My best and worst quality can be described something like this: I have high expectations of myself and others. On my good days this looks like waking up on time, throwing all of my effort at my job, believing in other people, cooking healthy meals and keeping a clean and tidy home. On my worst days this looks like snapping at Stu for not vacuuming correctly, shouting at the news headlines on TV, nitpicking and redoing and rearranging things I’ve done because it’s not quite what I’d envisioned.
People who know me best say I am justice-oriented, passionate, driven, and organized. I care deeply about empowering other people, ensuring that everyone is able to reach their potential, working to bring opportunities and growth to the underprivileged, impoverished, and oppressed.
Like all of us, though, my strengths have a dark side. My close friends and family know I can be critical, stubborn, strong-willed, reactionary, cold, and obsessive. I have a hard time letting things go. It took me until approximately last week (that’s two full years) to trust Stu enough to clean our bathroom. Not because Stu is incapable of doing things well, but because I have very high standards and, must I remind you, I am also very critical.
Lately something has been rising up in me, like a too-thick soup simmering on the stove, the bubble gathering at the bottom and exploding all over the counter with an angry pop. What I don’t want to admit is that I spend a lot of time angry. I don’t have a temper, I’m not passive-aggressive, I don’t explode and yell and stew for days, I just have this small, persistent, jabbing anger deep in my gut. Angry that the world is so tormented and fragile, angry that pain and death and abandonment is part of our everyday existence, angry that things don’t seem to be getting any better, angry that people are always going to be disappointing me, angry that I will always be disappointing them, angry that I can’t be better, faster, stronger, gentler, kinder.
The best things about us can also be the worst things. The things you love most about your friends, your spouse, your family, are also the things that have the potential to drive you out of your freaking mind when you’re in a bad mood. I don’t want to compromise the good parts of me just because they betray me sometimes — I want to keep pursuing justice for the oppressed, chase after my passions, keep trying at the hard things until I get them right. I want to be righteously angry for the things that break God’s heart but I also want to be more patient, more thoughtful, more joyful, more free. I want to be less angry and more grace-filled.
I want to show myself grace. I want to stop thinking that everything needs to be just right. I want to sink into the things that I’m worst at rather than holding up my strengths like a mask. I want to grow humbly and laugh at my mistakes. I want to revel in the gift that Christ came so that I could rest in him rather than hustle to match up to someone else’s or my own measly expectations. I want to stop running myself ragged chasing after answers and instead settle into my own mortality. I want Isaiah 55:8-9 to be resolution enough, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I want to give grace more freely. I have never been very good at forgiveness, which is a dangerous thing for me to say on the internet, I know. I’m not a lifelong grudge-holder, definitely not, but when someone wrongs me and resolution is necessary my first response isn’t, of course, it was a mistake, we all make them, it’s more like, well you really shouldn’t have done that, should’ve you? Let’s take a little bit more time to mull that over and make sure it never happens again. This has been one of the most pressing, important parts of marriage for me: forgiveness. Everyday I fail Stu, and everyday he fails me — this is humanity. I’ve learned that taking time to cool down and be disappointed is OK, but I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. I need to wake up everyday and choose to forgive, just as I deeply hope and trust others will do for me as well.
If God humiliated himself, sacrificed himself, died for the primary purpose of love and forgiveness, I must be convicted that this is incredibly important for my everyday living. I am in desperate need of forgiveness; I yearn to give it as freely as I crave it.
I want to live with God’s grace on the tip of my tongue and the end of my fingertips. It’s easy for me to put grace last and everything else, even good things, first. Knowledge first. Strength first. Courage first. Justice first. Goodness first. Then there will be room for grace.
This is so achingly untrue. Grace is the only thing that makes room for anything else, and when I live differently things get so painfully discombobulated. This project didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would. Frustration, disappointment, hustle. I’m upset with so-and-so for this-or-that. Anger, accusation, criticism. Big decisions need to be made and I have no idea what to do. Desperate searching, anxiety, logic and reason and fact-finding.
And then I’m frustrated, disappointed, exhausted, angry, anxious.
Instead: My house is a mess and there are piles of laundry and dinner tastes awful. Grace first. So-and-so let me down and I am devastated. Grace first. Life is complicated and I don’t have any of the answers. Grace first.
And then I’m right where the Lord wants me to be: in the middle of his mind-blowing, undeserved, welcoming, warm, beautiful grace.
I want to have only one high expectation of myself this year, I want to cast off all the others in place of this: grace first.