Just like most of you, I grew up in a paradigm of do’s and don’ts. Everything I did earned either a gold star or a black mark, and the way I gauged myself as a person was by comparing the marks to the stars. Everybody I knew lived by that system, although they might not spell it out in so many words. In fact, there were a lot of things about that system that people lived by without ever saying out loud, like the idea of percentages. The idea was that life was basically like the tests we took in school. If you had a certain percentage of right answers (gold stars) to wrong answers (black marks), then you made it. You were a “good person.” In my head, it took about 90 percent gold stars to be a certified, “straight A,” good person, except that there were no Bs or Cs. You made the grade, or you were a bad person. And if even one of your black marks was something really big, it could sink you for life!
Of course, my record was about 90 percent in the wrong direction. My nickname growing up was Dennis the Menace, and although I never said it out loud, what I always felt was, “I’m screwed.” There were probably five-hundred times between the ages of ten and twenty-six where I tried my hardest to change that ratio, but I could never do it. I think many of us have experienced that self-destructive mindset. If I’m already hopeless, why bother trying so hard? If I already know I can’t succeed, why not do the wrong thing?
It was only after my wife kicked me out of the house and told me she couldn’t stand to live with me that I began to realize there’s another system available, one that we can choose if we want. This system is called grace. Under the first system, what I would call the “law” system, you’re rewarded based on your actions. If you do good, you receive good. Do bad, and you receive bad. It makes sense, because that’s how everything on earth works. It’s what we learn in school: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Grace flies in the face of that. If you do good, you receive good. If you do bad, you STILL receive good. I’ve talked to so many people who have incredible difficulty accepting something like that. This is because it doesn’t operate based on the principles of this world, but principles of the spiritual realm. It’s tragic that so few know this system, and even fewer choose it. But let me ask you this: which system would you want for your child?
I believe that grace requires two things. Being right with God, and giving up unhealthy control. Now, there is such a thing as healthy control, what you might call self-discipline. Unhealthy control comes from trying to manipulate your circumstances and the people in them to your advantage. The hallmark of grace is pursuing what is best and right, regardless of whether it’s easiest for you. That sounds hard, I know, but you’ll find yourself receiving the benefits of grace just by attempting to live it.
So how do you know when it’s working? From law and fear come stress, unforgiveness, addiction, and depression. From grace comes love, joy, and peace.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!