing I could do to repay God for the gift was to accept it and live into it.
Living a life filled with grace? It is easier to see God’s grace being worked out in other lives than my own. But, if I pay attention, I see God’s grace already present and active around me and it encourages me. “Ahh – there is God at work again” – a needed reminder of his presence. Sometimes these acts of grace come as tiny snippets, like the blink of a firefly’s light on a dark night, other times grace is like a slow and steadily burning lamp in the long stories of people’s lives.
Anne Lamott says in an interview with Amazon regarding her latest book, Grace (Eventually) :
…I know that Grace meets us wherever we are, but does not leave us where it found us. Sometimes it is so small–a couple of seconds relief here, several extra inches there. I wish it were big and obvious, like sky-writing. Oh, well. Grace is not something I DO, or can chase down; but it is something I can receive, when I stop trying to be in charge.
We communicate grace to one another by holding space for people when they are hurt or terrified, instead of trying to fix them, or manage their emotions for them. We offer ourselves as silent companionship, or gentle listening when someone feels very alone. We get people glasses of water when they are thirsty.
I don’t know if my own experience of grace would have come if it were not for one of God’s people “holding space” for me; extending God’s grace to me in the kind of “gentle listening” and acceptance that Anne Lamott describes above. Now, having received this gift, I am compelled by my love for God to live in such a way that those around me become aware of what God offers them too.
I know that when I see one of my staff take over the work load of another going through the early days of a marriage breakdown, giving her space and time to grieve walk her children through these hard days, I am watching grace at work. It doesn’t seem to matter if the participants know God all that well or not, God still works. Because I want my workplace to be a place where God’s grace can be active, it pleases me to see evidence of his grace there.
In my dental practice I offer grace as I relieve pain, offer treatment to refugees and marginalized people, listen to fears, and offer kindness and understanding. Occasionally I share the joy of seeing a person’s new smile restore their dignity. Being aware of God’s presence in me and in my patient raises my responsibility to deal with everyone in a way that reflects that presence of God in me. It pleases me that patients recognize that they are given treatment with care and respect even though they may not be able to name it as grace.
It is exciting to realize that we ordinary people, once impacted by the life changing love of God, can become conduits through which God lavishes his love and grace on the world.
George, a no account person by all appearances, was one of these conduits. He came down to our town some 35 years ago sent by his family and northern community to take advantage of the educational programs for challenged young people. Here he met God through the young people attending Covenant Bible College. Those students showed him such love and acceptance that year after year he came, met the new batch of students and became involved in their lives.
He passed away recently – from pneumonia they said. But maybe it was just a tiredness of living life with more challenges than rewards; with giving out but getting back only in fits and starts; with fighting against the demons that he battled daily. Maybe God, by his grace, saw fit to rescue him from this world earlier than most. He was only 52.
George had a problem with alcohol. It was likely a tendency he inherited along with his scholastic challenges and we always wondered if he wasn’t gifted with FAS in utero. Whatever the case, he was also gifted with an amazing personality. He loved everyone around him whether or not they returned the favor. And George loved Jesus. Maybe he loved him so much because the people around him were not trustworthy in the same way. I think he realized in a profound way that Jesus did not stop loving him even when he failed.
Grace – where does it fit in to George’s story? He reminds me a bit of the story of the woman who came and lavished perfume on the feet of Jesus. She was out of place, out of line, inappropriate to the situation in Simon’s eyes. But Jesus stated that she would be remembered for her loving act. Jesus loved George in the same sort of way. George was sometimes out of place, would show up at inappropriate times asking for a favor, was often completely overcome by booze and miserable. Like the woman, God extended his grace to him and he depended on that and loved Jesus for it. For us, he was often the pebble in our shoe; an irritation but a reminder that the grace of God extends to all; not just to the respectable, intelligent and successful.
As I sat at the wake for George listening to stories of his life, I glimpsed some of the grace lavished on George and through him to people of all sorts, from a former member of parliament to friends who shared similar life stories. Being one of the “least of these” in our midst, we often failed to recognize his value. I gave him a ride that week before he died and he gifted me with a white scarf from the grocery bag of things someone had given him. I will keep it as a reminder that God’s grace extends to all.
My Aunt Florence is about as opposite to George as one can get but God’s grace shines through her too. Her fault was likely her inability to say “no” to others needs even at her own expense. But in God’s scheme of things maybe she is the one that got her priorities right.
Over the years she became “Auntie” to everyone that knew her. She dispensed grace to the children who gathered round her after church with the candies she would inevitably have stashed in her purse. Her friends and companions were the simple and the needy. To them she gave and gave until she literally had nothing left for herself.
Elderly now and limited by Alzheimer’s disease, it is my turn to return care to her. I do it with as much love as I can but lack her graces of patience and generosity. Even in her illness she is teaching me things about the love of God.
And there is Grace, whose name suits her well. She could have chosen to live a quiet and comfortable life in her retirement. Instead, she chose to share this time of her life with those in need around her. I don’t believe she will ever retire from being a living example to others of the love and grace of God.
During the greeting time in our church worship service, three young girls from the neighborhood moved into the row beside her. Of all the people in church, they can count on Grace to really care. Grace’s house is home to two young women with special needs as well as the two daughters of a mom struggling with addictions and often the girls’ friends as well. She cares enough to pray with a passion for these people and then go out of her way to help in tangible ways. She models grace like a beautiful garment that I would like to wear as well.
Truly, this gift called grace that we receive so lovingly from God does not leave us the same. Receiving it, we should become new and different – full of grace. We are told in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (NLT)
We receive grace and we must give it out. As we do, we change little by little into the masterpieces he intended.