Whatever the Question, The Answer is Grace
by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center
February 2021 — “Whatever the question, the answer is grace.” I was about 19 when my pastor said this to me. I was a mess. I was worried about being accepted by God. I was worried about being alone for the rest of my life. I was worried about not being good enough in about fifty different ways. I was “freaking out!”
“Whatever the question, the answer is grace.”
Does that sound too fluffy and simplistic to you? Sometimes it does to me. But not that day. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It cut to the core of everything that was driving my fear and anxiety, perfectionism!
It did not help that I belonged to a denomination that constantly talked about how God was always moving us toward “perfection!” The goal was “perfection in love,” to become the kind of person that responded out of love no matter what the situation. Now my pastor seemed to be completely removing the goal line, “Whatever the question, the answer is grace?”
More and more I am discovering the deep truth of Jim’s words that day. Grace in my faith tradition is the unconditional love and power of God at work for good in our lives and in creation. Grace comes first, not sin, not belief in God, not repentance. . . grace for ALL creation. The Word that called all that is into being and sustains that being in every moment is Grace.
My worth. . . your worth. . . is not ever earned, diminished, or up for grabs. It is a given and a constant. It does not change with my performance or my situation. Trusting in this sacred worth God grants to ALL also helps me with that “perfection in love” part of my tradition.
“Perfection in love” does not mean I do not make mistakes. It means that my initial response in any circumstance is to do what is most loving. That is a very large and compelling vision, and, I really do want to be that kind of person. . . but I am not. But here is the catch. . . I can’t do it, at least, not as a force of will. Such love must be a transformation of my very being.
I am not saying that it does not involve my actions or that it does not involve my choices. What I am saying is, I do not do it. God’s grace is always acting on me and I can choose to work with or work against that movement of love in my life. I choose and act, but God is always the one urging, directing, empowering, and transforming.
Sometimes I experience Grace as providence. Sometimes I experience Grace as warning. Sometimes I experience Grace as forgiveness. Sometimes I experience Grace as a kick in the butt to take a risk get tough and/or be more vulnerable.
Grace is the Love that holds me and adores me. This is something that the mystics, people of deep prayerful connection with God and creation, from many different religious traditions have in common. When they stop, allow themselves to be open to the mystery of life and being they speak of experiencing a deep connection to a Love that delights in all of us and all of creation.
Grace is NOT God “getting over” or “looking past” our sin, or imperfections, to “Love us anyway.” I cringe now when I realize how many times I must have used this “God loves us anyway” phrase as a pastor. When I realized how pathetic it was I vowed never to do it again. I am convinced God does not need to “get over” anything to love us. . . God adores us period.
Why am I so convinced? Because, as I said, it is a consistent experience of deeply prayerful people across religious traditions. It is what I find most compelling in the most loving people I know. It is the way I have experienced love from those who have loved me most deeply, and it is the way I love my own child.
If this is true of my experience of love, then how much more must it be true of God! Please give up the the image of God “getting over stuff” to love you “anyway”. . . that image of love is a thousand times too small to fit The Ground and Source of All Being. Frankly, It does not even fit my love for my dog, who I certainly do adore.
Speaking of my dog, Harvey does have some growing edges. So do I. Harvey steals shoes and chews them up. I do not steal shoes but I do have some self-destructive tendencies, unhealthy attachments, prejudices, and bad habits.
This is part of what Christians call “sin.” As a teenager someone told me “God cannot use you if there is sin in your life.” That is part of what was troubling me when I was 19. How could I ever know that there was no sin in my life? There was so much to work on and in some cases I was not even sure what was and what was not a sin! I even thought not thinking correctly about God might be a sin! No wonder I was freaking out!
Of course, now, I realize that even a casual reading of the Bible, history book, or newspaper, will demonstrate God using people ‘with sin in their lives” doing incredibly brave, faithful, and loving things.
Still, I do not like to admit my faults, sins, or even bad habits. However, this is where grace helps me. This is why saying “Whatever the question, the answer is grace” is not a “pass” on growth or accountability but an empowering proverb.
If I feel I have to work on everything at once. The weight of it all is simply too overwhelming and I can easily become demoralized and stuck in guilt and shame. This makes it hard to be vulnerable, to feel loved, to give love freely, or to take a leap of faith, which is precisely how we become our true selves. Grace takes much of the pressure off. Grace says “Your worth as a person is not at risk. You do not have to work on everything at once. Let the same Love that called you into being sustain you as it also transforms you.”
I am guessing that you, like me have growing edges, unhealthy attachments, bad habits, fears, resentments, and other garbage. You may or may not use the same “sin” or “God” language that I do. However, I believe this experience is universally human.
Might it be true that you cannot work on everything at once? Might that be ok? Might accepting this actually be empowering to actually make a meaningful change? If so, what would be most healing or helpful to you at this time in your life?
Perhaps it is time to take a leap of faith? Or, perhaps you need to take a small step first? From a place of grace, knowing you do not have to do it all at once, what next step does your spirit long to take? Who might support you as you take this next step?
Likewise, where do you sense your spirit inviting you to be ok with not being perfect? What is a waste of energy? What is an unrealistic expectation? What might need attention, but not right now?
“Whatever the question, the answer is Grace.”
Your partner in hope and healing,
Chris . . . and Harvey!