Here, I quote a little-known, unpublished but prolific writer (perhaps completely unknown).
“[I’ve learned that] I … need to see with new eyes, but that seeing won’t come through mega-lessons. It comes through simple lessons, new vision through the two G’s, gentleness and grace. I have to be gentle, and to be gentle, I need to give grace.”[i]
Of course the writer is me. I am quoting myself from earlier this month, August, 2017. This past week, I saw a picture of the enormity of the task I’ve set before myself – turning to become truly gentle and grace-giving.
For a second straight year, my family, my immediate family plus niece and nephews, parents, sister and brother-in-law came together at First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA. For a second straight year, we occupied cabins 18, 19, & 20. There are only 20 in total. The road to the cabins takes a sharp right curve after cabin 17 so that our three cabins, 18-20 are tucked back into their own space. And the road doesn’t go through. It ends after cabin 20. No one has any reason to be back there unless they’re going to 18, 19, or 20.
However, people don’t know that. All the time, people come back there and discover – oops! – I need to turn around.
That’s usually fine, but not last Wednesday. We were gathered in the afternoon in one of the cabins playing Nerts.[ii] A huge camper with Harley Davidson in large letters came through – except you can’t come through. That incredibly long thing had to turn around and there just wasn’t space.
I exited out cabin to greet the harried, stressed, tattooed 50ish woman driving the monstrosity and tried to coach her through the 25-point about face. It was an ordeal. She screamed, she ignore me, she waited until too late to follow my directions, she demolished the sign that says, “Cabin 20,” and she is still there. We finally left the beach the next day, her still there, still cursing, trying to turn about that Harley Davidson camper.
After a harrowing several minutes, my 9-year-old nephew Isaiah and I got her turned around. The trailer with her bicycles got scratched and dented. Her psyche was bruised and traumatized. And worst of all, the Nerts game I was winning never got finished!
Seriously though, turning around is often a mess, especially in life; especially when the turn we are trying to make is in ourselves. Since I have declared that my Sabbatical lesson is to be gentler and give more grace, I have been gruff, short-tempered, grudge-holding, and petulant.[iii] At other times, I have had moments where grace has crossed my mind and in crossing has actually come out in my behavior. I actually was a little gentler. Did anyone notice?
Here are the spiritual disciplines I committed to:
1. Prayerful attentiveness
2. Dependence on God (specifically seeking help when I am fatigued)
3. Seeking opportunities to be gentle.
A week into this and these commitments are now re-commitments. That’s why Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is the best book title ever. The key emphasis is on the word ‘long.’ That I have been on Sabbatical for four months doesn’t mean I’ll automatically be gentle and grace-filled. It means I am aware that what I need is to be gentler and quicker to give grace.
Perhaps Romans 7:19 should be every Christian’s daily confession. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” It certainly was Paul’s. And it will be mine.
However, lest this blog descend into a nihilist’s fatalistic bleakness[iv], I refer back to Isaiah (my nephew not the prophet though he may turn out to be a prophet), me, tattooed Harley Davidson woman, and her oversized camper. After much tears, dents, bruises, and some minor destruction (of a sign and a bush), the thing turned around. Likewise, while there will be pain and maybe some blood and tears, our lives can turn around. Romans does not end at chapter 7, verse 19. After that comes chapter 8, verses 38-39. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Neither can hard turnarounds come between us the love God has for us.
I was asked recently what I want to accomplish as a pastor and I was grateful for the question because it forced me to a place of mental focus I’ll need as I transition from Sabbatical back to the weekly, daily work of serving God in that formal role. As a pastor, I want to take people by the hand and walk them to the place where they understand that their lives are stories. You are a story! And God is a story.
Imagine your story as a road. And God’s story as another road. I want to help you get to the intersection, a three-way, where your story and God’s merge and become one story. The journey to get there will require some painful about-face turns. There will be tears, screaming, and do-overs. But I believe that after “the evil I do not want to do is what I do” comes “[Nothing, nothing, nothing] can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, I always believe that even the hardest of turnarounds are possible.
Including me learning to be gentle and give grace.
1. Prayerfully, pay attention.
2. Depend on God (specifically when I am really tired).
3. Seek opportunities to be gentle.