Due to Difficulties Beyond Our Control

The Graceful Place in Prayer

Sometimes the fragrance of a moment just reeks! I can think of so many times when I’ve noticed the stench first—news of death, a life-threatening diagnosis, or painful circumstances that appear to have long term effects in the lives of loved ones. A wrongful accusation setting legal gears in motion with no end in sight. A friendship going down for the third time (and the first two times went unnoticed). That can just be a couple weeks in the life of Jen in a tougher season. Who hasn’t had that instant when things are just so wrong, so incomprehensibly wrong? The news hits hard in the gut like a fist, not a molecule of air left in the lungs—then the gasp.

The lungs ache for the gasp of air desperately needed after the initial shock of the news. Sometimes it’s in the moment, and the cycle plays out immediately. Sometimes it’s not felt for hours, days, or weeks. One thing is pretty certain in my world: reality is going to hit. Sobs may come with uncontrolled tears, or stunned silence might win out for quite some time.

There’s a precious gift I sometimes receive after the fallout: the quiet place. I find the best, freshest perspective on the “reality” that hit in the quiet. Truth is, that’s when I start to grasp the real reality. And what is that?

What I see and experience isn’t all there is.

That’s it. If I can get there, then I’m getting somewhere!

In all those “stinky” moments that threaten to overwhelm me, sap my strength, or knock me to the ground, there is a whole other realm of reality in existence, and I have to remember that. Jacob saw it (Genesis 28:12). Jesus lived with full knowledge and assurance of it (Matthew 3:16-17). Three disciples were immersed in it (Mark 9:1-13).  The twelve disciples experienced it after Jesus ascended (Acts 2: 1-12). Stephen saw the reality of it, too (Acts 7).

Dear Abba, let me always remember to walk by faith and not by sight! (2 Corinthians 5:7)

What if I am never given the opportunity to see it with my own eyes like the stories recounted in Scripture? Will my faith fail? Oh, I hope not! So, while the world is what I can see, I have to go where I cannot see. One way I do that is by prayer.

Recently, I heard a message on prayer. (That’s why I’m sitting here working this one out on the page.) The pastor simplified the prayer perspectives to a dichotomy; it was presented as God’s Will and Our Prayer. (See what I did there? I managed to simplify the simplification, and that’s probably not a fabulous idea.) That said, some lean toward prayer being God’s will alone; he has determined all things, and there will be no change. In the extreme, prayers might be forgone altogether with the understanding they are of no effect. Others size up the situation as our prayer alone; we pray, and we get what we pray for. This perspective in extremes has different troubles along the lines of power struggle, success and failure, manipulation of God, serious disappointment, even abuse.

I don’t regurgitate sermons here; suffice it to say I fall in between the two extremes. I am wholeheartedly sure of God’s sovereignty in all things with his wisdom and purposes being his own. That isn’t without sadness and struggle at times when I don’t understand the final decision. I also believe our loving Abba Father wants us to come to him in our need and ask! If I ask for something, as my good, heavenly Father, he’s not going to give me something evil in return (Luke 11:13, which does not promise we get what we ask for, I notice).

So in my quiet moment, after the gut punch and gasp, I sit and talk with my Daddy.

I talk with him about the pains (mine and others’). I ask the questions I so desperately wish to know the answers to. I share my whole heart, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes I tell him I can’t understand. Sometimes I tell him I think he might be wrong in allowing such things. I’m raw with emotion, just like anyone might be. But, I’m honest. I have to be.

Often, the fragrance of grace wafts through soon enough. Sometimes it mingles with saltwater tears. Sometimes it perfumes the air between the notes to the tunes I’m humming or singing. More times than I can count, I barely perceive it.

You see, I pray. I pray for me, my friends and family members, and our nation in fervent words. It’s not in the words, I’m sure. It’s in my hope that God will reveal his will in powerfully loving ways. In death, I’ve never seen a resurrected person, but I’ve seen him do amazing, loving things. In illness, I’ve seen supernatural healing, natural-medicinal healing, and what looks like no healing. Someday I’ll have the talk with him that reveals all of his wisdom, love, grace, and mercy in his will that I didn’t understand at the time. For now, I gather the crumbs that fall my way every so often. It is his will, after all, and it is backed by wisdom I can’t fathom with my limited mind and perspective.

But, I pray. I’m commanded to—without ceasing, for all the saints, for my enemies, for the sick (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; Matthew 5:44; James 5:14)—because, who knows, God just may choose to move when he is asked.

God knows all things (1 John 3:20b). When his people humbly pray, he hears them (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The space for grace in prayer is that it deepens my relationship with my Abba and those in my life. I’m constantly reminded that I and this world desperately need him alone. The answers to my prayers aren’t the goal at that point, are they?

Pray.

Because, who knows….

God will move, and I cannot begin to know how he will until he does.

Dear God, you are good—all the time. For my friends and family who have deep, heart-felt, desperate needs, for me who seeks your heart and real transformation, hear our pleas that rise to you in golden bowls. In your mercy, grant us grace for the struggles in everyday life. We pray because, who knows…
Amen.

~Jennifer

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“Gritty” Grace

Not long ago, I was working through a chunk of painful events and mean treatment that repeatedly characterized a close relationship for decades. It was the kind of difficult process maybe all of us go through at some time in our lives. It’s the relationship that began, got rough, and slowly ground away your emotional strength and dignity. Oh, I hope there will be readers who can gently say, “No, Jen, I have no idea what that’s like,” in response! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I’d warmly and genuinely celebrate that with them. I think we all would.

I’m wrangling my thoughts back into place. Sorry, back to what I was saying—

As I considered the sandpapery relationship that left me raw, I realized a couple of things. First, the repeated offenses and roughness was completely wrong. Very few of the personal exchanges were characterized by love, respect, or honor. While expected outside of strong, godly instruction, it is inexcusable. The behavior often qualified as abusive. This kind of thing happens in relationships where there is a “one up and one down” perception.*  I was always the “one down” at the time, so I was on the receiving end of the nastiness from the “one up.” Secondly, I realized there are things that shape us like tools in the trades (saws, chisels, and sandpaper), but these tools are vastly different in the hands of ignorant humans versus a loving God. One haphazardly wrecks; the other patiently, methodically finishes to a masterpiece.

When I think about all that, I’m sort of stopped short. There is a dual reality coming to mind: others have been horribly misguided in their attempts to shape me, and I have been equally so in the lives of others.

Ouch!

Where’s the gritty grace, you ask? Can we just get to the “nice, fragrant grace” that perfumes this blog? Yes, let’s go there, but it’s not without cost.

My “grit” stemmed from tension in the dual reality. Others have done real damage in my life; likewise, I do damage to others. If the pain I cause is rooted in past hurts, I am responsible to myself and those around me to seek out the source and do whatever necessary to address it. This isn’t a “pulling myself up by my bootstraps” kind of thing. It’s sitting quietly with Jesus, reading truth, and determining the path to freedom and righteousness (and that path cuts right through “gritty grace”).

In my life, past pain has been stuffed, deferred, and transferred to unsuspecting, innocent bystanders. People in my life now have paid dearly for the agony caused by offenders in a whole other chapter in my life story. An encouraging friend helped me address the source of the pain, and I’ll give you a brief look at what the steps we took.

  • Identify and focus on the relationship that caused the pain.
  • Create a list of all the offenses. Every. Last. One. (I waited until I ran out of hurts and tears.)
  • Determine to free yourself from all of it—accepting there may be no real payback, ever.
  • Let that person who hurt you so deeply off the hook. (That’s where I burned the list with my friend.)
  • Recommit to the promise to let the offender off the hook as often as necessary. (It gets easier.)

I’m convinced nothing requires more true grit than that, but the why behind it all fuels the decision.

When I factor in the biblical understanding of my and others’ offenses, the grace I’ve received, and the truth of God’s unbreakable promises—I’m overwhelmed. I simply have to take up the challenge of gritty grace, extending it to those who don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it either. While sins against others are definitely offensive or abusive, the reality of offending the One whose image we bear should be much more attention-getting!

Just to get me thinking about the biblical truth, I studied the following:

It is mine to avenge; I will repay.  Deuteronomy 32:35a NIV

[David to Saul] May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 1 Samuel 24:12

Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. Psalm 32:2

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. Romans 4:8

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14

 If those verses don’t strike you, take a gander at the “Unmerciful Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35). That story really makes me reflect on my desperate need for grace and the absolute command to extend it to others. (Yes, this growth process will be ongoing. Daily. With arduous effort. Especially in the little things in life.) It requires “gritty obedience” to be gracious to those who have wounded us. And, lest we forget, we have a tree trunk in the way as we’re removing sawdust from another’s eye.

All that said, I’m not minimizing evil behavior, abuse, or hurtful neglect. Those things may require penalty to the full extent of the law in order to address the damage, or contain the individual’s destructive influence. But, where there can be no punishment, amends, recapture of time or opportunity, or conciliation (for various reasons), we can free ourselves with a gritty decision. The power the individual and circumstances have held over us can be undone. You and I can be free!

I’ve been thinking about what I said in my post yesterday:

…doesn’t the magnitude of the offense seem to magnify the grace? I hope I never despise those things which (I thought) required the most grace.

Sweet, sweet grace! More grace, God, more grace. I think I catch the faint scent wafting through—

Have you thought about the possibility of someone in another time and place affecting your “now” and your relationships to those around you? What have you done to begin to loosen the grip the person or events have had on you? I’d love to hear more about your gritty grace obedience.

~Jennifer

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* Check out some favorite resources for further reading:
Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud
The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee

Grace to Wait?

I’m finally back to write. It’s not that I haven’t tried; I did. I began the most emotionally moving post I’ve ever attempted, honestly. And I sort of fell apart. That can happen. It’s the fruit on the tree that has formed and plumped up, but it’s too green.

Green bananas have that “squeaky feel” on your teeth, you know? Green strawberries are hard and bitter. Green tomatoes can be different, if fried, I suppose. Perhaps a little batter, heat, and oil is what’s needed on my little draft that sits, lonely, in the darkness on the back side of Fragrant Grace where you can’t see. I’ll work on it.

In either case, the entry I’ve written or the one I’ve yet to write, neither was going to be easy. In the “dash between the dates” called life, there are those occasional memories and thoughts—moguls impersonating mountains. They aren’t that big, really, but somehow I’ve got a magnifying glass on them, or something. They just stop me for a while.

I’m not going to let them stop me for long. I’m not that kind of girl. I just need a little time to process.

And maybe that’s what blogging is about sometimes. It’s the pause, the wrestle, and then the flow.

I’m still here, and I hope you all are, too. I miss interacting with my friends here each time I walk away from the keyboard having hit the “Save Draft” or “Move to Trash” button. Thankfully, I’m confident these things in my heart will work their way around to grace and peace, ready to be shared.

There is grace to wait. I’m sure of it.

Have you ever been in this place of waiting? What was helpful to move beyond it  for you?

Be blessed, everyone!

~Jennifer