Sometimes I let people get to me. Maybe you do too? It’s not that they are particularly shady; it’s that I give them power over me to disappoint and distract, rather than choosing to understand and let it go.
We congratulate ourselves for seeing through people to their manipulative ways, their agendas, and their self-centeredness. Yes, congratulations, “Me.” You nailed that person. You linked the one comment to the other and figured out the half-truth and motive. Well done. Now what? Dwell on it? Spring-load your emotions waiting for a chance to return the favor? Fume and vent to someone else? All of the above? That’s great—you’ve successfully allowed the very thing you supposedly detest to influence and multiply through you. Well done, “Me.”
Leads to this dig-down-deep question: Do I really detest selfishness, or do I just find it troubling in others because it gets in my way? What if our dry judgment found a pool of generosity somewhere? Even the power to say…
…Grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.”
Perhaps you recognize the phrase from a famous old prayer and wonder, Is that just the sentiment of a saint, or is it an achievable goal for the rest of us?
In fact, we can become generous responders.
Not by burying hatchets or just trying harder through force of will;
Not by looking on the bright side through conflict-avoiding cowardice;
Not by just admitting our own flaws so as to be less inclined to judge others.
The answer is a kind of paradox called the discipline of grace.
Grace must get personal to get powerful. We can’t expect some general assent about the human condition to bring a change of heart. Grace gets powerful through us only after it gets personal in us—when it gets into nooks and crannies of autonomy and resistance. I’m not talking about feeling guilty. I’m talking about the resolve to BE GUILTY.
Paraphrasing, John Owen, we only grow upward in praise as we grow downward in repentance. Or, in a more modern turn of the phrase, “We are more flawed than we dare imagine, but more loved than we dare dream.”
This pursuit can seem futile if you’ve spent too much time just feeling bad about the past rather than having faith to admit it’s worse than you think and bigger than you can manage. Becoming only a better manager of the human condition brings no freedom from it, inside or out. When we recognize the same problem in someone else putting pressure on us, we wring-out the distain we have for our own flaws over someone else’s head.
We can’t give what we do not have. It takes trust, not just general affirmation, that inward confession enables outward freedom. Only a genuine, regular consideration of our own nature can elevate our view of grace. Only private gratitude for increasing grace results in outward generosity the moment we are squeezed.
Who’s at your door?
“Behold I stand at the door and knock…” (Rev. 3:20).