Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.
For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.
From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.
With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.
As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.
We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.
No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.
Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.
I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.
What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?
Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.
There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.