The New Year is a time for setting goals and making resolutions. As the clock strikes midnight on December 31, the air suddenly becomes pregnant with possibility. Life becomes a clean slate, and we launch ahead with a challenge to be better, to work harder, to learn more. I know a thing or two about goals and resolutions because, for the last year and a half, I’ve been on a great weight-loss and health journey, currently with nearly forty pounds lost.
And the most difficult thing I’ve had to learn while losing weight and getting healthy is not discipline, for I seem to do really well with a consistent schedule, rules, and a chronic fear of disappointing people. Instead, the most difficult thing I’ve had to learn is to extend to myself the same grace I preach about each Sunday from the pulpit.
Grace has always been defined to me as “a gift we don’t deserve that we receive from God.” I’ve sung the variations of “Amazing Grace” and have, indeed, pondered the sweetness of its sound. I tell people on a regular basis, “Be people of grace to those around you.” Accept the deep and abiding grace of God into your own life, and then turn around and lavish grace upon the people around you, is a message I preach week after week.
Lavishing grace on others is one of my favorite things to do. When people come to me with guilt-ridden spirits and heads sunk low, it is my joy to tell them all the ways that God loves them and to tell them they are beautiful and good enough. I love to share anecdotes about how God sees our hearts and our intents, and not just our failures. Often, I even simply advise, “Give yourself a break.”
However, I am horrible at bestowing grace upon myself. When I tell myself I can have one donut and end up with the powdered sugar residue from my third or fourth treat, all I seem to see in those moments is my failure. I know better, I knew better, and I failed. If I miss a run, I think of all the people who have told me I inspire them, and I find myself feeling frustrated and guilty.
I wish I could honestly say that I’m great at giving myself grace now, at putting my faults and failures into their correct categories, at looking at the big picture instead of the small blemish—but that wouldn’t be honest. I find myself struggling every time someone asks me if I’m pregnant because of my larger-than-it-should-be abdomen, fighting back the tears—not at their insensitive comments but at myself for what I’m not. I berate myself for that second donut when I knew better. It doesn’t matter that I have a medical condition that makes it more difficult to lose weight; it only matters that someone said something that showed me a fault I already deeply feel, already intimately know—and I become a puddle of gracelessness.
The words come quickly and easily to my mind—ugly, imperfect, fat, intimidating, too loud, too talkative, too lazy. Each is a word that someone has said about me at some point or another, but more importantly, they are all words that I have said about myself. They continue to play in my mind like a record player that has stuck on a scratch. There is no grace in these words or in the stories that accompany them. These words embody the very absence of grace, and often the absence of truth as well.
If I were to have a congregant come into my office with tear-stained cheeks and tell me about how a child asked them about their protruding belly, and lament about how much of a failure at life they are, I would know just what to do. I would hug them close and tell them how untrue those things were, how they are not their belly, how they are not their faults or imperfections, how they are a beloved child of God. I would lavish grace on them, as I so love to do.
But it is not a congregant in my office. It is just me. Sitting alone in a room with the record player of words skipping through my mind, and suddenly the lavishing of grace becomes a difficulty. Praying with broken words, “Why can’t I be better? Why can’t I do better? Why must I always fail?”
We need to give ourselves a break. We need to stop listening to the broken words and listen for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit at work beneath it all.
I sit there for a long time sometimes, feeling broken and sorry for myself. It is easy to stop trying in those moments because what is accomplished anyway? It’s easy to allow that record to continue to skip and play back over and over and over again. But somewhere—beneath the skipping record in my mind—is a still, small voice that says something else. It replays all those words I lavish so freely and willingly upon everyone else. That voice speaks grace.
I’ve had to learn to start listening to the still, small voice beyond the noise in my own head. This is not a lesson just for me, though. It is a lesson for all of us who are good at lavishing grace on everyone but ourselves. I know that I am not alone in this struggle, and I have heard many stories of others who can speak grace to everyone around them yet extend so little to themselves.
We need to give ourselves a break. We need to stop listening to the broken words and listen for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit at work beneath it all. We ought to lavish grace upon ourselves too, remind ourselves that God’s mercies are renewed each day, and realize that we do not need a new year to start again because renewal can start today, the very second we step into grace for ourselves.
We don’t deserve it—of course we don’t! But grace has never been about worth. It’s always been about love, and while we might feel worthless, hopeless, fat, or used, we are first and foremost loved. Now I preach to myself each day: Accept the deep and abiding grace of God into your own life, and then turn around and lavish grace upon people around you.
Grace has never been about worth. It’s always been about love.
May we be a people of lavish grace, who walk in the fullness of God’s grace extended to us and who extend grace to all of humanity—including ourselves. May we stop our striving to be worthy but rest in the knowledge that grace is a gift because we are the beloved of God. May the words we tell others of their beauty, worth, and belovedness be words we also tell ourselves on difficult days, and may God hold us close in the midst of our brokenness when those words are not enough.