“... as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6:31-36 ESV; note that the words benefit and credit are the Greek charis, which is also translated grace)As I grow in understanding my need to give grace and unconditional love to others, I've noted a longing in myself of late. As I am convicted to endure with others, I long deeply for others to endure with me. When I suffer long in love, I wonder who will suffer long with me. When I give the benefit of the doubt, I ache for safe relationships who will give me the benefit of the doubt as well. When I work to not keep a record of wrongs in my head, I struggle in the knowledge of those who would keep a record against me.
I did have a sweet moment before Christmas that was meaningful to me. I got caught in traffic and was late for dinner with a friend. Then after we finally started eating, I got a call from someone else who needed unconditional love and support from me. I felt torn—someone needed something from me, but I expected my friend would be justifiably annoyed that she had made time for our dinner but it seemed that I had not. Instead, my friend DID extend such grace to me. She gave me the benefit of the doubt, encouraged me in the most needed peer pressure in Christianity, and then paid for my dinner. Her response blessed my parched soul.
But ultimately that act by my friend couldn't meet the soul-deep longing in my heart for unconditional love and grace that empowers me to extend it to the next person. I continue to have moments of deep longing – who will extend grace to me? Who will give me the benefit of the doubt? I feel alarm that if I don't get it right, if I raise my voice, if I give rise to hard emotions, if I say what I'm really thinking, that I'll only get blame and condemnation. Who will give me the benefit of the doubt that is a core element of the love I feel God instructs me to give others?
I've cried out in prayer over this. Lord, I need grace. I need unconditional love. I need someone to be the friend to me that I feel called to be to others. I long for the friend that I can expose the dark places of my heart and receive encouragement and enduring love. Honestly, I do have those types of friends who minister such grace to me. But I am not around them enough for it to make a long term difference in those parched places in my soul. In fact, I suspect it is impossible for them to satisfy that deep need in my heart.
I have however heard nearly audible words from the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure He said it out loud, but I certainly heard it clearly in my ear.
“I extend you that grace, Wendy.”God extends me that grace! Which is the entire point of grace. God extends us that grace. God loves us with that unconditional love. God pursues the harlot even though she rejected His first and second efforts (Hosea). God comes running toward His child even though his/her efforts to return to Him are ridiculously underwhelming (the Prodigal Son). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That's the entire point Jesus is making in Luke 6. We can extend that grace to others because that is the kind of grace that God extends to us. We are merciful to others, because He is merciful to us.
During those moments when I long for someone on earth to extend to me a Luke 6 kind of grace, the sweetest balm to my soul (and the only balm that sustains me for the long haul) is the Holy Spirit's whispering, “I extend you that kind of grace. All day, every day. I love you this way.” Human unconditional grace to me blesses me for moment, and I need it. But God's unconditional grace is the only thing that can sustain me for the long term. I'm going to write next week on the nature of this daily grace God gives, but for now, I am meditating on the simple fact of its unconditional existence and how the existence of this grace of God to me then empowers me to extend it outward.
2 Cor. 12:9 … My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.