Sunday, January 17, 2010

Losing the Weight of the World to Grace

I feel I must bear witness to a small but extraordinary change that has occurred within me over the last week. Even as I write the sentence, I worry this new peace will fly away like a frightened bird, or a tuft of cotton--so light and seemingly ungrounded as to be blown away by the slightest stirring. But I am simultaneously acknowledging that the fear driving that worry is not founded in truth and therefore is not welcome. Acknowledging that seems to help.

It's not a change that I can take any credit for because, believe me, I've been trying hard, unsuccessfully, for months and months to produce it to no avail. No, this change can only be attributed to Grace permeating more of my heart in some divine, mysterious way. It has always been Grace that makes any genuine change in me. And the amazing thing about Grace is it has nothing to do with us, with me. I cannot make it come. I cannot will myself to believe it. I cannot convince myself of its virtue. Grace is, and Grace does, and now I am different.

The change, for me, is monumental, and I'm not sure how to fully identify it except to say that for nearly a year, I have felt as though I walk through my days with the kids in a cloud of anxiety that enshrouds all I do with them and think about them. Not anxiety about their safety or immediate well-being but about who they will become in their future. It was a state of mind that I knew was irrational, unhealthy, unfair, unfounded, and untrue, but I could not make myself stop. I could not will myself out of it. I could not change it myself, though I tried and tried and tried and cried and cried at times. I have wonderful friends who would speak such good and true things into my life about me as a mommy and about my kids as incredible people, and that helped for a time, but still this nagging worry left me reeling in a spiral of fear.

It is a terrible thing to feel enslaved to something. To feel stuck in lies. To recognize the problem and feel powerless to solve it. To flounder in a flood of circular thinking that is at once ridiculous and terrifying. Mostly it is scary, and exhausting. To parent from this place feels like walking a tightrope of discernment without being able to clearly see the rope, which hangs somewhere below in a haze of unclarity.

I'm not sure I can quite explain what happened except that I began to recognize that fear is not love. In fact, I do not think fear can love. After all, perfect Love casts out fear. As someone who knows Love, I know, therefore, that I have not been given a spirit of fear. I can acknowledge that children are a gift. If I am living out of fear, something is wrong.

So here is my small but profound revelation: when I live in this fear and anxiety, I am believing that my kids are identified by and judged by (to use Biblical terms) their "flesh,” their "sin": in worldly terms, their imperfections driven by insecurity, fear, hurt, loss, and pain. I am allowing myself to believe their flesh, choosing to judge them by this real but inaccurate piece of them. But the truth is that God, who is Love, chooses to identify them--and us--not by our flesh but by our spirit, which has somehow been hidden in (covered by, identified with) the perfection of Christ. And that truth shall set us free.

I think the degree to which we believe we are identified by Christ is the degree to which we live less and less out of our flesh—the degree to which we are freed from our flesh’s drive to make ourselves something in response to our fear and insecurity. Strangely, the gospel--"good news"--is that we can't make ourselves good but that God makes us good through Jesus. When we receive Christ's goodness and believe it, we stop trying to make ourselves more good or less bad through our flesh and simply are good through His spirit in us.

My anxiety over the kids was the result of viewing them through their flesh rather than through their spirit; it was based in my inaccurate perception of them rather than in God's perception of them, which sees Christ. The former bred fear; the latter rests in faith, hope, and love. And when I believe Jesus in them, I parent them in faith, with hope, in love.

Our kids learn who they are from what we believe about them. They believe our perception of them and act accordingly, just as we act according to our perception of what God believes about us. What if we believed that, far from believing our flesh, God looks at us and sees the righteousness (rightness, blamelessness, holiness, perfection) of Jesus? And there's nothing we need to do, nothing we can do, to achieve that? I think that’s called Grace. Grace is. Grace does. And we are different.

I have found a respite from the anxiety in this mystery: I am not called to identify my children by their flesh; I am called to help them believe exactly the opposite, to help them see who God has made them to be, by Grace. And this is how I am to view the world--not by their imperfections spawned by a lifetime of insecurity, fear, loss, hurt, and pain but by their spirit made whole and new in Christ. When I view the world this way and believe this redemption of the people around me, perhaps they can begin to believe it of themselves, too. And the more we all believe it, the more we begin to be it.

I've had a better week with the kids. It has been easier to remain calm, to handle mistakes and misbehaviors matter-of-factly, to be patient with childishness and testing without freaking out over its future implications. It matters how I perceive them, what I communicate to them about themselves. They don't behave perfectly; none of us will until our flesh returns to dust and ashes. But they are visibly happier, more confident in me, more confident in themselves. Ben, in particular, has been loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and good and kind and gentle and self-controlled. He has been tender and sweet and respectful. His manners have come readily. His spirit is lighter, probably because mine is.

I'm no longer shouldering the weight of the world. Someone else has done that for me, so I am gladly relinquishing a responsibility which was never mine to begin with. Someone else took on the flesh--the sin--of the whole world, including my children's, and gave me, in exchange, the easy burden and the light yoke of Love, which hopes all things, believes all things, and bears all things in the knowledge that "It is finished." There's nothing left for me to do.

I believe this, albeit with just a mustard seed of faith, but apparently this is enough to move the mountain of anxiety in my mind. Now, I can simply enjoy who God is creating in Ben and Abby as I raise them in this world, trusting that He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it.

Grace is. Grace does. And I am different. And they are different. And we are different. Amen.

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