Prodigious Grace

A few years ago, I wrote about the effects of ungrace in my life:

“The difference between excellence and perfectionism is grace.  In excellence there is the grace of knowing you have done something to the best of your abilities, the grace to be content in a job done well (regardless of mistakes made in the process), and the grace to constantly improve, but never fully master.  In excellence there is an understanding of limitations and permission to try again.

In perfectionism there is no grace.  Everything must be done perfectly with no room for improvement and no chance to try again.  Where excellence finds joy in the task, perfectionism finds only the cruel, exacting taskmaster.  Perfectionism leads to paralysis.  If something cannot be done perfectly, it cannot be done at all–and so nothing is done.  The painting remains unpainted, the book remains unwritten.  The perfectionist remains neutralized by the bonds of guilt for being imperfect.  Every mistake that the person of excellence accepts through grace is a leech that sucks life from the perfectionist’s soul.

Perfectionism is deadly to the human heart, soul, and mind.”
I was reminded of this piece as I read Yancey’s comments on the sea of ungrace in which we swim.  All around us everyday, we are driven by the demands of ungrace.  For some of us, those demands have become so internalized that we sink into the quagmire of perfectionism.
Yancey and I share some common experiences with the church–from Bible school to legalism.  I attended a Christian liberal arts college, and began my time there on “social probation” because I had answered affirmative to the use of drugs and alcohol prior to matriculation.  (My friends that partied with me, answered in the negative and thus entered on the same footing as everyone else.)
I found grace, however, in the campus ministry at the secular university that my boyfriend (now husband) was attending.  Many of the members of this ministry had similar backgrounds to mine, but they were not ashamed of those backgrounds because they were forgiven. You see, a lack of grace really boils down to unforgiveness.  It had been difficult for me to accept God’s forgiveness because those claiming to be His people still could not forgive my unfortunate choices.
It struck me yesterday as I was reading Yancey’s take on the Prodigal Son, that the elder brother is really just an ironical myth.  To God, there are no elder brothers.  We are all prodigals.  Some of us found our way home before others, but none of us came out of the womb faithful.  The “elder brothers” among us are merely prodigals who have forgotten from whence they came. (Or who are still prodigals and in firm denial of their wanderings.)  Sadly, I find that it is much easier to be an elder brother than to maintain the prodigal’s humility that brought me to the feet of Grace in the first place.  Perhaps this is because we assume that the grace shown to the prodigal is a one-off instance.  You get a big hug when you come home, but you better not leave again.  I don’t think it quite works like that.  In fact I think that we all feel the need to run home daily as we swim in our sea of ungrace.  We are like the kid who, after a long day of pokes and jabs and betrayals by her schoolmates, gets off the bus and runs to her parent’s arms, knowing that there she will find grace.
I encourage you to run back home and find Grace.  He is always there and always waiting for His kids, even if they’ve “only” been hurt through the average wear and tear of life.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah
    Mar 17, 2010 @ 13:09:18

    “Ungrace” in the church also explains why confession is a much lauded, but little practiced, discipline. It is amazing, though, that the Lord of the universe, He who is holy and wholly other, the Great I AM personifies perfect grace while those who have been its recipients struggle with extending it in even its basest forms to other human beings. And I count myself in that category.


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