I remember the night I learned this lesson. I remember where I was. I remember the tears I cried when it hit me. I remember getting on the phone and calling a few close friends and family to tell them about it. I remember the kindness they showed me by not calling me crazy and hanging up. And the lesson is simple, but I have repeated it to myself in the worst of times.
Standing in the kitchen of my little house in Portland, Tennessee. That's where I was. The kids had gone to bed, and I was all alone rinsing dishes and loading the dishwasher. I was listening to one of my favorite Bible teachers, Chip Ingram, on my iPod. My husband was gone, living at his parents' house, and I had no idea if or when he would return. When I thought about my life and my marriage, I remember having thoughts like I can't keep doing this. My marriage was hard. My husband was angry, and I had grown to match him in his anger. And because I am a planner, I liked to think of the future and try to see something other than the problems of the present. But every time I tried, I just came back to the same old thought.
I can't do this another six months.
I can't do this another six weeks.
I probably can't even do this another six days.
My strength was failing and my optimism was gone. But even still, in my exhaustion, I was listening to Chip Ingram preach the truth, and I hoped that something he said would apply to me. I needed something to resonate. And something did. I can't tell you the verses he used. I really can't. I wasn't taking notes. I was just washing dishes. And I listened as he spoke, and I heard him echo the thoughts that had been going through my mind. He talked about the job that you feel like you can't continue. The relationship that feels too difficult. And he talked about how the grass always looks greener on the other side, and how intelligent, rational adults can make horrible decisions because they are always looking for something better. For someone better. And then he said the thing that changed my thinking. The thing that gave me strength. He said that when you face things that seem too hard, when you look down the road and you can't imagining having to deal with the frustration for another day, you should remember this.
There is no grace in hypothetical situations.
And it was just what I needed to hear. It was not poetic, but it felt profound. I didn't need to look forward and try to figure out how I was going to make it through the next six months or six weeks or six days because I was not living those yet. And grace comes when you need it. Not before. Not after. Right on time. And I knew that it was coming. I knew that God's grace would be sufficient. But I wanted it early. I wanted to know that there would be plenty down the road. I couldn't see continuing the journey without the abundance of grace that I would need to complete it. But that's not the way it works. And my mind went back to the Old Testament, to the story of the Israelites and their daily manna. Had I been there, I feel certain I would have tried to store it up. I am faithless like that. But seriously, if I looked around at an empty desert, my empty pockets, and a ground covered with bread, I think I would have tried to keep some for later. Probably even several times, hoping that it might turn out differently than before. But there is no grace in the unknown. There is no grace in the future. Not yet. There will be grace when we encounter hard things. There will be grace when we need it.
I don't have too many hard things going on right now. I have problems, of course. We would like to have a baby, but we are nine months into trying and I am not pregnant. Our church is struggling financially. My car needs repairs. These are small things, but there is still grace. And I know that harder things will come, and I will need grace to continue and persevere through them. But I know that as I write this, most of us have something that we think we just can't keep up. A life situation that we have lost the strength to deal with. A difficult marriage. An unfulfilling job. An addiction we can't shake. A badly behaved child. An empty bank account. An empty womb. And we think that we can't keep going. We can't work through it. Something has got to give. But when God says that His grace is sufficient, it is. It really is. And it will be sufficient tomorrow, too. Just keep going. Don't give up. Don't accept defeat. The grace you need to handle it all is coming. I promise.