For those who believe in coincidence, I just had a whopper. I was dwelling on the difference between doing and being and my reading brought the point home in a hurry. The book is “Shame & Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve” by Lewis B. Smedes.
The chapter entitled “the Beginning of our Healing” describes the true nature of grace and how it changes the entire nature of the religious quest. Before this chapter, he discusses the ways we accept shame or shame ourselves. He also discusses those who constantly try to do things to make ourselves feel worthy. He talks about Martha, who is busy serving food to Jesus instead of enjoying his presence, and the Prodigal’s brother who is constantly “doing what he is supposed to” with a feeling of duty instead of joy. These people do things in order to be acceptable to themselves or others. They can’t just be relaxed.
In most self-help classes, and some religions, the answer offered is, as Smedes says, “Persuading ourselves that we are just fine the way we are.” This doesn’t work for many people.
He then writes:
[T]he experience of being accepted is the beginning of healing for the feeling of being unacceptable.
Being accepted is the single most compelling need of our lives; no human being can be a friend of herself while at the edges of her consciousness she feels a persistent fear that she may not be accepted by others.
This is the dilemma for those who feel they are not accepted. They do everything they can to be accepted and yet it never works. In the end, they still feel the same way about themselves. Smedes writes that we are not ready for another answer until “we are bone tired of our struggle to be worthy and acceptable.”
He avoids heavy theological discussions about the nature of God and grace and cuts to the chase by describing four ways we experience the “Grace of God.” The pertinent one, for now, is
We experience grace as acceptance: we are reunited with God and our true selves, accepted, cradled, held, affirmed, and loved. Accepting grace is the answer to shame.
This is the difference. God’s acceptance of us is never earned; it can only be experienced and welcomed. We can’t do anything to earn acceptance, we can only be aware that we are accepted.
Jesus said we had to come to Him like a child. Smedes description of this truth is:
To experience grace is to recover our lost inner child. The heart of our inner child is trust. … Shame cheats us of childhood. Grace gives it back to us.
… Trust is the inner child we rediscover in an experience of grace.
Grace overcomes shame … by accepting us, the whole of us, with no regard to … our virtue or our vices. … Accepted at the ultimate depth of our being. We are given what we have longed for in every nook and nuance of every relationship.
I find no comfort in a general idea the universe somehow accepts me. The universe has no personality. Christianity offers a grace I can understand, at least somewhat. It says the God of all there is loved the world, and me, enough to lower Himself to a human state and suffer for my benefit.
I remember a prayer session many years ago when I asked, “If I were the only person who needed your great act of love, would you have gone through all that for me?” It was clear to me His love was so great the answer was “Yes.”
Another time, after an extended period of prayer, I had the experience of Jesus just standing beside me with His arm over my shoulder. It was the deepest feeling of peace I have ever experienced. He was asking nothing of me. There was nothing to do but stand there and be at peace with nothing to worry about.
Yet, I strive to impress Him or earn something. He doesn’t want that, but I forget to be trusting and try to do something for Him. Today, I was trying to figure out the difference being doing and being. At that moment, by coincidence or “God-incidence” I happened to be reading the exact chapter in the exact book which perfectly describes the difference.
It was God’s polite way of saying that no matter how much I try to do for Him, His love for and acceptance of me will always be more than I can earn or ask. The trick is simple, lighten up and look for and be willing to receive his gifts.