Some of our enemies were vindictive and malicious with intent. Purposeful with a goal. For some we were simply collateral damage caught in their wake of destructive habits leaving us burned. For some, our enemies came about out of sheer naivety. Clueless on their part.
But what if our enemy is closer than our closest friend? They know us better than our family? More intimate with us than that of our spouse? When our worst enemy is ourselves. When we ourselves have inflicted our deepest wounds. When we alone caused ourselves the highest financial burdens. When we alone drove away those that loved us the most. When we alone caused ourselves the most damage. When we are left with shame and guilt.
When I was finally willing to listen it was God who showed me that sometimes we are our own worst enemy. I don’t need enemies when I have myself to bring me down. After all, I had hit bottom when God spoke those words to me, sitting in jail knowing full well I was facing prison. Nobody else was sitting there with me. No friends. No family. My wife wasn’t even by my side. No one else was responsible.
When it’s done right there is an audacity to grace. It’s bold and holds an arrogant disregard of normal restraints. “Normal” grace is conditional. It has limits. It’s from the world. It’s extended to the select. You fill in the blanks. But the audacity of grace is the hardest thing to deal with. It has no boundaries. No judgments.
Wouldn’t our song sound sweeter? If we could erase the pain, wouldn’t our steps have more bounce? The memories and the scars tear us down to skin and bones. Bitterness soils our sheets. Pain flavors out mouth all day long. Our resentment turns our eyes cold. Our shoes become heavy. Our empty stomachs bloated with stress.
We serve a God who pardons sins with no memory. We on the other hand, live with minds that remember them, full well; especially our own sins against humanity.
Forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. Two completely different concepts. Sometimes we treat them as if it’s like black and white. We are called time after time to give radical grace to everyone. We’ve been given the job of mobbing friends, loved ones and strangers with grace. Admitting that people ruin us, abuse us and wound us, we do our best to be like Christ and extend infinite grace.
There are second chances for my wife. For my children. For my ex-wife. For those that persecuted me.
But what about grace for myself? Do I stand full in the way of grace for my own shortcomings? My inability to do anything well right now? My habitual beating myself up over guilt?
Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me.” Three times Peter replied, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Three times Peter had failed Jesus. But there is more substance to his failing Jesus. No one boasted more loudly than Peter about his loyalty to Jesus. Even to death he said. Yet, he failed miserably.
No doubt Peter wallowed in his guilt and shame up until that time when Jesus returned. Jesus did not leave Peter to wallow in guilt. Peter was given a second chance. Peter knew how to forgive himself.
For years I was confident in my salvation. But later I fell away from my walk with God. I knew what the Bible has to say about God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy. The question later became, “How could God love me?” after my relationship was restored.
To be honest, even though I was forgiven I was still enslaved by another question, “How could God use someone like me?” I knew Jesus loved me, but I felt useless because of my past life of selfish ambition and ruthlessness. Forgiving myself was impossible.
Living in a Christian culture too often we believe to put others first. We must not think about ourselves at all in the equation. To think of ourselves could bring comments such as, “You’re…self-absorbed, self-centered, not outwardly focused…etc.” We try to avoid the label of “selfish.”
We are to continually think of others. Jesus commanded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
How am I to love my neighbor and think of others if I don’t even love myself and think of myself?
To love others we must love ourselves. In order for us to serve others we must love ourselves. It is out of self-love that grace flows in order that we can love those around us and continue to keep our eyes on those who are in need of the grace that we so desire to extend. But the extension of grace in other’s lives begins with the living out of grace in our lives.
God’s grace and forgiveness is conditional (Matt 6:15) Refusing to extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves is a refusal to accept renewal in Christ’s.
Giving grace to others is hard, but we know it is worth it. And when it comes to giving grace to ourselves, it is a whole other story. And yet, we proclaim this news of grace. What grace do we show to ourselves?
I tend to scold myself when I over react to my kids. I will tell myself that I have just ruined their impression of a loving father. That I have broken their spirit. Or worse, they will not want to come to their visits. (Their mother and I are divorced) Where is the second chance?
When we don’t begin by looking at our own lives and the work of God in it, we cannot venture out into the lives of others. If God sent His only Son to die for my sins, then He must have thought I was important enough. The love and grace of God is affirmed in my own life. It is then that I move out to those around me and let the overflow of that grace and love extend to others.