Grace in Progress

Friday, January 10, 2014  ::  

Pain is the stuff of learning. It either beckons you to your bed to hide, pushes you to the middle of the ring to fight, or forces you to your knees to surrender. It's easy for me to write all about the beauty and wonder of 2013, but when I look back I also see circumstances that caused me to hide or to fight and eventually, to surrender.

To read wistfully chipper blog posts, look at artfully crafted photos on Instagram, and see perfectly crafted confabulation in friends Facebook feeds often leads me down the ugly road of comparison. Many years ago a friend shared a story of well-respected women who became embittered toward each other because of comparison that led to competition. Ultimately, God brought sweet redemption through grace in teaching them to run their own race, to keep their gaze fixed on Him alone, to encourage one another in the race He had set before them.

If you've been around me at all, you will know this has become a life motto for me.

"RUN YOUR OWN RACE" percolates it's way through so many of my conversations, or teaching times, or admonishments to the women I'm allowed to lead. I say it to myself as a mantra whenever the green-eyed ugly sin monster of envy creeps its way into my heart.

Do you not know that in a race only one runner gets a prize? Run in such way as to get the prize.  1 Corinthians 9:23 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1 

My last blog post was full of loveliness, wasn't it? So full of beauty, healing, and peace. Each story is true and full of hope and light and love. I'm thankful beyond thankful for each experience. The lump in my throat as I ponder each moment testifies to gratefulness that overwhelms me.

I summed it up to say the year left me feeling "more grounded, self-aware, reliant on Jesus." Because it was tied to the end of all that peaceful beauty, the implication was those sweet stories took me to that point.

Yes, they definitely had a hand in my feelings of peace and contentedness.

Yes, they definitely leave me in awe of God's continued grace to me through joyful circumstances.

Yes, they definitely speak to only half the story of what God has used in my life that sometimes makes me want to hide, fight, and hopefully, eventually, surrender.

Friends, His grace to me over this last year was also demonstrated through pain and heartache. So many of the lessons are still fresh and raw.

Through 2013 God gave me opportunity after opportunity to be more grounded in who He has made me to be, to stop trying to meet all the needs all the time, to know that He is a God who delights in kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth. A forced sabbatical left me alone most days until September. To be alone with my thoughts, sin, and grief was terrifying much of the time. To see people around me still struggling and not be allowed to help caused me to question my identity like never before. To see people heal and grow without me caused me to question my value like never before. Through tears, prayer, and trust in His refining through fire, I grew to know that my grounding is in the Rock that is higher than I. 

My soul finds rest in God alone. My salvation comes from Him. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation. He is my Fortress. I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2 

Again, through God's grace, self-awareness came by way of truly seeing how much pain my sin causes the Spirit and my people. Oh, but grace. My heart swells to know that as I become more aware of the ugliness of my heart, it can never outpace the depths of His grace. I'm more aware than ever that apart from Him I have no good thing.

Last year I humiliated myself with extreme emotional reactions. I said hurtful, cutting words to people I love and that love me. I yelled at my kids too many times. I scoffed at the pain of others. I ignored the Spirit's beckons for time in His word. I hid lazily to avoid dealing with life and loneliness. But in the depths of His great love, through seeing all the muck of my heart I became more and more and more aware of grace, that I cannot run full steam ahead to gain his favor, that I cannot earn his love through working harder, that I cannot work hard on behalf of those I love, trying to convince them to run harder, faster, longer in order to know more of God's grace to them.

One of my favorite worships songs says this: "What else can I do but worship? What else can I do but bow? Because all I really long for is you, all I really need, Lord, is you." Yes. Self awareness that leads to much, much God-awareness.

My need for reliance on Jesus came in the form of having too much time alone and then was lit like a fire in the form of jumping with both feet right back into the lions den of relationships . True, ugly confession: In my younger years of ministry I unknowingly believed that I had something to do with people's heart change. It wasn't that I wanted credit for what God was doing in their life, I just believed that if I said no, or didn't speak up, or didn't meet "just one more time" I would fail the person, or worse, fail God.

The gospel I preached was faith through grace. The gospel I lived was work, work, work, plea, plea, plea, carry, carry, carry, and then hopefully, if God is pleased, faith and change happened.

I'm exhausted even just typing out that strategy.

After sabbatical the painful reality of the depths of pain people endure hit me right square in the face. My eyes were black for a couple of months if you didn't notice. As I sat and cried with people, or worked to point people to Jesus, or begged God in prayer on their behalf to change it all, I began to feel the load of work, work, work, plea, plea, plea, carry, carry, carry. The gifts, groundedness and self-awareness, shined the light on the lie of my old strategy. Reliance on Jesus rose to the surface as my greatest need. His grace brought me through many dangers, toils, and snares, not my own work. I'm continually facing the choice of relying on my own work ethic, or my own ideas of right and wrong, or my own desire to see change in the world around me OR relying on the fact that His grace will lead me, hold me, sustain me. The more I believe this for myself, the more I believe this great treasure for those around me.

Asking about my top moments of 2013 brings a smile to my face and a tranquil sigh from my lips. Pure beauty. Asking about my most painful moments of 2013 brings a deeper, thoughtful look to my face and a deeper, longer sigh from my soul. So many of these moments aren't moments at all. They are on-going, still fleshing themselves out, still a grace in progress.

If there was any part of my last blog post that caused your heart to wonder about the pain you may be experiencing in your own life, please know it was a only a window into my life and home. Pain is the stuff of learning. The value of my pain is neither greater nor lesser than others. It is simply my own race, the one God has mapped out for me. And through His great grace I want to run it with perseverance, groundedness, self-awareness, and complete reliance on Jesus.


How are you learning to rely on Jesus? If you don't rely on Him, on what or whom do you rely? What is one thing you've learned about yourself and/or God over the last year? Share your thoughts if you'd like.

3 important comments so far. What are your thoughts?

alisa said...

Hey Angel, I love that motto: Run your own race. It's such a good one, maybe I'll print it out and tape it on my door or something.

Right now I'm waiting for my passport and visa to be processed, and I have a deadline for that---because I need another visa to be processed ASAP. It's out of my hands. I feel anxiety if I think about it too much. But how many countless other things are out of my hands as well? And then I think about how silly it is to be anxious, that God is at work no matter if I miss the deadline and have to live with the heartache and headache, and I wonder if I will actually learn something through this or not. I hope so.

Jenna Miles said...

Thank you for sharing this, Angel. I can see much of myself and the way i see life/ministry/Jesus in this post, mostly when you refer to your younger ministry days and the mantra you used to believe. I am definitely still in the woods when it comes to your questions/figuring out who i am/who God is making me to be/what needs to stay and what needs to go, but this post is really valuable in me beginning to sort those out. Again, thanks for sharing.

Tamara Lillestol said...

Thank you for sharing this and your other blog post about 2013 reflections. Thank you for sharing your joys and triumphs over this past year and for also being so open an honest about the pain you went through and the incredible lessons God has taught you over this year. Your thoughts are so eloquently written and I absolutely love reading what you have to say. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you Angel :)

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