I have always hated New Year’s resolutions. Why should I revel in Christmas, reminded afresh of the glory and miracle of God becoming flesh—and the next week, think I can do anything on my own to make or keep a resolution? Martin Luther said well in A Mighty Fortress: “…my striving would be losing.”
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
As I turn the calendar page to January, I resolve to ignore the whole resolutions routine. In fact, I think I will morph my resolutions into something I need far more—grace. I need grace, not resolve. In honor of Martin Luther’s call for grace, I call for these reformations!
#1: I will not strive for performance.
Women strive. As little girls we love the praise and affirmation that comes when we do something well. “That was so sweet of you, dear, to …(do something),” our mom or teacher gushes, and we glow and vow to perform even better next time. We want the pats, the hugs, the praise, the glow. It is addicting.
Then we hit adulthood. Life gets harder. Life gets more complicated. Many of us become wives, and we quickly find we do not always please our husbands. Some of us bear children and find ourselves totally unable to control—or please—those squirrely little people in our life who mess up on a daily basis. Our striving becomes losing.
As we cross cultures, and we live in a new world, we face an even greater challenge. We are watched, we are “graded” by our neighbors, and we ramp up the performance.
I asked a collection of women in cross-cultural ministries the question, “When do you need to preach grace to yourself?” The answers came back, consistently: “in striving, pretending to be strong when I am hurting, wanting to fix others, an unwillingness to be less than perfect, a tendency to go-it-alone instead of seeking community.”
My second daughter was only 16 months old when we moved overseas the first time. She was blonde, blue-eyed, and totally normal. If she cried at night the old man next door would ask me in the morning why she was crying. What child never cries at bedtime? (His, I guess.) Strangers on the street would exclaim that she looked “just like a doll,” pinch her rosy cheeks, and then ask, “Why is she crying?” My child cried. Obviously, I was lacking in the parent-performance area.
#2: I will not revel in my own strength.
As women of the 21st century as well as women of God, we are taught to be strong, but then we believe the lie that we can do it all. Our strength becomes our enemy. A friend working in Europe says, “I rely on myself and miss out on sweet fellowship with Jesus working in me and through me. I struggle with feeling overwhelmed and try to juggle the enormity of things to be done in one day. It is truly impossible to get it all done. When I rely on myself throughout my day, it doesn’t get done, and what it looks like isn’t very pretty.” Strength is an admirable quality, but functioning in our strength, minus the strength of the Lord, is forgetting that we have “the right Man on our side.”
#3: I will not try to fix the world.
Women are fixers. We chide our husbands for trying to fix us—instead of “just listening”—and then we turn around and try to fix them, our kids, our friends, our ministry and ministry partners, and the broken world around us. A young single woman who has been on the front line of ministry change says, “I have to remind myself daily that I don’t have to be able to fix everything. I need to preach grace to myself, that God will handle the things I don’t get fixed.” After all, “He must win the battle.”
#4: I will accept myself, my imperfections, and my failures.
A seasoned ministry woman from Asia says, “I crumble when I haven’t done as good a job as I think I should. I struggle with ‘failure’…especially when I’ve been a disappointment to my husband or a friend. I want to be perfect. I know I’m not, but still I want to be. So when my imperfections show themselves, I struggle with the accompanying emotions.”
#5: I will not go it alone.
The pedestal of being a ministry woman can isolate us into thinking we have to be rocky islands instead of pieces of the bamboo forest. My greatest personal challenge is to share with others when I am facing pain, frustration, or struggle. This is not because I am afraid to burden them or intrude on them, but simply because I am a very, very private person. I prefer to tend my own island shores, and I do not like wasting time in the bamboo forest, tangling my roots into the lives of others. The good news is that this throws me deeper into the arms of my Lord, but the bad news is that I project a false image that I am either “above” everyone else’s issues, or that I am somehow a “little better and more ‘put-together,’ ” which is pure hogwash.
#6: I will preach grace to myself.
Is this not what it comes down to in the end? A young missionary in Central Europe says, “If God’s grace is really relevant to my everyday life and is as good as He says, why would I struggle with frustration if I failed again, or if my day was not as successful or productive as I hope it would be?? Or let’s say my kids did not behave the way they should. Well, ‘no surprise’ is one thing, but the second is ‘no worries’! It is not on me; this is not the burden I need to carry. Or the opposite, as soon as a day goes smoothly, why should I look back full of pride??? God loves me the very same no matter how good or bad my day was. It is not my performance that matters in the end. If I trust His grace for me I can be balanced and grounded in the peace of His love and won’t be stuck on the roller coaster of pride or frustration.”
#7 I will let others extend grace to me.
Another young woman wrote, after attending a conference where she felt like an outsider because she was so afraid to share herself, “I’m realizing my life isn’t everything I dreamed it would be when the world was younger and I had everything to lose. I’m learning life is a lot harder work than I used to think. But I’m grateful to the One who walks beside us and shines His light. Yes, the light can be blinding, terrifying even. It can chafe wounds that are too raw. But it doesn’t mean the light isn’t good.” During the long ride home, she went on, “Jesus came to me through familiar voices of true friends, willing to tell me hard truth, and speak the honesty I desperately needed, in love.”
Sometimes, God’s grace becomes most rich and satisfying to us when we extend it to someone else.
That second daughter of mine, the one who cried at night or when neighbors pinched her cheeks, wrote of feeling overwhelmed with the sheer pace of life in her busy Asian city. Then, in one short week, God brought into her life two other women more overwhelmed than she. She said, “First it was the Danish woman upstairs who got embroiled in a childish mess among some other women in our complex. She sent a text, ‘I need to go out with you, just you.’ We took a day and wandered the streets of the Arab section of the city, talking and pecking around shops; I saw her hunger for transparency and truth in a friend. The next day it was the Brit across the way who is struggling with depression, feeling she’s failed her husband, and needing to talk. Neither one knows the Lord. God’s definitely placed us near these two for a reason. Now, to keep my days clear enough to have space for people even when I just want to hide!”
This year, I will extend grace, God’s grace, and I will accept it myself. That is what will carry me through. Resolutions? Forget them. I know I will fail. Instead, I will choose to rest in the Almighty’s strength, and I will move forward in His grace, a boundless commodity “from age to age the same.”
“…the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace…makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty…”
Isak Dinesen, “Babette’s Feast,”Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard. London Vintage, 1993. p. 52.
Question to consider: When do you need to preach grace to yourself?