“Do not frustrate the grace of God…” Galatians 2:21
Are you and I guilty of this scripture?
I admit it; I have not had a great track record with grace. My experience, since childhood, was one which heavily favored earning rather than the unconditional application of love, personal value and yes, grace.
No matter what I did or did not do- concerning anything- it seemed it was not enough.
When I was a college theatre major, I performed a monologue from Christopher Durang’s “‘Denity Crisis” in my acting class.
Back then, as I memorized and performed it, the struggle with grace didn’t quite click for me.
But, years later, I see how the playwright’s humorous account of a Peter Plan play, indeed, captures the spiritual wrestling match grace versus effort embodies.
“…You remember how in the second act Tinkerbell drinks some poison that Peter’s about to drink, in order to save him? And then Peter turns to the audience and he says that Tinkerbell’s going to die because not enough people believe in fairies, but that if everybody in the audience claps real hard to show that they do believe in fairies, then maybe Tinkerbell won’t die…. and so then all the children started to clap…. we clapped very hard and very long…. my palms hurt and even started to bleed I clapped so hard…. then suddenly the actress playing Peter Pan turned to the audience and she said, ‘that wasn’t enough. You didn’t clap hard enough. Tinkerbell’s dead.’ uh..well, and..and then everyone started to cry. The actress stalked offstage and refused to continue with the play, and they finally had to bring down the curtain. No one could see anything through all the tears, and the ushers had to come help the children up the aisles and out into the street. I don’t think I was ever the same after that.”
How many of us can echo that last sentence in our own lives?
“I don’t think I was ever the same after that.”
Life, inevitably, deals us some trauma, pain or negative experience which reinforces how, indeed, we did not clap hard enough.
Perhaps our marriage failed…
Perhaps someone died…
Perhaps we lost our career, our financial stability or our reputation…
So now, our personal Tinkerbell, because of imperfect life, is dead.
This business of earning grace, love and worth can wreak havoc. It drives many of us, in some attempt to self-soothe, to reach for our pet addiction. We reason no matter what we do or do not do in life, it’s not “enough.” That places us in paralysis.
We ask, “What’s the point?”
We come from a survival place of just getting through this wretched thing called life. We believe the best we can hope for is, while paralyzed, is to numb and comfort ourselves with our beloved addiction.
So, we throw away grace. We even accept doom.
It is exactly in this frame of mind grace becomes all the more relevant to us.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Not easy. Not understandable. Not even comforting.
Rather, prepare to groan here, it is a mystery.
I know: cop out.
Or is it?
Part of the notorious mystery of grace, complete with its uncertainties and frustrations, is the realization we are not in control. So, that immediately nullifies any earning of something which was never ours to earn in the first place.
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Romans 11:6
That’s a challenging thing to wrap our finite minds around. Let’s face it- we live in a cause and effect world. Logically, if we do “A,” then we should get “B.”
Grace however, repeatedly tells us we’ll get “B” even in spite of our action or inaction regarding “A.”
Now we have alphabet soup.
It drives us bonkers. For we want to be in control. And when we push that agenda, we risk a resemblance to a most unflattering character…
“But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:13-14
Any guess on who this is?
Oh…I don’t know… Satan?
(Sorry, my SNL Church Lady tribute, circa 1980’s)
We may chuckle at this, but, come on, let’s get real, our prideful need demands we take care of it all.
“‘Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill…’ saith the LORD.” Jeremiah 49:16
We call it multi-tasking, being goal- oriented or doing some trouble shooting. Whatever we call it, it still seems to possess the same root motive: we want to run our own lives, completely, according to our specifications, not some Higher Power’s.
“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” James 3:16
But none of us would even exist, let alone, survive our catastrophes, were it not for this Higher Power.
“In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10
And come on, a large component of that existing, surviving, and even flourishing relies on The Most High’s grace…
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” Ephesians 2:5
We fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.
Still, it doesn’t nullify our reality of needing help with, yes, even our efforts.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
Indeed, Elohim knows “we need all these things” (Matthew 6:32; Luke 12:30).
Accepting grace as something which is beyond us, in spite of us, doesn’t change its powerful importance in our lives.
He is not looking down on us, just waiting to proclaim our doom by stating, “‘that wasn’t enough. You didn’t clap hard enough. Tinkerbell’s dead.’”
Rather, this is more like it…
“And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.’” Exodus 34:6
Perhaps, we have some growing up to do in the grace arena then.
Perhaps, through wisdom and maturity, we can come to a changed definition of the word “enough.”
Perhaps, we need to apply grace to our imperfect recovery journeys AND our imperfect human selves.
It’s not on us to embody this word; it’s The Almighty, wonderful, baffling and mysterious as He is.
And, with that, maybe we can finally experience some Tinkerbell resurrection in our lives.