I stood in the church basement, alone in a crowd of proud parents and chaotic kids, unsure of my next move. Am I going to throw up? Or am I going to cry? I wondered. Neither, as it turns out, because before I could process the news that had just rocked me, my daughter came running back from the snack table to show me her cookies that looked like a hamburger and French fries.
A short time later, I whispered to my mom, telling her what I’d heard. Though I knew she would understand, possibly better than anyone, how devastated I was, sharing the burden didn’t really relieve it.
I gathered my daughter and all of her stuff, said goodbye to my parents and drove home. I put my daughter to bed and sat down on the couch. And I did it all in a slight state of shock, unable to process what I’d learned that night.
Over the next few weeks, it was never far from my mind, and I felt on the edge of blurting constantly. Of course, I’m not really sure what I wanted to blurt out . . . or to whom . . . or whether that blurting would have helped anyway. I just know that I felt a compulsion to speak out, to protest, to vent, to ask why.
After Annalyn’s preschool program this spring a friend told me that someone I had respected and trusted and cared about had done something very wrong. This person had made mistakes and hurt people – and had been caught, which in turn hurt even more people. My friend thought I should know and pulled me aside as my daughter was lining up at the snack table.
As I worked through my feelings about the whole thing, I remembered a conversation that took place two decades ago.
When I was in middle school, a college girl from my church went to camp with us a couple summers in a row. She was automatically “cool,” because hello? college? But she was also fun and understanding and seemed so wise (hello? college?). She also seemed to think I was great, and that’s a characteristic that always wins me over.
After having many deep, personal, spiritual (and otherwise) conversations during those church camps, I felt such a bond with my Cool College Friend. So it kind of blew my mind when I found out that she had been friends with the brother of one of my favorite teachers. She knew quite a bit about my teacher, too – including the fact that he had smoked pot in his younger days.
To say I was shocked and appalled would be like saying I like nachos just a little bit. I was Shocked! And Appalled! And So Very Disappointed!
I really hadn’t learned much about grace at that point in my life, and it showed.
At 13 years old, responding to news about a beloved teacher’s past with exclamations of “I can’t believe he . . .!” and “I would never!” and “How COULD he?” and “I am unbelievably disappointed!” are understandable, though still melodramatic. At that age I hadn’t made any major missteps. My words, my choices hadn’t permanently scarred anyone, including myself. And honestly, I simply didn’t understand why people couldn’t just Do. The. Right. Thing.
Over the next 20 years, I slowly – and sometimes painfully – shed [most of] that self-righteous attitude. I learned what it means to need grace and to give grace. Because once we’ve seen how short we fall, how famously we fail, how far from perfect we are, we understand. We give grace because we’ve been given grace.
However, that doesn’t mean it comes easily. So when I heard this spring about the choices this person I so admired had made and the fallout rippling through a family and a community, I can’t tell you my first reaction was grace. I thought, “How could he?” and “I would never!” and “That is just so very disappointing.” and “I just can’t believe it.”
But, unlike 20 years earlier, I didn’t stay in that place.
Was I still disappointed? Did I still grieve for the people hurt? Did I continue praying for everyone involved? Oh yes. Of course! But what I’ve learned in the past two decades of my own mistakes and poor choices and regrettable words and actions is that judging other people who fail takes a large toll. Raising the bar – and then holding it up there – is exhausting.
So if you, like me, have been guilty of holding the bar too tightly, too rigidly, too impossibly high – whether for yourself or for others (or, if you’re a real over-achieving perfectionist like me, for both) – I invite you to let go.
Let go of the bar. Don’t hold those expectations quite so tightly. You know why? Because that bar is not yours to hold. Sure, this world has standards. And, more importantly, God has shared His will and His plan for our lives in Scripture. But that’s just it. He’s holding that bar, so we don’t have to.
Are your arms tired today? Let go of the bar. Accept some grace and then offer it to others. Your arms – and your heart – will thank you.
Do you have more trouble accepting grace – or giving it to others?