Yesterday I detailed my early history with grace. Head over here if you missed the story.
Reflections on Today
Ephesians 2:8-9. Somehow, for 26 years of my life, I have missed this scripture. I cannot, even now, tell you its context within a swift glance at the chapter. A gift given, no take backs. No strings, no hoops. A free gift without a way to earn the right to have it. It sounds like a very confusing mathematical word problem (ahem, English major) with the answer somehow hidden in between the lines. What does that scripture even mean?
Reflections on the Past
When I first started grappling over the freedom of God's grace, it was after about a year of marriage while serving in a college ministry.
We had transitioned quickly from college life to adult life, a short turn around of less than two months. I dove into a new job, a new church, a new city, a new community. I longed for familiarity. I decided I should give back to the ministry that had forged so much of my faith during college. It seemed the right thing to do-- and many of my friends were following a similar path. But serving as a leader in a ministry straight out of college has it's challenges. Slowly, I realized my time at college had reformed and refined my views on Christ, some for the better, some for the worse.
When I say better, I mean that I finally grasped that God is good and that he has never and will never leave me. I found a community of encouraging believers and dug into the movement of the Holy Spirit. That ministry met me at a time when I was on the brink of walking away from God and I will be forever grateful for God directing me into their path.
But, because we are in a fallen world, some things, no matter how well intended, can be misinterpreted. I received a message, somewhere along the way, that to be a "good Christian" one must be serving the church by evangelizing, praying daily, having special quiet times and actively discipling others. These actions were the mark of a devoted Christian.
While these are all good things in and of themselves, I felt shame when I was not practicing those statutes. Shame came from correction and expectations I interpreted as falling along the lines of my Code of Misconduct clause (remember that file cabinet I mentioned?). Those expectations were not the freedom I needed in my walk. They were just an addition to an already long list of "gotta be's" and in short, restrained my growth rather than encouraging it.
Fast forward to a time when I was now a leader in said ministry, no longer a student. Mistakes would not be accepted. I had "arrived". I believed I was expected to both practice and exemplify those standards, as I was counseling students and propelling a ministry forward. It was my responsibility to excel as a spiritual leader. I floundered under the pressure.
I assumed I needed to be perfect and still being in my early twenties, my beliefs were still forming. I was beginning to see that my faith was, at times, a mere reflection of what someone else told me to believe. As many people experience, I began asking questions, some of which were at the foundation of ministry I was professing to lead and believe. I struggled with suddenly finding myself at odds with understanding how the Holy Spirit moved and how I, as a believer, should be interacting with the world.
Understand, I believed without a doubt that God moved in black and white. To receive certain gifts from the Holy Spirit one must live and behave a certain way. To a degree, our disipline does determine how close we choose to be to God, but even that statement somehow speaks to a hierarchy that is etched not with grace but with rules and regulations.
I found myself mired in a quandry. If God did move in the gray, and was not, in fact, neatly placed into a box, how was I to share that with those under me? How do you explain a complex God who may not be linear or neat in His movements?
I began asking more questions. What if grace was not being shown accurately? What if the Holy Spirit simply gave different gifts and there was no next level? What if we were all on an even field but with different roles? What if the way I had been taught to respresent Christ to others, both within and without of that faith community, was somehow turning people off from grace completely?
What I encountered, was a crisis of faith. I collided with the sound realization that the prize isn't earned through my efforts, but freely given.