Thursday, October 1, 2009

Growing in Grace

As Christians, we believe that Jesus embodies all that God wants for us, so our life’s work is to become more and more like Jesus in the ways we live and love. The process works something like this. We all make sense of the world around us based on our own experience. And when we make sense of things, we put them neatly in a frame that we call our frame of reference. For example, we may have an understanding about how forgiveness works: when someone wrongs us, they come to us and they tell us they’re sorry for what they’ve done, and we forgive them. That’s the way forgiveness works for us. So, that’s our frame of reference and whenever someone wrongs us, that’s the way we expect it to go. That’s what fits into our frame.

But then, what happens when someone wrongs us and we’re deeply hurt, but they don’t come to us and say they’re sorry for what they did? They just go on about their business. This doesn’t fit into the frame we’ve constructed. And we can do one of two things with that new experience. We can stick with our frame of reference and decide that, since the other person didn’t apologize, we don’t forgive them. Our definition of forgiveness remains intact, and we stay where we were. Or, we receive this new experience that can’t be contained in the old frame and the old frame is shattered. The old frame isn’t big enough to contain this new experience. We need to build a new frame of reference that’s big enough.

Within our new frame of reference we realize that forgiveness is something we offer to those who don’t deserve it, just as God forgives us when we don’t deserve it. And that means that they might not even say they’re sorry. We go from one frame to a larger frame.

We have countless opportunities to grow more like Jesus in our dealings with other people. We may have a frame of reference we have established for certain kinds of people: church people are like this, black people are like this, homosexuals are like this, pretty blondes are like this, homeless people are like this. Then we meet someone who doesn’t fit into our frame: “I thought pretty blondes were all air-heads, but this is a smart woman.” Our frame is too small to contain that new experience. We need a frame that’s much bigger than the little judgmental frame we once used to figure people out. We search for a frame that’s big enough to contain the love of God.

Of course, a frame big enough to contain the love of God is a frame so big that we can never see its edges; it’s more than our finite brains can begin to comprehend. But when we have the courage to let go of the narrow little frames we carry around in our brains, we can grow in our understanding of God’s love by exploring its breadth and width, finding ourselves repeatedly going from one frame to a larger one and a larger one after that. That's how we grow in grace.

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