I remember my freshmen year of college vividly. The walk from my car to my dorm in the presidential courtyard. Little restaurants. Friendships. Classes and class locations. New found freedom. And a growing, exhausting tension.
When I was a freshman, I experienced two polar opposites that nearly tore me apart. On one side, my heart for God was growing. My spiritual longings were deepening, my zeal more alive than ever. But on the other side, simultaneously, my hidden and habitual sins were compounding, and I was shrinking under the weight of the growing tension.
To feel so big and so small all at once…
To feel so determined and so broken…
To feel so bold and so ashamed…
But that’s when it happened.
I discovered grace. Or, should I say, grace found me. His love found me.
My dad had given me a sermon series by a preacher named Steve Brown. It was a series on grace, preached from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It was hours of Brown’s booming voice, his penchant for storytelling, his weaving interplay of text and talking, but for me, it was so much more. The sermon series was an epiphany. Galatians became my magna charta, my freedom song, my picture of radical grace.
Yes, I know, I know: obedience, sacrifice, take up your cross, discipline, self-denial, etc. But anyone who really knows knows faith is first the response of the heart to a clear vision of grace, a flood of mercy, a tender welcome, a locked door opened, a warm embrace, a burden dropped, a treadmill turned off. And for me, grace was at last every one of these things. I got it. I saw it. I knew it. I was free.
Now don’t be misled; nothing in my life immediately changed. I was still a mess. I was a walking contradiction, a sinful saint, but I had found grace. While my behavior did not change, I was in fact changed. I knew a hope I had never known. I knew a love that would not let me go. I knew a divine embrace that invited fearlessness.
I moved forward with a new realness. I would chase the rainbow through the rain.
The rest of the story is God did change me. He pulled me out of my mirey sins and has been setting me feet on a rock ever since. He cleaned me up and made me a son. And it was all by His grace, all by His patience and love.
But I regret to say there is a sad part to the story.
The sad part of the story is I often forget His grace. I forget the wonder of it all. I forget the joy and freedom I felt. I forget the relentless desperation and His relentless love. I forget His forgiveness like rain washing away my stains. I just plain forget.
Actually, I forgot.
So I’m writing down the story, emblazoning it on my mind. I want to remember. I want never to forget. And I want you to remember your grace too. Will you? Will you promise to stop acting like a dressed-up circus bear and remember that wonderfully wretched grace-sustained real you? Will you promise to stay content being fed and wholly dependent? Will you?
After all, we are as in need of grace today as ever we were, and probably more so.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…that saved a wretch like ME.