“You’ll do great,” my husband exhorted, as I tried with clammy hands to pull a stubborn wet suit over my knees. I smiled weakly while stumbling toward the side of a boat much too small to accommodate my flailing. As I waited for my turn to jump from fiberglass into roiling chop, our dive master offered one last time his cheery refrain in broken English: “No worry, dis es hundred cent sa-efe.” (Translation: Don’t worry, this is one hundred percent safe.) Moments later, I fell into the water with the form of an albatross and began my first ever descent into deep ocean.
Our small group sank slowly, suspended bodies becoming as inky blots on an endless blue-hued canvas, billowing bubbles from our masks the only disruption to a strikingly serene and vast underworld. As we reached nearly 100 feet, huge sea turtles drifted by, unencumbered in the water’s perfect equilibrium. We entered a current and let it carry us past an ecosystem rarely seen by the human eye, mysterious coral and fish and crustacean and grass and color. After 45 minutes our depleted tanks and blood vessels required that we surface, yet the profundity of the dive lingered much longer than the time passed during it.
While I never learned to feel entirely comfortable under water, I treasured one thing about my scuba experiences: I began to know my husband in a deeper way by participating in what makes his heart sing. For this reason, I have also allowed myself to be pulled behind a speeding boat on an under-sized board, swallowed raw oysters, endured punk rock soundtracks and encouraged reckless driving in exotic cars – on a closed track and under the supervision of trained professionals which sounds way less exotic, I know. In exchange, my husband has embraced trail running, paddle boarding, blue grass and yoga (to be honest, we’re still working on that last one).
It is no different with God; to know him is to know his heart: “Then the King will say, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” (Matt 25:34-36, 40)
Of all the things over which God’s heart could leap for joy, it is our participation in his body that most delights him. Our intended purpose since the creation of the world has been to live abundantly by grace, its generous fruit pouring from us unto all the others we meet, a satisfaction of their need by our complete satisfaction in Christ. Grace has never intended that our neediness diminish but that it is fully satiated by the One who sustains. Too often we eagerly eliminate as much of our dependence as possible, demanding answers and solutions to the messy and uncertain and painful. Rather, it is exactly these that keep us close to grace and our purpose to bear fruit as one large community garden.
Perhaps we’ve begun to misunderstand grace as a narrow escape from death’s door, Jesus’ last breath a well-worn scapegoat and, for some, an excuse to live by the comfort of material excess or self-sufficiency rather than the certainty of eternal promise. Perhaps we’ve mistaken grace for the relief of mercy and missed the powerful anointing that the cross invites. Certainly, Jesus died for our sins by the mercy of his Father. But it is by his grace that we are also forever transformed into “what could be”, the cross a profound demonstration of the strength to mightily live.
I was recently convicted of this when I heard my daughter ask for “a little grace” to avoid picking up the toys strewn about her room. It struck me that I had been grossly misusing the word. I explained she was actually asking for mercy, a temporary relief from the burden of stewarding her things. Then I began to consider what grace really meant. I found it full in the bible’s first martyr (Acts 6:8), bold in the calling of the church’s first apostle (Rom 1:5), against-all-odds in the joyful suffering of Ugandan children (“Kisses from Katie”) and with wrenching sobs in Grand Marais one lovely summer evening as God pulled back heaven’s curtain to show me how he saw the humanity that wandered the rocky shore, skipping rocks and shouting with swooping gulls.
Once we know God’s heart, we become responsible to participate. Perhaps this is why we often prefer to know other things like the forecast, our next promotion or when those cute boots might go on sale. Allowing our need to be great, accepting our overwhelming and persistent suffering, inviting ourselves to be fully transparent together – these are never easy. And yet, loving one another into abundant life is where grace and the preemptive victory to which he calls us endure.
“You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:22)
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9)