Saturday, September 15, 2012

Grace for Dirty Dishes (and other daunting obstacles)

When I was newly married, one of the biggest obstacles in my household was dirty dishes. I simply couldn't stay on top of the ever-accumulating pile in our tiny kitchen. No sooner would I triumph over one stack than the sink would fill up tauntingly, and I'd be faced with hours of washing once again. Filled with resentment and a mounting sense of defeat, I would procrastinate to the point that there was barely space in the kitchen to scrub effectively, much less cook meals. Things grew ugly. At some point, I virtually surrendered to the dirty dishes.

It sounds so ridiculous now. But it's hard to overstate how defeated I felt. Somehow, the dirty dishes were a metaphor for all my failures as a wife, my aimless non-student status, the ugly sin in my heart, everything. All of it coiled tightly in my chest and spilled out in tears whenever I summoned the nerve to tackle the dishes. I remember standing in the kitchen thinking about what our pastor had preached on Sunday. I knew that my domestic failures said nothing about my identity in Christ. The thought that my existence was defined more by my disastrous kitchen than by the beauty of Christ was an insidious lie. I agreed with that. It just didn't change what I saw before me -- or my sense of utter powerlessness in the face of it. Considering that I allowed a simple household task to become freighted with so much, it's little wonder that I gave up.

Nowadays, I can praise the Lord that He's brought me to the other side of much of that. It's taken the better part of four years, a relocation, consistent effort toward fresh starts in habit and attitude, and the aid of a beautiful dishwasher (!). What it hasn't been is automatic. In wrestling with the meaning of grace for my life, I've wondered if I've operated under wrong assumptions about how grace changes things.

For example, as I discussed with my husband recently, grace is not some sort of "positive-thinking alchemy" that instantaneously transforms my circumstances. Sometimes it does work in plainly miraculous ways. Other times, I've looked at apparently unchanged circumstances as evidence that I'm just not believing hard enough, or that I haven't sufficiently humbled my heart to "get it." Even if that were true, it's missing the point. It risks twisting grace into another form of works-righteousness, something that I muster up on my own behalf. Such "grace" would be no grace at all.

For another, grace is too big for my heart to receive all at once.
The truth about my soul's union with Christ may take awhile, may take a long time, to work itself out in forms that I can confidently perceive and put words to. There's much walking by faith, not by sight, and waiting on the Lord to work as He has promised to do. This can be painful and pretty messy in the in-between. That doesn't make His grace a bit less objectively real.

I can say that, even though I no longer struggle in the same way with chores like washing dishes, dirty dishes scenarios linger in my life. So how to confront them? I'm still struggling. One thing the Lord has been teaching me is that it's hard to let others be party to those scenarios, but that sometimes He calls us to do this, and with excellent reason. Not that we need to be transparent about them to whomever will listen. That's not necessarily God-glorifying or helpful. Yet opening up about the shameful things, to trusted brothers and sisters, can be a thing the Lord uses to make His grace powerfully seen and felt in daily life. Insurmountable situations begin to look survivable, and burdens more bearable, in the fresh light of such grace.

You'll likely find that you are loved and prayed for more than you'd guessed, and that you'll be received with more grace than you'd dared hope for. That's all Jesus. He knows the depth and cost of our sin better than we do, and He has already obtained an undiminishing supply of the grace we need. I'm preaching to myself here: we can trust Him to give it to us in the time and through the means He knows to be best for us, and for His glory.

1 comment:

  1. So well-written and beautifully said! Thank you for the sweet reminder of God's amazing grace! It's thanks to friends like you that I can remember how blessed I am!