Leaning into the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

The shame of my existence clings to the corners of my mind like the final crumbs of crusted casserole cling to my baking dish when I yank it out of my crappy dishwasher. The gunk just won’t let go, and the residue of the lies remains, leaving a nagging reminder that I might never be totally clean.

The lies scream dogmatically, “You have gotten lazy!”. They say that I am useless. I dropped off the planet socially, put a pause on writing, bowed out of ministerial obligations, rarely ran my fingers through my hair, and barely existed.

That’s it. All I could do was simply survive for a bit.

I started a new treatment once a month, and has knocked me for a loop. Xolair shots trip up the immune system and sap my already depleted energy. But they also help my body to not interpret the world as a foreign land full of deadly allergens. So, we are trading continuous near-anaphylaxis for extreme fatigue and a more compromised immune system. All that to say, I have been sick and tired (but not itchy!!).

And I can’t seem to stop thrashing myself for not producing. Quite honestly, I can’t ever seem to stop beating myself up. I don’t know what my expectations of myself are, but I surely cannot live up to them.

I’m human. I’m finite. I’m chronically ill. I’m on serious painkillers and a litany of other medications. I’m on a new injection that feels at times like it is killing me. No one is paying me for producing any kind of service. Lots of professionals are working to keep me alive. We have a village of helpers rotating through our house because no one expects me to produce.

No one expects me to produce except me.

And here I am giving myself a hard time about not being a contributing member of society, not returning phone calls, and not playing enough games with my children. Not writing enough blog posts, songs, poems. Not knitting enough blankets or socks or bunnies.

When does the self-abuse end? When can I give myself permission to rest? How many diagnoses do I need in order for me to allow myself to sink into my soft pillow and rest in the awareness that it’s okay to release the battle to the Lord?

When does “cease striving and know that I am God” begin to translate into behavior for me?

When is enough enough? When do the lies wreak so much havoc that I finally cry “uncle!!” and surrender my self-imposed crazy expectations?

How do I balance responsibility with perfectionism? It is God who works within us to perform Him will and we are called to work out our salvation.

Surrender and initiative co-exist. Surrender, initiative, and shame, however, cannot.

Shame speaks a toxic language that morphs personal responsibility into self-hate and unrealistic expectations. It takes our callings and transforms them into weights. It then ties those weights to our souls and tries to drown us with them.

Satan has nothing original under the sun. He only perverts that which God created as good. Thus he uses our callings, or passions, and our God-given gifts, and he tries to strangle us with them. He turns them into oppressive obligations, quotas to be hit, and unrealistic standards to achieve. He wraps them in a package of pride (or, the flip-side of pride, shame and self-loathing), and renders us useless.

God did not create us with gifts and passions in order to use them to thrash us with them. He created us uniquely gifted because He loves us and has called us to simply show up. “The battle is not yours, but the Lord’s.”

God calls us to seasons of rest.

Sometimes, for various reasons, we slip into seasons where we feel that the soils of our life lay fallow and barren. These can be painful and confusing. Sometimes they are the result of insecurity, lies, or disobedience. Other times, however, they serve as vital components of God’s refining process in our lives.

Waiting can be agonizing. It can also produce some of the sweetest communion with our Savior that we could ever imagine.

Obedience to the Father isn’t always about productivity.

When we care for and nurture the gifts that the Father has given us, we might not always find ourselves cranking out tangible achievements or noteworthy productions.

The Lord bestowed pleasure and delight on Christ His Son before His earthly ministry even began: Jesus had no miracles attached to his name when His Father’s voice called from heaven, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Shame and perfectionism will not drive my story. Self-hate will not dictate the way that I use or choose not to use the gifts that God has given me.

I choose to dance in step with my merciful Savior, to embrace “the unforced rhythms of grace.” These unforced rhythms of grace also continue during my seasons of weakness and illness. They just look different.

Whatever form it takes, grace is always absolutely lovely.

2 thoughts on “Leaning into the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They never fail to make me think upon my life and God’s love; which is a good thing, as I too have a chronic illness.

    1. Jan, I am sorry that you suffer from chronic illness. I am glad that my words lead you to God’s love! Prayers for peace and comfort for you!

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Pastor Al Gilbert

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