Listening to Christian radio probably 12 years ago now, I heard it phrased like this for the first time… “there is NOTHING you can do to make God love you any more, and there is NOTHING you can do to make God love you any less.” Unconditional love. Unmerited favor. Love with no strings attached. Grace. Alone in my car, the truth may not have been new revelation, but for some reason on that day, those audacious words drenched my parched heart. Even as a strong committed Christian, I struggled with the notion of grace. The truth is… I was in the midst of my own shame. I wasn’t worthy of that kind of love. I needed a spanking. I needed some consequences. I needed some sort of justice.
It made no sense. Grace makes no sense. The power of that fresh understanding lifted a cloud. God expected nothing from me. And that truth sparked a motivation that continues to grow today.
At the same time, Ian about 10 I’m guessing, was in a constant state of paying consequences for his ginger headed, strong willed, rebellious self.
Gifted with a new, empowering sense of freedom, I crafted a plan. THIS could be a game changer, I thought. If Ian really grasped my unconditional love for him, it could transform everything! Maybe he wouldn’t constantly be in the doghouse. I was excited. Tucking him into bed that night… I said… “Ian, do you realize that there is nothing you can do for me to love you any more, and there is nothing you can do for me to love you any less.? He said wait… Mom…. Let me get this straight… and he repeats it, just as I said it. “Right,” I say, nothing. He pauses….. “Is that a dare?”
It didn’t make sense to a 10 year old Ian either! He knew there had to be a catch. Grace makes no sense.
Fast forward to present day. I am thankful to rest in a confident understanding of God’s grace for me. While I still catch myself striving on occasion, I know better than to think that I’m changing God’s mind about me. What a relief.
But still I see a disconnect. The life saving grace of God doesn’t compare to my human experience. As we grow in grace, it’s important that we mature in this area, but until we’re fully redeemed I don’t for-see our grace and God’s grace ever looking the same.
Why? In my opinion, I believe it boils down to a glaring human frailty. Expectation. It is human nature to have expectations. We just do. About everything. Even though I love God, I’m redeemed, and even somewhat mature in my faith… I have expectations. Expectations mess with everything. I love this… “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be!”
The atmosphere in our home has been more turbulent than usual this week. Our survival gear has included a whole lot of grace.
And then, as if Ian was still thinking that my unconditional love promise was just a dare, he came home from UNM donning a new look. A nose ring — a small not so insignificant nose ring for peats sake.
Our entire family understands the code — an unspoken, but inferred litmus test that we call Grandma! The caution goes, if grandma wouldn’t like it, don’t do it. Don’t post it. Don’t wear it. Don’t say it. Just don’t! Without a shadow of a doubt, Ian’s new look would not pass the grandma test.
He asked me for help to read the “care for your nose ring” pamphlet. I wouldn’t. It will be good therapy to read and follow instructions, I reason. Maybe it’ll get infected and he’ll come to his own conclusion about it, I mutter to myself.
He’s 22. He’s a millennial. He’s trying desperately to exert some independence. It’s just a nose ring. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
In the end, I decided what bothered me the most, was that I was so bothered.
My head is not in the sand. I’m enlightened. It’s just a nose ring. He didn’t kill a man. He’s still an awesome kid with a huge heart and now with a nose ring.
For days I’ve wrestled with the WHY. Why am I so bugged?
According to Anne Lamott, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” (A book I’ve added to my reading list)
When I expect something from someone, I am setting him up for failure. If he doesn’t do what I want, need or hope, I form a resentment. A resentment I may not even be aware of. Slowly, maybe even subconsciously, dissatisfaction seeps into the relationship. I treat him differently. Conditionally. And just like that, even without words, he senses the change and the devil’s playground has been fertilized.
That’s it. It’s me. It’s my fault. I placed expectations on my kid. He disappointed and I’m bugged. It’s only fair that he should pay somehow to make things right between us. But that doesn’t feel gracious. It’s not gracious. It’s conditional. MOM FAIL.
What about the expectations I place on God? Uh oh. Now you’re meddling. God, why did you allow that to happen? What’s up with this diagnosis? Are you kidding me God, a hurricane here, now? Slowly and just as subtlety as it is with a person, I become dissatisfied with God. I distance myself leaving all kinds of room for bitterness and resentment to settle in and get comfy. Expectations. Unavoidable expectations.
A Universal Struggle
The struggle is REAL! I’ve concluded that the struggle I describe is the same struggle Paul laments in Romans 7:15-20. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you even empathize with me. I’ll be OK. More than ok. It’s just one more rich layer in my understanding of God’s grace. Jesus Himself has come to my defense. His is the only defense that matters.
Here’s the thing…The longer you walk with the Lord and the deeper you dig into His word, the more He reveals to you about you. I’m the blessed one. Knowing the depths of my wretchedness, makes His grace that much sweeter. God expects NOTHING of me. God expects NOTHING of you. Wrap your brain around that. Grace makes no sense.
And in case you’re wondering… He is still the most handsome ginger I have ever seen. Nose ring and all.