You know when the phone rings, and you look at who is calling and your first reaction is "I wonder what he/she wants"? And I don't mean that you wonder whether the person is calling you to invite you to a lovely dinner party or maybe to a movie. You actually wonder what the person wants from you because it always seems like he/she is wanting something. Some relationships are like that. One person is established as the giver and one person is the taker. Sometimes is just a season that relationships go through, but often it is the very thing that defines the relationship.
On Monday of this week, I got one of those calls from one of those people. The request was from a girlfriend, and she needed groceries. And I am ashamed to say, I was not happy. I didn't hear of the need and thank God that I had the extra money to help out. I didn't instantly jump at the chance to bless her and her family. I was just annoyed. I was annoyed because I felt like, once again, she had made bad decisions and needed me to bail her out. I agreed to help, but my heart was not in the right place. I certainly was not laying up treasures in heaven with my so-called generosity because God could see that my heart was not in it. Everything inside of me was kicking and screaming and giving parental lectures as I drove to meet her at the grocery store. I did have the presence of mind to ask another friend to pray for my bad attitude, and honestly, I believe that her prayers were the one thing that prevented me from throwing a huge, embarrassing fit over the whole thing. As we shopped for a week's worth of groceries together and as I handed over my debit card to the cashier, I did not feel a sense of peace or fulfillment or whatever it is that you are supposed to feel when you have been obedient to Christ. I just felt mad, resentful, used, and a little bit superior. Maybe a lot superior, if I am being honest.
Then came Tuesday. Weight Watchers day. After my meeting, I generally have lunch with my mother. She was out of town, and my brother had already had lunch. So I went out to lunch alone. I am fearless like that. It has never bothered me to eat alone. I never bring books or anything to do. I generally just sit and think and it's fine. But Tuesday was different. Last week I received a book in the mail from a friend, and this book has been so good, I had stuffed it into my already-heavy purse on my way out the door. I was just hoping for the chance to read another chapter. And then came lunch. A good 45-60 minutes of reading time. I was excited. As I sat down at P.F. Chang's and placed my order for Almond and Cashew Chicken (which by the way, I don't recommend), I pulled out my book and started reading. The book is Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist, and I cannot say enough how fantastic it is. She is a brilliant writer, and she is honest and authentic. I kind of want to be her best friend. Anyway, I opened up to a fluffy chapter about a trip she took to Fiji. It was inspirational and funny and made me want to get a husband and travel. The next chapter was about a dinner party she had with friends, and I instantly texted my girlfriends and told them we MUST schedule a girls dinner party. Then came a chapter on grace. And my feeling of inspiration left me. The sinking feeling that conviction brings came over me, and I saw myself in her story of grace misunderstood, of believing that we are more than we are. And on the little movie screen in my head, my actions from the day before played out, except this time I saw where I was wrong. I didn't see my friend's irresponsibility. I saw my selfishness. I didn't see her lack of planning. I saw my lack of concern for her situation. I didn't her poverty. I saw mine.
And so, I will share with you a little tiny piece of the beautiful book that showed me that doing gracious things does not mean you are being gracious. And doing good with a bad spirit is always wrong. And we are all, every last one of us, in need of grace, whether we can pay for our own groceries or not.
"At first, showing people grace makes us feel powerful, like scattering candy from a float in a parade- grace for you, grace for you. You become almost giddy, thinking of people in generous ways, allowing for their faults, absorbing minor irritations. You feel great, and then you start to feel ever so slightly superior, because you're so incredibly evolved and gracious.
But then inevitably something happens, and it usually involves you confronting one of your worst selves, often in public, and you realize that you're not throwing candy off a float to a nameless, dirty public, but rather that you are that nameless, dirty public, and that you are starving and on your knees, praying for a little piece of sweetness, just one mouthful of grace." -Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist