Creating a Culture of Grace

Image of woman looking out over horizon

Image by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Our response to other people’s failures and mistakes matter. A lot.

Grace isn’t overlooking sin or acting as if it’s acceptable nor is it diminishing its effects.

Grace says: “I know you messed up here, and that stinks. But your actions won’t push me away. Instead, they motivate me to draw closer. Because I know you can do better. I believe you will do better, and I’ll be walking beside you each step of the way.”

Our daughter has always been the type who longs to please. She needs to know her father and I are proud of her and at times, she has an unhealthy fear of displeasing us. When she was younger, I often told her, “I almost want you to fail in this so that you can see failure isn’t the end of the world.” I wanted her to make some big mistakes so that her fear of making them would diminish.

Mostly, I wanted her to experience grace and learn to live in it.

This past year, she got engaged, which opens up a whole new set of potential “failures.” Failures I know she and her fiancé will experience, perhaps even again and again. They won’t always make the right choices or love one another well. They’ll argue and say things they wish they hadn’t. They’ll make poor career decisions, some that may even cost them tens of thousands.

But they’ll be okay, because they’ll always have the grace of God, of one another, and of my husband and I to fall back on. My prayer is that the knowledge of those truths will provide the safety, the catalyst, for their growth.

Fear paralyzes, but Scripture says perfect love casts out fear.

Let me play on those words a bit. We all fear we’ll be cast out. That we’ll do something that will cause others to reject us and cut us off. But love draws near, and the love that draws near casts out the fear of being cast off. If I instill nothing else into our daughter’s heart, I want it to be this: My love remains.

Imagine our relationships, our churches and Bible study groups, if we learned to communicate grace-based love, not just with our words, but more importantly, with our actions and reactions.

This begs the question: how do we create a culture of grace?

I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but I feel I get closer when I consider God’s heart for me. Here’s how we can mirror that heart to others.

Understand failure will occur.

We’re all in a process of growing. We know this intellectually but can easily forget when someone else behaves in a less than loving or godly way. Often, when I disciplined our daughter when she was growing up, I’d say, “You’re supposed to mess up. You’re a kid. That’s why God gave you parents.”

That didn’t mean I condoned or ignored her behavior. It meant I saw it through a grace-and-growth based lens. Paul putflower image with text from Phil. 1:6 it this way, when speaking to the relatively new believers in Philippi: “[I am] confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

Notice:

  • Paul knew the believers hadn’t reached a state of completion. He dropped his expectations of perfection.
  • He didn’t take ownership for their growth. Oh, what peace we experience when we stop owning other people’s behavior! As their spiritual mentor, Paul was responsible to teach, exhort, and train. He was not responsible for how the Philippians responded.
  • His confidence wasn’t in his teaching or even in the Philippians’ ability to grow. His confidence rested in Christ, the author and perfector of their faith, the only One with the power to change lives.

Prioritize relationships above behavior, mistakes, and incidents.

This means viewing everything as an opportunity to connect, to get to the heart level. Jesus excelled at this. When He met a woman who’d been married five times and was living with a man out of wedlock, He didn’t zero in on her relationship history. Instead, He saw and spoke to her heart, her need, saying, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink”—or, who I am—“you would’ve asked Him and He would’ve given you living water” (John 4:10, NIV).

Jesus offered Himself. Completely.

When He met a tax collector who’d swindled money from others, He didn’t list all the man’s sins. Instead, He drew the man close, saying, “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5, NIV).

Relationships change people. When healthy and filled with grace, they give others a safe place to land, to become honest with themselves and others, and to grow.

Deal with things as they come then move on.

When our daughter was a teenager, she and I went through a “passive aggressive” phase where we routinely threw snarky comments at one another. Whenever we took time to unpack these interactions, we learned one of us had spoken out of hurt or fear. Watch others, or even better, analyze yourself, and I suspect you’ll discover the same.

Usually, this behavior stems from aversion to conflict, yet that is precisely where it leads—to ongoing, unresolved conflict. We discovered how important, how healing and powerful, it can be to simply state our feelings and concerns. This allowed us to deal with them honestly and fully—to get to the real issue, which so often wasn’t what we originally suspected. Then, once we’d addressed that, we moved on, grudge and hostility free.

Granted, I’ll never love others as Christ loves me. I’ll have moments of snark, of hurt feelings and misperceptions, but I want to grow in this area. I want to create a culture of grace, where relationships are prioritized over mistakes and poor behavior and growth is valued above perfection.

Let’s talk about this! What are some ways you’ve experienced grace-based relationships? Can you share any examples with us? What are some ways you try to intentionally create a culture of grace, and what results have you seen?

Speaking of living in and giving out grace, have you grabbed your free copy of Becoming His Princess yet? You can do HERE.

cover for Bible studyDo you ever feel insignificant or unseen? As if what you do or even who you are isn’t quite good enough? Does your confidence level vary based on who you’re around and how their bank account or how accomplishment list compares to yours? If so, this study, based on the life of Sarah from the Old Testament Scriptures, is for you.

For seven weeks, we’ll follow her uncertain and at times terrifying journey from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur to the land promised to her husband, and ultimately, the place of rest God beckons each of us toward. He met her in the middle of her pain, her shame, and all her striving, and rewrote her story—through grace. A grace bigger than her greatest failures and that proved sufficient for all her insufficiencies.Step by step, God taught this once-scorned woman to live as His beloved, His princess.

As we follow her journey recorded in the pages of Scripture, He’ll help us do the same. We’ll learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His power and presence in our most challenging circumstances, find rest from our striving, and live daily in His grace.

And before you go, fun news! Christina Sparks, you won a copy of Janet Thompson’s book, Everyday Brave! I’ll email you soon to connect you with her so you can get her your mailing address. Thanks for engaging with us last week!

When Others Hurt Us

Image by Gokil on Unsplash

My friend’s comments and attitude stunned me and left me clamoring for a reply. At first, I had none. An evening excursion I’d anticipated with joy, that I’d set aside time for, paid money for, was quickly turning to regret.

The words tumbling out of my friend’s mouth weren’t only hurtful, they were unjustified. It was almost as if she were searching for things to criticize and condemn. Though I persevered, doing my best to enjoy the rest of our time together, my mind kept rehashing every painful statement.

My emotional reaction would’ve been different had she had been calling out sin, or perhaps lovingly pointing me to growth. Then I would’ve known her remarks came from a place of love. But that didn’t seem to be the case. Every declaration appeared to erupt from a place of … indignation.

Why was she so angry? Did she really view me the way her words implied?

The next day, still nursing the sting from the night before, I was rehashing it all through prayer to God. Every statement she’d made, why it was wrong and unfair, and what each revealed regarding the state of her heart.

About two minutes into my rant, God’s voice swept through my mind: “Be the friend to her you quote pulled from text on green backgroundwant her to be to you.”

In other words, show grace. Recognize that, yes, her words and behavior had been ugly, but there were countless times mine were as well. If I were to list every time I’ve done or said something hurtful to someone I love, I’d be buried in paper and ink.

I never have and never will love others perfectly.

Neither would my friend. Most likely, her behavior the night before stemmed from something completely outside of our encounter. She was probably hurting or experiencing stress or uncertainty in some area. Or perhaps she’d merely slipped into a sinful state. We’ve all done that.

But God’s love and gentle presence remains, and knowing we still have a great deal of growth ahead, He lovingly convicts then picks us up and carries us to that next level of grace.

Philippians 1:6 tells us all who belong to Christ are in a state of progress. We’re teetering someplace between who we once were and who we’ll become. This verse brings great comfort when we’re the ones who’ve tilted back toward sinful behaviors, but this hope-filled promise involves those who hurt us as well.

With every interaction, especially the most painful and disappointing, may we all remember that each one of us are in a state of becoming. God will complete the work in us, and perhaps most importantly, He carries the bulk of the weight.

Let’s Celebrate!

Although I’m not one to make New Year resolutions per say, I do love the annual chance for self-evaluation and goal-setting. As a coach’s daughter, I live by goals. Daily, weekly, annually. For me, there is nothing more satisfying, motivating, than reaching a goal, except perhaps when I reach one I purposefully set just outside my comfort zone. But I have to be careful that amidst all my self-evaluation and goal setting, I’m not shooting for perfection. Occasionally, amidst my reaching, I need to stop and take stock. To look back at how far I’ve come and rejoice in what God has done.

Before you begin your New Year, with all that’s wrapped up in that, take a moment to look back. Through God’s eyes. I’ve heard it said the closer you are to God, the more apparent your sins are. This makes absolute sense! It’s like standing beneath floodlights dressed in white. Suddenly you notice the slight yellow to your shirt, every stain, every discoloration. Or more accurately, like going to the dentist for a crown, viewing all the shades of teeth, realizing yours are anything but white.

When we draw near to a holy God, we’ll begin to evaluate our lives through a holy lens as His Spirit reveals those blemishes He plans to change. Why? Because He’s in the process of refining us, molding us, transforming us to be more like Him. A glorious thing! An exciting thing! And an expression of His pure love.

But let’s go back to our teeth analogy. Have you ever stopped to look at those before and after shots in the dentist’s office? The ones that shock us most are those that started out the worst, with inflamed gums and crooked teeth.

The same is true in our spiritual walk, only we rarely take time to ponder the before and after. Instead, we compare ourselves to others, zero in on our shortcomings, and beat ourselves up over every failure.

But today, I want you to celebrate…who you are in Christ, what He’s done in you, what He plans to do.

On Tuesday (thanks to some nudging by Patty Wysong–waving) I’ll share a bit of my less-than-glorious holiday experiences. I’ll talk about a time when I was less than wifely, less than lovely, squelching the agape love of God with selfishness and pride. But this morning, as I look at that time of marital bickering, I realize even then I’d exhibited growth. As did my husband. We argued, and our pride rose up, but unlike our fights of fourteen years ago, we didn’t hurl hurtful words or bitter accusations. So, even in our moment of weakness, we demonstrated a sliver of strength–God’s grace, moving in us. And that was cause for celebration.

What about you? What has God done for you in 2011? Share it here, and write it down so that the next time you feel like a failure, you can pause and rejoice in how far you’ve come. Then, pull out your plotting, goal-setting, heart-evaluating pen and ask God to show you where He wants to take you in 2012. And start the new year with confidence, knowing He who called you is faithful and will perfect the plans He has for you. In fact, He’s got it all covered. All He asks is that you draw near, listen, and obey. He’ll take care of everything else. Because, as Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Let’s talk about this!

Join me at Living by Grace as we celebrate the grace-filled transformation God has brought in our hearts, our families, our marriages–our lives.

(Have an amazing grace story you believe would inspire, comfort, or challenge my readers? Shoot it to me in an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail.com.)

The Ugly Barbie by Raine Sommersett

The following story is a modern day Velveteen Rabbit story saturated by grace. I’ve heard it said, the closer you grow to God, the more aware you are of your sin. This is certainly true in my case. Some days, my past swirls ceaselessly through my head, each harshly spoken word, each selfish act, rising to the surface until all I can do is say, “Help me, my Savior and King. Overcome everything unrighteous in me!” And that is where our hope is found, broken, resting in the Savior’s hands.

On those days when I feel as if I’ll never change, never do better or be better, I cling to God’s promise in Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

It is then that I remember that I will be better, but it won’t come from my determined effort. It will come from my full surrender, allowing God to do what needs to be done in me until I am more like His Son.

*     *     *

Here’s Raine’s story:

The other day, one of my co-workers told about a weekend shopping trip with his nine-year old daughter.  She had been saving up her allowance money for some time now and had decided it was time to buy a new doll.  So off they went, hand in hand to the local mall here in Yorktown, Virginia. They visited several stores, and eventually when she did not find what she wanted, they moved on to a few anchor stores down the street.  Still, after a few hours of searching, she did not find the doll she was looking for.

On his way home he stopped by the local Goodwill store.  He headed off to his section and she wandered (under his watchful eye) over to the toy section.  About 5 minutes later he was ready to go so he stopped to get her.  She held a badly damaged Barbie doll, gently stroking what little hair remained.

“This one,” she said.  “This is the doll I want.”

My friend did not want to hurt her feelings but gently reminded her of the beautiful dolls that they had just left in the mall.  Though they cost more, he reasoned, she would probably like one of them better.  But she was emphatic, and after standing her ground he took her to the register and let her pay for it.

On the way home he watched as she held up the broken doll and talked to it.  “You’ll be better in no time,” she said.  An eye was missing, and the left leg did not seem original.  The clothes were shabby and a few of the fingers on one hand had been chewed off.  What a broken piece of junk, he thought.

As he told me this I could not help but picture my storied relationship with Jesus.  Every day I look into the mirror I realize that I am broken.  Every day a part of my sinful nature shows itself, and I get a fleeting glimpse of my own shame and sinfulness.  And then I remember what Jesus has done for me, and I am suddenly filled with hope.  I am wounded by my brokenness, but overjoyed that I have the honor of being called a Christian.

I think this is not true of me only, but all of you as well.  We are all broken in one way or another; often unable to rise to our calling.  But in the midst of this brokenness, there is a hand that reaches for us.  A savior who values us deeply. In the end, we sink or swim, rise or fall to a gracious God who loves us in a way we will never really understand.  You and I are the apples of His eye.  In the end, we dance to an audience of one.

I am learning to walk in this grace that sees my faults through the lens of the death and resurrection of His son.  I am learning that my brokenness, profound at times, will over time be mended by the One who plucked me off the shelf, looked at me and said, “This One!”

*     *     *

Raine Sommersett is a retired Army Officer, though I still work for the Department of Defense.  I have published numerous articles in professional venues, and have often contributed to newspapers in my local community.  I have been writing towards publication for 10 years, and have completed 3 full length novels (all Young Adult), numerous short stories and volumes of poetry.  My first novel, Willford Creek, won first place in the juvenile category of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference Literary Contest.  I love to write prose, and believe strongly that the foundation for good writing is built on prose and reading other great writing.  I live with my family in Yorktown, Virginia, and will soon move to the Seattle area.