Amazing Grace

It was an early spring day, rainy, mid-March, and the drop-in was crowded with people coming in from the damp cold, stamping water off their boots, and gathering around tables for warm soup and sandwiches. Luke and I were sitting by the piano away from the crowd, chatting about his week, and the piano reminded me of the songs we sang during our worship service the night before. I asked him if he was happy we’d sung Amazing Grace, remembering how he had told me he loved that song more than anything. I began to play a few of the piano notes absentmindedly: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Suddenly, taking me by surprise, Luke became upset and began to yell, his eyes turning red with tears: “Stop it! Stop playing! I can’t stand hearing that f—ing song right now. I hate it!”

I tried to understand what was upsetting him, as he threw his most honest and challenging questions at me: “Why would God ever love me?” he asked. “I’ve made so many mistakes! Why would he ever forgive someone as stupid and screwed up as me? Where is his grace?” I tried to reassure him that God loved him so much, that his grace was pouring over him at that very moment.

“No!” he said. “Stop saying that! God’s grace is for everyone else, but not for me… ” After some time of sitting in silence, he finally told me that he loved that song because he wanted so much to have God’s grace, but he hated that song because he didn’t feel he deserved the grace he so longed for. And the more we talked about grace, the more I became aware of the feeling that God’s grace was pouring over me too, in the middle of this very conversation—and it was pouring over me through Luke. I felt a space opening up inside me where my own hurts could more freely emerge, and I felt blessed that Luke trusted our friendship enough to be so real with me. His brokenness made room for my own brokenness.

Then, very slowly, I became aware of something else lingering deep down–something I didn’t like and didn’t want to admit to myself, something I felt embarrassed about: the realization that along with those feelings of blessing, were much deeper feelings of envy. Envy that Luke could just pour it all out so easily… I was frustrated with myself. Here I really wanted to respond with love, and instead, found myself envious of his honest outpouring, his blunt way of sharing, his comfort with saying exactly what he felt while trusting I wouldn’t walk away from him. I envied the space he had to really be himself—and I longed for that.

A couple of weeks later, Luke and I were at a coffee shop with another friend, celebrating his birthday, and I was reminded of our earlier conversation. I told him what a gift he was to me through his honesty, and I thanked him. “You are one of my teachers,” I said. He looked at me, beaming, but also confused. “I am? Really? Why?” I explained how sometimes I, like so many others, hide behind a mask, and that he teaches me to take it off.

“A mask?” he asked. “What do you mean?” As I shared how so many of us wear a mask to hide our pain and convince the world we have it all together, Luke looked at me in total disbelief, astonished that anyone would do this. “But why?” he asked. “Why would you do that? Why??”

Some of my friends at Sanctuary have been my best teachers, because they are not afraid to really be themselves—to be weak and vulnerable, and to fully express their needs as they come. I learn from them that God’s glory is found in our weakness. That heaven and earth overlap in the very place we don’t think the Kingdom would ever want to show up in us. In what feels like an ugly mess, God’s grace is waiting. When Luke lets his weakness shine into my life, he gives me a beautiful gift: a safe place where God finds me and tells me that my own weakness is also loved by him. Luke teaches me that the cross is found in our moments of trusting that when we reveal our brokenness, God will not leave us nor forsake us, and that maybe, just maybe, neither will our friends.

Posted in Stories from the Streets.

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