|Me and Nancy Alcorn, Christmas 2009|
It was absolutely mind blowing to be on this side of the podium. I was looking into the faces of girls who had come to the end of themselves and were struggling to regain footing in their lives - knowing that not 2 years ago, I was in their place, looking up at a guest speaker during our mandatory morning class, wondering if they had anything to offer the pain that consumed my heart. It was a humbling experience, to say the least, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that without the miraculous hand of God in my life, I would not be alive, let alone living a life of freedom. We both shared our testimonies and then opened it up for a Q & A. Kind of like a sorority, there are some things only a Mercy Girl would understand, and it was really fun to be able to candidly offer suggestions and reassurance on an inside level. I know that this project is going to turn into something great, but if the entire trip were only to speak to those girls, it would have been worth it a thousand times over.
The girls asked some amazingly insightful questions, and the Spirit spoke through both of us - sometimes a little more bluntly than I would have answered on my own! But one of the questions really got me thinking:
"What is one thing you would do differently if you could go back and go through Mercy again?"
The other graduate and I answered in a couple of different ways, but even after I was on the airplane, this was on my heart.... I would have stopped working SO dang hard to heal myself and surrendered much sooner. Part of the program at Mercy is weekly assignments to read certain books and listen to teaching CDs. My counselor would select and assign materials based on where I was in my healing journey. I read everything from Battlefield of the Mind to Ruthless Trust to The Practice of the Presence of God, and I listened to more hours of teachings and sermons than I could even begin to count.
Probably through the first 3 months or so of my stay, I thought that if I worked hard enough, read fast enough, listened carefully enough and wrote eloquently enough, I could earn my healing. I wanted to prove to God that I was serious so that maybe He'd notice and throw a little sanity my way. Consequently, I was distracted, stressed, and exhausted most of the time. Mercy life can be pretty fast-paced, and while there is set aside time to work on "homework", they kept us pretty busy with other things. It wasn't until about my fourth month in St. Louis that I finally started to get a grip on the concept of Grace. Grace changed everything.
"Mercy" and "Grace" are used pretty interchangeably in the Bible, so most people think the two words mean the same thing. Both are gifts from God and both are undeserved, but here's the difference:
Mercy is God's undeserved favor. God shows us mercy when we don't get what we deserve and when we get what we don't deserve. For example, I did something wrong, but because of God's mercy, I did not have to pay the consequence. I did not earn this, but because of God's mercy, He gave it to me anyway.
Grace is God's power working in us to do what we could never do by ourselves. God gives us grace - His power in our lives - to do good works. Our human nature is weak and prone to evil, but by God's grace, we are able to live righteously and do good work for Him. God's grace - His power in our lives - is also what changes and transforms our souls into the likeness of Christ.
See the difference? They're used interchangeably because there is nothing we did to deserve Grace. Grace is an act of Mercy.
I say all of that to say this:
No matter how hard I tried, I could not heal myself. No matter how much information I put into my brain, it was only by the GRACE of God - His power in my life - that my soul was transformed and renewed. All I had to do was surrender to His work. Understand, God does not force - He invites. God does not push - He draws. God's amazing grace cannot work in my life until I allow it to. And a lot of times, that means getting out of the way.
It may not have changed a lot about what I was doing, but it sure would have changed what I was experiencing. I could have read those books with the faith and knowledge that God was going to use them according to His will. I could have enjoyed myself a little more, knowing that the pressure of transformation wasn't on me, it was up to Him.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8)
I used to read that, "For it is by God's undeserved favor you have been saved..." Which is nice! And true! And reiterated by the statement, "and this not from yourselves". Of course God's favor is not from myself....
But look at this... "For it is by God's power working in you that you have been saved... And this power is not from yourselves...(you can't save yourself)... it is the gift of God."
Grace doesn't mean we lie down and quit doing. It's a quiet surrender of the Spirit that yields to faith and trust. Push the seed deep into the brown-black soil and walk away. Don't wake in the middle of the night frantic that maybe you didn't do enough to make it sprout. Let God do His thing with that seed. It will sprout in His way in His time while you surrender your worry and striving to Him. In fact, if you get in there every three hours and dig the seed up to see if it's doing anything, it'll likely never sprout. Get out of the way and let God's miracle of Grace do its thing. It's all a part of receiving.