That day started with me yelling at my kids for doing something I had told them no less than 3,000 times not to do. Of course, that put me behind schedule for the rest of the day (I tend to wax verbose when lecturing my children). So, by the time I finally wrapped up my eloquent, compelling, and completely justified homily—which none of them appreciated nearly as much as I thought they should have—got dressed and ready for the day, and hopped in the car, I was already 15 minutes late to work. I sped across town, or tried to—hitting each of the 27 red lights in the four miles between my home and office. By the time I arrived at work—at church, that is—people had already started gathering for the one-day spiritual discipline retreat I was leading. I had hoped to arrive early and spend a little time reviewing my notes but, late as I was, I just had to jump in. So, I got on the stage, opened my notes, and started talking.
“We are all in the process of becoming. In Christ, we are, right now, loved, redeemed, righteous, and holy. That is what is true of you, what is truest of you. Nevertheless, and you may be like me, I often don’t live my life like this is true. There is a gap between who I am in Christ and who I am on a daily basis. The question we’re going to consider today is this: how do we bridge the gap between who we are and who we are?”
I then went on to unpack the mystery of grace, rather persuasively, I thought, given my lack of adequate prep time. “The answer to the question,” I explained, “as every follower of Jesus knows, is grace. A miracle of grace secures our new identity. It is also grace that enables us to live into that new identity, closing the gap between who we are and who we are.”
“That being said, grace,” I continued to expound, “is not to be received passively but actively. The work of the Spirit, in other words, is not something that is done to us against our wills but something in which we are called to participate. Again, Paul says it best, this time in the book of Philippians:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
“You see,” I told the people gathered that morning, “grace is not something you are to be dragged through; it is something you are to walk in. And, that’s what the spiritual disciplines are. They are not means of earning grace but of participating in grace. Practices like Bible study, prayer, silence and solitude, fasting, and Sabbath are ways we can make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit and partner with Him in the work He is doing in us.”
Then, feeling rather good about myself, I dismissed them for an hour to spend some time silent in the presence of Jesus, participating in what Eugene Peterson so beautifully called “the unforced rhythms of grace.”
While they were off hearing from God, I decided to go for a walk and clear my head. I hadn’t made it more than a few steps before the Holy Spirit ruined my walk. I was midstride when He spoke, clear as a bell in my head: “Don’t you think that everything you just said to the church might be true of your kids too? Aren’t they too in the process of becoming? Why then do you expect them to have already arrived?” I just stood there in the middle of the road as the weight of His words settled over me.
Don’t I do to Him the same things that my kids do to me: ignore Him over and over again, still do the things He’s told me not do no less than 3,000 times, neglect the things He has made it very clear are best for me? And yet His answer to my stubbornness is an even more stubborn grace and kindness that leads to repentance. He doesn’t condemn me for the gap between who I am and who I am but invites me to see that He is working in the gap, invites me to join Him in that work. “Why don’t you try that strategy with you kids?” He asked me. “Why not help them in the process of becoming by offering grace and opportunities for partnership?”
All of that happened about a year ago, and I wish I could tell you that everything changed from that day forward. But it hasn’t, at least not completely. There have been glimmers of hope along the way, of change in me and my parenting, but there have been plenty of failures as well, plenty of times when I haven’t extended grace, when I haven’t given my kids realistic and tangible ways to partner in their own development. I’d like to say that I have become the model parent, but it’s just not true. Why? Because I’m in the process of becoming. Because there’s still a gap between who I am in Christ and who I am on a daily basis. And, God continues to invite me to join Him in it. So, today, I choose again to do just that, to receive and participate in His grace, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, once again, Paul).