Saturday, September 5, 2009

Embracing Grace

In December of 2006, nine months after the discovery of my Shame, I wrote these words in a letter to my family and friends:

The only answer to my Shame [is] God's pure Grace. It is by this Grace that He offers me acceptance without possibility of rejection, and this ultimate acceptance is the only thing that will ever heal my deep fear of being measured, found wanting, and rejected as worthless. I wish I could say that I have conquered this fear and embraced the Grace I so desperately need, but the truth is that I am still very much 'in process' with this part of my healing. I am grateful that God has begun this work, and I look forward to the day when I may joyfully declare that Shame has lost its hold on me. For now, I praise God for His faithfulness and cling to the promise that He will bring His good work to completion in me.

Two years and nine months later, it is with great joy that I declare to you today: Shame has lost its hold on me. I am weeping as I tell you this because I am a prisoner who has been set free, a slave released from bondage, a woman saved by Grace from the devastating grip of Shame. There are no words to express the gratitude I feel in the farthest reaches of my being.

So how did this happen? Slowly, quietly, and, of course, miraculously.

Unbeknownst to me, the work of Grace did not cease simply because I did not understand how to accept the acceptance of Grace. Seeds of Grace had been planted in my soul, and over the ensuing three and a half years, God nurtured them until they took root, grew, and eventually flourished. Slowly I came to believe that I had been created with infinite worth, and this belief gave me the courage to begin developing into the person God meant for me to be. This pursuit of my true self was encouraged and held accountable through my involvement with a group of fellow believers and pursuers, a group that has since become known as a Christlikeness Group. Although I did not understand it until now, the dynamic of this group has demonstrated Grace to me in tangible terms—I am accepted and loved just as I am but I am given the strength to become more than I am, more than I have ever been, more than I ever believed I could be. As I continued pursuing the characteristics of Christ in my daily life, God continued His behind-the-scenes work to bring about the miracle I so desperately needed but did not fully believe possible.

It happened so quietly that I did not even know I had been set free from Shame until I began reviewing my notes from Shame and Grace in preparation for writing another chapter in my story about Nathan's death and my subsequent journey toward healing. The first time I read Shame and Grace, it seemed as if the first half of the book had been written specifically for me. It was the story of my life, or rather the story of my Shame. It described perfectly everything I felt and believed about myself. When I moved into the second half, I struggled to understand this concept of Grace, so foreign to me in my slavery to Shame. Grace was everything I wanted, everything I needed. But it seemed beyond my reach. Then a few weeks ago, I re-read my notes (all 24 type-written pages of them!) and I knew something was different. In reading the parts about Shame, it did not seem as if I were looking in a mirror but more as if I were looking at a scrapbook—the way my life used to be, the way I used to be, the way my Shame used to be. When I revisted the chapters on Grace, this concept no longer seemed foreign but instead familiar. I recognized myself in the descriptions of Grace, and that's when I knew: I had accepted the acceptance of Grace, and Grace had set me free.

Lewis B. Smedes, author of Shame and Grace, says this: "The experience of acceptance is the beginning of our healing; to accept ourselves is a signal that we are getting healthy." Although my acceptance of Grace happened gradually, my experience of Grace's acceptance began the moment I read the words and knew what Grace offered. That, indeed, was the beginning of my healing. And the work I have been doing these past few years has been the process by which I have become healthy—I have sought to accept myself as I am while striving to become more of who I was created to be. This acceptance of myself has really been what Smedes calls "taking ownership of myself." This ownership includes owning my raw materials (the genetics and the circumstances I've been given), owning my shadows (my flaws, vices, failings, etc.), and owning my pride (or, in other words, taking pride in the self I own). It is interesting to note that, as Smedes says, this pride we take in ourselves is much different than the pride that comes before a fall:

The pride that comes before the fall is what the Greeks called hubris. We call it arrogance.… A person who has experienced grace knows that what she is and what she has are gifts of God, so when she feels pride, she feels gratitude with the same impulse. Arrogance is pride without gratitude while grace-given pride is nothing but gratitude.

A few months ago, someone I considered a close friend lodged some very weighty accusations against me. Among them was the assertion that, over the past two to three years, I have become increasingly selfish in my relationship with God, that it has been more and more about discovering who I am and how I want to live my faith and less about living for God's glory and His purposes. I knew immediately that my friend was wrong. But until recently, I was at a loss to explain why she had made such an awful allegation. What I am beginning to realize is that not everyone understands this concept of self-ownership, especially people who have grown up in grace-less religion or with un-accepting parents. The fact of the matter is that I have indeed been discovering the person I was created to be and how I am called to live out my faith. But this has not come at the expense of God's glory or His purposes. In fact, the very opposite is true. I bring God more glory and fulfill His purposes more fully and more consistently when I am the person He created me to be. And I can tell you without one iota of doubt that I am absolutely more of the person I was created to be today than I was three and a half years ago. I was not created to live under the bondage of Shame. I was created to be free in the arms of Grace. And by the miracle of God's working, I am. Hallelujah!

3 comments:

  1. Wow, its been a long journey courtney but amen and amen! God has brought you to where you are today and this is somthing many of us wished for you all those years ago when you shared your heart to us.

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  2. I whole-heartedly agree, my friend. It is amazing to be part of your journey toward freedom in Christ. I'm so proud of you.

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