31 Jan God’s Grace is Sufficient
A couple of weeks ago, a friend gave me a book by Richard Rohr entitled, Breathing Under Water, and it has become my spiritual “traveling companion” for the first part of 2020. Especially as we approach Lent in a month, if you are looking for a resource that will be meaningful, challenging, and helpful, I offer my whole-hearted endorsement of this gem.
In Breathing Under Water, Father Rohr draws important parallels between the core truths we find in Scripture and the steps of Twelve Step programs. Step One speaks to the issue of powerlessness. One of the addictions of our culture is the self-made person. We are taught that independence, self-reliance, and “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” is the ideal, the American way, the way that is better than all others. The problems with this way of thinking are numerous, though perhaps none is more devastating than that it runs completely contrary to how God works.
The Apostle Paul captures it like this: “power is made perfect in weakness” and “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Indeed, the witness of Scripture, time and time again, is that God seems to hide holiness and wholeness in unexpected, secret places where only the humble will find it.
Reaching such a place of humility, for most of us, requires a total breaking. In Twelve Step programs they call it “bottoming out.” Scripture speaks of it in terms of “losing ourselves,” or the darkness or slavery of “sin.” Psychology might use language around the False Self or ego. Regardless of the terminology, the essential experience is the same. As long as we can fool ourselves into believing we have what it takes—the strength, the energy, the brains, the willpower, the resources—to control and manage our lives, we will never seek help from a different source. It is only when we come to the end of ourselves, when we are forced to face our limits and admit that we do not have the power to amend whatever is going badly that we open ourselves to a resource greater than our own. But we do not give up our self-delusions easily.
I had to laugh (somewhat sheepishly) when Father Rohr pointed out that, as Twelve Step programs acknowledge, the ego is such a master of perpetuating a sense of self-reliance that it convinces us that we can engineer our personal transformation by using our own rules and by our own power. But, “if we try to change our ego with the help of our ego, we only have a better-disguised ego!” Guilty as charged! Albert Einstein said the same thing this way: No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused the problem in the first place. Yet we think we know better when it comes to our lives and problems, don’t we?
The paradox is that strength does, indeed, lie along the path of powerlessness. When I let go of relying on my own strength, I am then free to avail myself of God’s strength which is a never-ending supply of everything I need to meet the challenges of this moment and this day. Grace, compassion, good choices, the right words to say (or the wisdom to stay silent), serenity in chaotic circumstances, hope in the face of despair, patience, perseverance—when I choose God’s ways rather than my own, I am the beneficiary of strength beyond my imagining. And God is not stingy, but rather generously and abundantly gives me what I need for the situation and moment I need it. It all starts with letting go of my own self-sufficiency and receiving God’s instead, because “My grace,” says God, “is sufficient for you.”
Amen to that.
Yours for the Kingdom,