* Editor's Note: Susie works on the Operations Team at Cru's Northeast Regional Campus Office in Boston.
We were studying Galatians of all things, when my tussle with grace came into full relief.
Scattering to our respective projects after our Ops Team Bible study, I’d cloistered myself, intent on accomplishing several weeks worth of work in one day. (Your first clue that I may have a problem.)
Plowing through mountains of tasks with great focus, I suddenly remembered something. Donuts … mmmmm … leftover donuts! A plan, vividly detailed, burst through the portals of my mind. Half a donut - but only if paired with a cup of coffee. Coffee was essential. It would take mere seconds to break away, grab the life-giving elements, and dash back to my computer.
My beautifully hatched scheme had a fatal flaw, however. “The coffee pot is EMPPTTTYYYY. . .” My mournful cry echoed through the office. Trudging back to my desk, Bret’s cheerful suggestion, “Feel free to make some more,” barely registered, so awash in self-pity was I.
What DID register, a few minutes later, was the unmistakable sound of coffee beans grinding, followed by that most delectable of aromas -- fresh coffee brewing -- followed by the realization that Bret, whose work may at times be slightly more important and voluminous than mine (yes, this is an understatement), had gotten up to serve his office mates by making an afternoon pot of coffee. Reverberating within me were echoes of John 13 -- Jesus, also involved in some important work, got up and served the disciples, washing their feet.
I felt like a self-absorbed jerk.
When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I marched over to where Bret was working, and fully owned my sin of omission. Bret replied, “Grace, Susie. It’s all grace; go enjoy a cup of coffee.” But I knew I couldn’t. I didn’t deserve it. I’d been self-focused and I needed to pay for that.
Yet, the irony of this train of thought on the heels of our Galatians study eventually found its mark.
“It would have been an act of humility for you to drink that cup of coffee,” a wise friend noted. He was right. Pride was at the root of my “self-atonement.” When I fell short, I didn’t want to accept what another had done in my place. But wait a minute. Isn’t this the gospel: accepting what Another had done in my place? Oh my gosh, I wasn’t living the gospel. I was a hypocrite. How many years have I called myself a Christian? How long have I ministered the Gospel to others?
After a brilliant Bible study on not being perfected by the flesh, I’d gotten up, left the table, and immediately proceeded to perfect myself by the flesh. Am I that dense?
Actually, that’s exactly the question Paul posed to the Galatians: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (In this performance, while the role of Paul was executed by several players, the role of the Galatians is mine alone.)
That day, grandiose schemes of accomplishment were ground to a halt by a profound lesson on grace.
Taking a further step back, I’m wondering if what seems so all-fired urgent and important to me just isn’t that big a deal. Sort of like a child being called (Pulled? . . . While kicking and screaming?) away from their make-believe play world to come to the dinner table for some actual sustenance.
This is where it gets complex. My unique life story helps determine why I fail to live out what I intellectually understand, why I prefer my delusions of superhuman accomplishment and self-atonement to humbly sitting at God’s table, taking in that which is life indeed. I need help sorting all this out.
That day, I would have settled for half a donut and a cup of coffee, and an impressive number of items checked off my task list. God wanted me to have so much more.
What else am I just not getting?
* Photo courtesy of Danie van de Merwe (Flickr Creative Commons).
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