Walking our faith: ‘Not our mistakes, but our beauty’ (column)
In Kathleen Norris’s book of essays on faith, she describes God’s grace like this: One day, sitting in the departure gate of an airport, she watched a young couple with an infant. As the infant looked around, every time its gaze would make contact with a human it would beam with delight. It didn’t matter whether the human was young or old, ugly or beautiful, the infant smiled with joy.
Enchanted, Norris concluded, “I realized this is how God looks at us, staring into our faces in order to be delighted, to see the creature he made and called good, along with the rest of creation. And, as Psalm 139 puts it, darkness is as nothing to God, who can look right through whatever evil we’ve done in our lives to the creature made in the divine image.”
If God’s grace is given freely as an infant’s smile, why do we find it so difficult to accept?
Perhaps it begins with the simple definition of grace: “unmerited favor.”
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As humans, especially as Americans, we believe that everything we have, either good or bad, has been earned through our own efforts, the sweat of our brow, or the result of our cunning.
Therefore, it goes against our ingrained nature to believe that God, so much greater than we, would willingly provide favor that we did not earn and could never be worthy of. And yet, that is the definition of grace.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks of my personal faith is embracing God’s love for me. Oh yes, I sing the familiar hymn. But when I closely examine my heart, the words ring hollow.
So it is only natural that my acceptance of God’s grace is somewhat akin to my belief that I will eventually win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse “$7,000 a Week for Life” contest.
But that is because I do not see myself as God sees me.
Yesterday, the Mystery Lovers Book Club of Summit County held our monthly meeting at Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco. We discussed “Still Life,” the first book in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny, one of my favorite authors. In this mystery series one of the most beloved characters is a horrible old woman named Ruth. She is a raging alcoholic, when she speaks it is only to insult or swear at her friends, and she has made some terrible mistakes in her long life.
Yet, when this award-winning poet puts pen to paper, it is as if a beam of light shoots from her barnacled old soul straight to heaven. The beauty and sorrow of her words is incandescent.
If Kathleen Norris’s delighted infant is a metaphor for how God feels about us, then Louise Penny’s Ruth is how God sees us. Not our mistakes, but our beauty. The golden light of our soul that perhaps we are blind to, but which God sees because he created us in his own image.
Yet we remain as blind to God’s unmerited favor as we do to our inner light. Because we cannot see ourselves as a piece of God’s heart, we do not believe we merit God’s favor. That it is given freely and available always. That there is nothing that can separate us from his love.
What then stops us from receiving it? What stops me, a lifelong Christian, from truly accepting God’s grace and love?
If I cannot accept God’s grace, if I cannot believe I am worthy of God’s love, is all hope lost? Is the divide never to be breached?
I believe all we can do, all I can do, is turn toward God as I am. With open arms and an open heart, turn toward God and say, “Here I am.”
God has promised that he will do the rest. “I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)
With our whole heart.
On three different occasions, I have had three different priests ask me during Confession if I truly believe that God loves me.
God is trying to reach me. God is reaching toward each of us.
When I finally believe God loves me it will not be difficult to trust God. And if I trust God with a heart wide open, fear of the future will no longer be background white noise.
Experiencing God’s grace, trusting God’s limitless love, creates the freedom to embrace the future with arms wide open.
That is amazing grace.
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