Monday, 26 September 2011
Grace To Be A True Friend
“I want to be a true friend to her. But usually I just feel guilty.”
I knew just what she meant. She was talking about a friend who had moved across the country and was going through a severe trial. Distance had made the friendship both harder and more needed.
“Usually when I think of her I feel bad about all the ways I fail to be the friend she needs right now. At least I try to text her regularly and let her know I’m praying.”
I understand. I know that sense of failure personally. I’ve also felt the inertia of low grade guilt that makes it hard to be a friend. Guilt ties me up in knots that restrain my love for others. Which brings more guilt and less love.
“I called her the other day.”
“Really?” Her words surprised me.
“Yep. She was on my mind and this time I just picked up the phone and called. She answered right away,
‘Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect!’
“I found out her trial had suddenly taken a bad turn and she needed a friend right then. God must have prompted me.”
Grace trumped guilt. Again.
Can you relate? That conversation stuck in my mind. Guilt really does choke my love for others. It turns me inward, preoccupying me with feelings of shame, self-condemnation, and self-judgment. Instead of acting freely in love, I find that my actions are ruled by a desire to feel better. So I:
- shrink back in shame when I realize I forgot to pray
- reach out in haste to silence the voice of condemnation
- chide myself with judgments like some friend you are while I try to make up for my failure
That’s what it looks like in my life. But why does it happen?
Two things are at work. First, my inner perfectionist has set the bar very high. It’s based on the high standard of Scripture (“A friend loves at all times”) and the perfect obedience of Jesus. Of course, I don’t even come close to measuring up. Second, my inner judge is pounding the gavel and shouting, “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” Each rap of the mallet makes me jump in reaction and run around in circles, trying to make it right.
It sounds like the perfect opportunity to receive God’s grace, doesn’t it? Except I don’t actually want God’s grace right now. I want to get it right. I want to meet the standard and judge myself righteous. And feel wonderfully good about myself. My pride is underneath it all. It’s my pride that’s resisting his grace.
I’m stuck in a nasty feedback loop.
That’s when grace breaks in. Jesus doesn’t wait for me to figure it out. Just like he broke into the world the night the angels appeared to the shepherds, he breaks into my cycle of pride and guilt. He loves me first, before I repent, before I realize what a mess I’ve made. He loves me perfectly, not to feel better about himself but to pour himself out for me.
The prompting comes freely. It comes from him, not from my inner perfectionist or self-appointed judge. I respond and find that now was the time she needed me.
I had just received his grace and I hadn’t even asked for it. I had received it because he had given it. He had loved me both first and perfectly.
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18
Because he did that, I was free to love second and love imperfectly. His grace had both silenced my pride and blessed my friend.
The fruit of God’s grace is freedom. Grace reaches in and cuts the knots of pride and guilt. Grace lifts my chin to gaze into the eyes of the Perfect Friend. He loves me and I’m so glad. He’s going to help me love others.
Grace helps me bow before my True Judge. He pronounces me “Not Guilty. Justified. Beloved.” His verdict becomes my confidence. It keeps me from shrinking back in shame (1 John 2:28), from condemning myself (1 John 3:21), from fearing punishment (1 John 4:17-18).
Now that I’m free, I can love freely, acting instead of reacting. What might that look like? Many things, but for starters I could
- initiate without apology
- be content with small gestures
- be thankful when I’m prompted
Best of all, I can count on him to break into my life with his grace again, just when I need it most.