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How One Jaw-Dropping Moment Taught Me What Radical Grace Really Means

If perfection is a litmus test for being loved, we would all fail.

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Unconditional Love and Radical Grace

I sat on my porch with my jaw in my lap. So many things ran through my mind and trampled all over my trembling heart yet at the same time I heard and felt nothing.

After all, I was the one who had been hurt, and all I said was something I think many of us have either said or thought at least once, with complete vulnerability and perhaps validity: “I just don’t want you to hurt me again.” I honestly didn’t know in that instant how I would recover from another hurt (obviously I would have but you know how in real time we really don’t know) and never in my wildest imagination would I have thought my wounds would be met with one of my favorite voices saying back to me,

“I’m definitely going to hurt you again.”

What?

It felt like time was frozen and I was blinking in slow motion, and for one of the few times in my life I couldn’t find any words to respond with as these floated around me because I didn’t want to let them in, yet they stung and dug in deep at the same time.

I was incredulous.

When I remember this today, my eyes go from left to right and back again but in that moment I just remember staring in disbelief. My chest was pounding and hurting and I wanted to say, “I can’t believe you just said that and are looking at me with a straight face like with no remorse and no feeling and it just rolled right out of your mouth like that!!” or a shortened version like “how dare you?!” or “are you kidding me right now?” (Also to be honest, a few other choice expressions you might be able to think of too, but even those words were impossible to speak.) Nothing came out. Maybe it was for my good, maybe it was divine protection in a moment when I was reeling way out of control on the inside. I say this because in my moment of speechlessness, it allowed me to hear that after a short pause the voice was still speaking:

“… You don’t deserve to be hurting and I’m so sorry. But I’m going to hurt you again because I’m human. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean I’m careless or heartless or bad.  It doesn’t mean I will ever intentionally hurt you.  It just means that I am human and can’t be expected to be perfect.  Just like there will come a day when you will hurt me too.  I know it doesn’t seem like that now and I know you won’t mean to then.  But inevitably some day will come when you do or say something that I will feel disappointed by or hurt by.  I know you love me.  And I forgive you in advance because I know you have no intention of hurting me. We just have to hope that our love is strong enough to withstand it, because it’s going to happen.”

When I tell you my world was jolted to a stop and turned upside down and backwards, I mean that exactly like it sounds. I sat there in disbelief and realizing at the same time that this was totally true. Confusing, right? I could almost hear my blood flowing through my ears, I could hear my pulse and my head was throbbing. I didn’t want to think I would ever hurt him but who am I to think I am above making a mistake? Who am I to think I won’t screw up? I stared for I don’t know how long. I thought briefly about all the times in my life I have been the one who did something wrong. I say “briefly” because I can admit there are plenty of them and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who cringes and hurts when remembering my own transgressions. And I realized in that moment, how can I expect to ever be forgiven if I cannot forgive? How can I ever hope for grace if I cannot extend grace? If I want someone who won’t walk away from me when I am imperfect, if I want someone to say “you are worth it no matter what,” if I want someone to say, “it’s ok. I forgive you” who will continue treating me as if I had not done something wrong, then I have to do the same thing.

I then thought about the reasons why we were in that moment. What had led us there and what causes us to do the things we do or say the things we say, make the choices we make? I thought about how there was no malevolence behind this, and I saw only hurt. Only sadness. Only one person’s struggle which just happened to look different than mine and manifest in a way that happened to hurt me. I knew this was a good person. I knew there was greatness in this heart that stood before me, beating loudly with remorse. I KNEW this was not a malicious or careless human. This was a human. A human who has had different experiences than I’ve had. A human who has different ways of coping or self soothing or managing his own demons than I do. A human who deserves love just as much as I do, as you do.

Does someone else deserve to be judged, abandoned, or punished by me just because they struggle differently than I do? This was an easy “no” for me.

I am ashamed to say I had never been told this truth before. No one had ever said these words to me. Relationships can be challenging no matter how much love lives there. People are complex and combining lives is no small feat. I’m not sure why we expect this to happen as a normal thing or why we assume everyone just knows how to do it. I’m not sure why we think relating should be easy. What we want is for someone to say they won’t hurt us. Right? It’s like a no brainer. What we want is for someone to apologize and say they won’t do it again (whatever it is.) I’ve been there countless times and heard the apologies and promises. But can I tell you how much better it was to hear this instead? No promise that would later be broken. No false pretenses. No expectations that either one of us can’t possibly live up to. I would like to say my life may have been totally different if I had experienced this sooner in life, but the truth is I wasn’t the person I am now, before, and maybe it wouldn’t have found its way into my heart when I was younger. I don’t know for sure.

But I do know this was like a floodgate of grace and the gratitude that holds its hand. It wasn’t a get out of jail free card yet it was hugely freeing.  Grace isn’t a ticket to screw up and not be responsible.  It’s an awareness that expecting perfection is a set up for failure, and it is choosing to offer understanding and acceptance, it is choosing love, it is choosing forgiveness. Not forgiveness with a scoreboard, but forgiveness with a clean slate. It is choosing to see who someone truly is, not just the mistakes they make. It is embracing them in all their humanness, just as we would want for ourselves or our children, and it is loving them as they are, not only when they are as we wish they would be. It’s reminding others that they are who they are in the goodness of their heart, not who they are in the eyes of men who judge them.

The exponential gift is that this is true for not just our significant other, but also our children, our parents, our family, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors, and the people we don’t even know. They are who love says they are, not who other imperfect people say they are, and not who their inner critic says they are. This is true for you.

In this initial cradling of my heart that day, like holding a weakened helpless soft floppy mess in one arm against my chest, with my other hand sadly holding my jaw in my lap, it wasn’t easy to process all of this in a graceful way. There was some ugly crying going on, snot and all.

But ultimately love and forgiveness are always easy when we remember we too are guilty of imperfection and we too – if we’re honest – have a resume of wrongdoings.

And as with all traumatic face to face showdowns with our pain, if we miss the lesson, we miss the blessing. So when we allow them, even moments of truth that hurt us can set us free.

 

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