What happens when you expect judgment and shame, and receive grace instead?
That’s the question addressed by our two brave guests today. This is the last — for now! — post in our “Spend It Offering Light” series. (#OfferLight) First time reading? Learn the story behind our series here. “Spend It Offering Light” features real people turning their fears into something that helps others, into light.
Sometimes I get kind of self-righteous about my beliefs. If only other Christians could be as tolerant as me, I think, then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Why can’t “they” just get it?
Then I am reminded of where self-righteousness got me a decade ago.
The neon orange sign said “HOMOSEXUALS GO TO HELL: REVELATION 21:8.” A young man held it, alone, on the corner of a busy intersection near my community college. “HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABOMINATION TO GOD” read another sign taped to his parked truck.
I was 18. I thought I was taking a stand for God.
He had collected a small crowd of critics, who were trying to shoo him away with boos and hisses. The man, who looked about my age, quietly stood his ground.
I felt sorry for him, and although I didn’t love his delivery, I genuinely believed he was standing for the truth.
This is what I did next. I ran into 7-11, bought a cold Coke, and delivered it to him.
“You’re doing a good thing,” I told him.
“You’re doing a good thing,” the opposing group of students sneered at me in falsetto voices.
Their scorn made me feel like a real warrior for Christ.
Feeling very godly, I thought Jesus would probably buy a soda for his persecutors too. So I went back in 7-11, bought a few more sodas, and passed them out to the crowd. The Persecutors softened and thanked me for the gesture. I probably said “Jesus bless you,” or something like that.
I drove away feeling proud of myself for this Divine Appointment. I stood for what was right, yet showed compassion – the perfect balance of loving the sinner and hating the sin. Thank you Jesus for emboldening me, I prayed in the car.
Ten years later, the encounter haunts me.
As I slowly, cautiously, rediscover the gospel, I entertain a question I would have denounced as heresy a decade ago. I ask it, I let it sit there. I marinate in it. My body relaxes into it, my spirit drinks it in: Does God really love everybody?
Maybe some of you can relate.
The only reason I ever could have changed is because someone once showed grace to me.
Can I show grace to others at a different place in their journey?
Where is the line between standing firm against hate and greed and cruelty and injustice, while still having compassion for people – even the people perpetuating things we can’t stand?
I haven’t found it yet, so let me know if you have. Meanwhile, I’ll err on the side of grace, because self-righteousness never got me anywhere good.
Carly Gelsinger is a former journalist, a mother to a crayon-eating toddler, a wife, and a sucker for eucalyptus groves on the California Central Coast. She is a recovering fundamentalist Pentecostal finding grace in The Episcopal Church.
Parched. That’s how I felt. My heart was shriveled, my heart was dry. I had nothing left to give. I was depleted in every way.
I can list the reasons why, but I’m not sure they matter. Any number of things can leave us dry and alone. In my life, my marriage was in trouble. I was isolated from friends, disconnected from family, and all of the ways I’d related to God in the past no longer applied. Church was splintering my family apart, and I could not envision my future. I felt as though God had led me off a cliff. Off a cliff, and into a wasteland.
In the middle of that hard season, my husband sent me a link to an article. I do not remember the title or author’s name. What I remember was that church was splintering her family, too. I stood in my kitchen and read her story over and again. With each word, I could breathe a little easier. That article did not singularly change my life, but it helped me feel less alone. During that desolate time, words became bread crumbs, leading me to a new approach to faith and to marriage.
Now, I write.
Anywhere I can, every time I can, I write. Freely I have received, freely I will give. God dropped grace into my life, word by word, at a time when nothing else could reach me. Now that I am free from that life, I share the grace I received from others.
Stephanie Gates is the mom to four beautifully rambunctious little kids and wife to a guy who still makes her smile. If you’ve ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever left your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the tiptop of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, you know something about Stephanie’s life. You can find more of her story at A Wide Mercy, or follow along on Facebook.
What’s your experience of grace? Join the conversation in the comments below!
One commenter will be chosen at random to receive a free copy of Sheridan Voysey’s recent spiritual memoir, Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams Into New Beginnings.
Resurrection Year is “a hope-filled story about starting again after a dream has died—an emotive, poetic, and at times humorous discovery of the healing qualities of beauty, play, friendship, and love.” In short, it’s about grace.
Random selection of our winner will happen Wednesday, May 21 at 12p CST. Good luck to all!
Update: Congratulations to Laurie, our randomly-chosen winner! Laurie will receive a free copy of Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey.