When do you need grace for the mess in your life? Almost anytime, I’m sure. But for me it’s Christmas.
This year Christmas was crazy. Fun. Busy. But not pretty. I definitely needed God’s grace for the mess in my heart, as well as my house.
Here are the statistics: 14 people 85 years to 9 months old, assembled from 5 cities, staying in 2 locations, for 12 days. Why am I surprised that Christmas has made me hungry for change?
Good Plan. Messy Reality.
As project manager for this biennial gathering, I had prayed and I had planned. And yes, I had drafted a spreadsheet with a line item for each family for each day and scheduled activity. I had tried to anticipate needs. Flex time? Check! I had even shared the spreadsheet so everyone could give input and be a player in this game.
On paper the plan was good. In practice it was messy.
I found myself dropping back into old habits. Trying to keep everyone happy. Trying to control the outcomes, not just the planning. Not to mention the details that multiplied by geometric progression. Even trying to get the 4 year old to stop belting out “Let It Go!” –which was actually a good lyric for me if I had only listened to it.
It’s no surprise that I caused some of the mess. ‘Twas the season for anxiety, striving, and angry outbursts.
God’s Plan. Messy Process.
The sins that surface in our messy lives can feel like a bigger failure than the collapse of a particular project. It can feel like a failure of God’s Project to save us fully by changing us completely. We see ourselves at our worst and think that nothing has changed. We don’t want to blame God for the failure, so we blame ourselves. A single outburst brings a truckload of discouragement because it’s got history.
Struggling with the same old stuff feels messy. But it’s the mess itself that points to the present work of God.
Plans are always neat on paper, God’s perfect plan included. On paper our sanctification is laid out in tidy words and simple sentences in the pages of our Bibles. But the process involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. His first.
God condescended to our messy, fallen world when he embarked on the work of redemption. The work of creation was neat compared to this. “Let there be light!” And there was light. But the work of redemption involved mortal combat with an ancient enemy. He didn’t just speak, he wrestled, sorrowed, suffered, and died. It was messy, but he finished it.
Now he continues to work in this pattern. New creation is neat. “Let there be light!” he commands and someone sees Christ and believes. Then he condescends to the messy process of our fallen world. He is now at work in us, our blood, sweat, and tears mingling with his own.
Grace For The Mess
My husband encouraged me in my struggle yesterday with this quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
That means that God’s grace is at work in me right now for every change I want and need. It also means that I can expect a mess. Work–even a work of grace–is a messy process. It helps me to remember that.
How can I better see grace at work in my life? I can see it both in his work and in my own. The two are linked together for me in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Therefore, my beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13
Seeing God’s Work–and Mine
I can see God at work by grace in:
- my desire to change
- conviction of a specific sin
- bringing me to repentance
- forgiving me (and enabling me to forgive)
- cleansing me of all sin when I only confess a few
- treating me as his child
- giving me his Spirit and never taking him away
- evidences of real change, even if it’s baby steps
I can see me working out my salvation by grace when I:
- admit wrong
- ask forgiveness
- fight the flesh
- seek to walk in the Spirit
- reengage and resume loving
- continue serving
- do it all over again a few minutes later
As I look back with this in mind, I can see grace at work in the mess of Christmas. In fact when I apologized to my grown children after I had lost my temper, my daughter reassured me. “It’s OK, Mom. You weren’t nearly as angry as last time.”
Um, thanks? But at least it’s progress. God’s at work and he isn’t going to stop until it’s finished.