Grace has a way of weaving itself through the fabric of my life. In fact, the earliest threads emerged before I was born, as my parents chose a name for me--one derived from charis, a Greek word often translated as grace. They hoped that I would be someone who lived fully into God's grace and extended that grace to others.
As I've grown older, I've found this theme of grace increasingly meaningful ... and increasingly ironic.
On the meaningful side of things, I recall moments like one during my college years, when a young woman (almost a complete stranger) told me that I had presence of grace about me. That when she saw me, she saw grace.
On the ironic side of things, perfectionism is one of my greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses. With this perfectionism comes often unreasonably high standards that I place on myself and others, and with those high standards come the potential for disappointment, criticism judgment, and resentment. When I'm striving to earn favor through my achievements and perfect results, or when I'm frustrated with someone for letting me down by not being as perfect as I want them to be ... it's hard to find grace. In those moments, grace is not what I instinctively offer or receive.
And as a bonus: on the coincidental side of things, a significant portion of my job is to manage a blog named Charis.
Within the past 18 months or so, I climbed aboard the Enneagram bandwagon, and dissolved into tears about five words in to Suzanne Stabile's description of the One type in her Know Your Number workshop. Digging into the Enneagram has both exposed a whole lot of my ugliness and offered me tools for becoming a healthier version of myself, with all my strengths and faults. Several weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a series of songs inspired by each Enneagram type, in which the artist seeks to celebrate the beauty of each type, offering a word of redemption. The whole song about Ones resonates with me, but especially the sentiment in these lines:
But the list goes on forever,
of all the ways I could be better, in my mind.
As if I could earn God's favor given time,
or at least "congratulations"...
Now, I have learned my lesson;
the price of this so-called perfection is everything.
I've spent my whole life searching desperately
to find that grace requires nothing of me.
--One, by Sleeping At Last, from Atlas: Year TwoMy natural inclination is to run myself ragged in an attempt to earn favor--or, at the very least, a pat on the back--from God, from others, from myself. Which leads to super fun things like burnout (yep, dealt with that twice in my adult life, and I'm not that old), pure exhaustion at the end of a workday, smoldering resentment toward those who don't measure up to my unrealistic standards, and the inability to resist pointing out typos on restaurant menus.
And yet. Grace is just sitting there, a gift waiting to be accepted. Receiving it "requires nothing of me."
The day after I first heard the song "One," a coworker complimented me on something. It was almost as a throwaway comment, but I responded with far more gratitude and "are you serious?" than the simple comment warranted, probably because I was feeling all tender and reflective about my One-ness and, therefore, extra critical of myself. (It's extra fun when you catch yourself criticizing yourself for being critical.) In that moment of vulnerability as I reacted to--even pushed back against--my coworker's kind word, two other teammates who were there chimed in with their own affirmations. In this area, these friends viewed me far more graciously than I viewed myself! In that moment, grace was freely offered. All I had to do was accept it.
I suspect I'll spend the rest of my life wrestling with my perfectionist, living into my charis-inspired name, and practicing the art of giving and receiving grace. (Side note: in the back of my mind, I'm juxtaposing everything I've just written with Bonhoeffer's concept of costly grace. My perfectionist won't let me end this blog post without acknowledging Bonhoeffer, but I'll leave that exploration to someone with more wisdom and theological training than I have.)
In the meantime, it's comforting to hear a song asserting that "grace requires nothing of me" and to have work friends who embody this truth by extending grace when I lack the ability to offer grace to myself.