Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Growing in Grace

I'm taking a great deal of comfort from one of Jen's recent posts titled "When I Am Weak, Then I Am...Weak" The comments detail some of the more elusive mysteries of being a true Christian, namely, allowing God's power to work through us in our imperfections. As the wife of an atheist, this is the sort of thing that I have huge problems trying to explain to someone who has no concept of a higher power, and who thinks so-called "Christians" are just using their religion as an excuse to judge and oppress people.

I've been trying for quite some time to communicate to my husband the benefits of belief in God, a point which he vehemently disputes. I wish he could read the beautiful words of those commenters, faithful men and women who are using all their strength to be humble instruments of God's will. The countless stories of finding peace even in the midst of severe sickness illustrate to me so clearly that faith allows weak and imperfect people to be powerful instruments of love in the world. Surely that is a benefit to faith!

Jen's follow up post about letting it be God who does all the work, also resonated with me very deeply. I recently spent some time with an old friend. We used to be quite close, but now our values and lifestyles are so different that it's hard to come up with topics of conversation that don't result in an argument. I still don't know how to handle conversations with her, and am always worried that she might criticize my life choices, or that I won't be able to refrain from criticizing hers, even if unintentionally.

I struggle with how I am supposed to be around her. When I keep my opinions to myself, I feel that I am not being authentic, but I don't know how to explain my beliefs without casting aspersions on hers. I avoid calling her, and spend the few conversations we do have praying to the Holy Spirit to guide me.

And inside...oh, inside! As CS Lewis put it,
"I am suffering incessant temptations to uncharitable thoughts at present; one of those black moods in which nearly all one's friends seem to be selfish or even false. And how terrible that there should be even a kind of pleasure in thinking evil.”
I have such a hard time loving unconditionally. Yet I don't feel that God is calling me to end those relationships that challenge me. I know that everyone has people like this in their lives. And I have been abundantly blessed with true friends who are delightful company, honest and caring, and interested in many of the same things as I.

I am ashamed of myself for complaining. What sort of an example am I setting to my husband? Is this how one is "made strong in Christ?" Clearly, I am not a true Christian. When I think of how St. Therese of the Little Flower taught herself to see Christ in the mean nun that everyone hated, and how successful she was at radiating joy in the woman's presence, I am filled with shame at my pitiful attempts to "endure" her company.

I have spent my whole life struggling with this exact problem. And at the ripe age of 34, I have so little to show for it. True, I have maintained relationships with people I don't actually like. But those relationships are neither satisfying nor healthy. All I want to do is cry and run away.

I have been beating myself up for not being "better" when I read Jen's posts, and it dawned on me that I have never been weaker than I am right now. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I am sunken as low as it gets. Perhaps God's strength is flowing through me. Perhaps keeping my opinions to myself is all I can accomplish in my vulnerable and emotional state. Perhaps, right now, that's all God is asking of me.

I am hearing Him say, over and over again, "Let go. It's in my hands. Trust me." He has said this about my son's schooling, about my marriage, about the adoption, about everything. I can't have it my way. I don't get to have a perfect life with no tension and no drama. I may want that, but I don't get to have it. I just have to let it go.

I have to let go of the person I want to be, too. I am not perfect. I don't get to hold my head high and think, well, at least I know I am following God's will and doing as He asks of me. I may want that, but I don't get to have it! Instead I get a slow, creeping progression where I struggle to determine what sort of relationship I can have with people I don't like, and then the even harder struggle to hold fast to my boundaries while still allowing room for hope, love, and compassion. I get to be ashamed of myself, and have to ask forgiveness for the opportunities I missed and the uncharitable thoughts I allowed to fester.

I don't want this to seem at all like some sort of justification for my imperfections, but rather as a way to put them in perspective. I am trying. Trying, and failing, as humans do. I will continue to try, because I will continue to have hope. I am starting to see just how important hope is, and how much can be accomplished by someone who hopes and trusts in the Lord, and who does not give up (either on themselves or on others!)

I hope I'm growing in grace. If, at the end of the day, all I am able to do is keep silent and pray, then that's what I'll do. And I'll hope that someday, if God wills it, I can do all in Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)


Kathy A said...

Beautiful post. I feel compelled to refer you to the best book I am currently reading about peace. "Searching for and Maintaining Peace" by Fr Jacques Phillipe. It is practical and sooo very wise. I do not have time to write much about the book - -but please read the reviews on Amazon. peace.

claire said...

Great post! I like the paragraph ending in "I just have to let it go" esp. I can really relate!
And I liked how you linked it to Jen's post--I hadn't thought about that before, either.