Grace & My Guilt-Induced Syrup Fast
I spend a lot of time in a place I call “the hole.”
It’s a place where grace is absent, where all of my faults are stacked next to each other like books on a shelf, where I watch the door fitfully, waiting for love to slip right out.
Nobody puts me in the hole, or sends me there to think about what I’ve done. It’s a self-imposed place—somewhere I go because I don’t think I deserve anything better.
I remember the first time I found the hole. I had committed some small infraction, but my family’s slight disappointment that day was more than I could bear.
So with all of the drama in my 10 year old heart, I picked up their love and their grace and I handed them right back—declaring with a flourish that I just did not deserve them.
I began by yanking my blankets off my bed—declaring loudly, and very seriously that I didn’t deserve a bed. I refused to go back in my room—not wanting to sleep on a “borrowed” bed meant for girls better than me. And so I tied large sheets over the banister in our upstairs hallway, creating a makeshift tent, fully intending to live there for the rest of my days. (I didn’t realize that it was a much greater inconvenience to have my tent blocking my parents’ bedroom door.)
I sat at the breakfast table awhile later, my shame and sadness hovering around me like a cloud, as my mom passed me the syrup. I waved it away sadly. “I don’t deserve syrup,” I said, and proceeded to eat my pancakes dry.
And although I’ve become slightly less dramatic with age, I still find myself living this way.
In my own economy, love is something that is earned. My roommates will love me if I keep the bathroom perfectly clean and always take my shoes out of the living room. I keep up this façade of perfection for a while—vowing to be the best roommate they’ve ever had.
But then, inevitably something slips and I mess up. I went out of town this last week, and came home to them patiently telling me that I had left asparagus in the fridge for FAR too long.
But instead of apologizing and promising to do better next time, I burst into tears.
The weight of my trying was heavy and my heart broke as I realized I’d failed. And if I’d failed at being the perfect roommate, I knew it was only a matter of time until I got what I deserved. (Like a tent in the hallway and dry pancakes—or a new set of roommates).
And that, ladies and gentleman, is the hole.
I do the same thing with Carl. If I do something careless, or allow some bratiness out of it’s cage, I apologize profusely—fully believing that unless I can make it up to him, and fast, that this may be the moment he decides to throw in the towel.
Reassurance rarely helps—fully convinced that one more demonstration of imperfection is going to be the last straw for his love.
But it’s the worst with God.
I have a tally of what a good Christian should do—all of the rules I’ve pasted together of what I have to do to be good enough.
I need to make sure I’m tithing, and I probably should have bought Starbucks for the guy behind me in line. I must read my bible every single day, and I should probably pray a little extra today because I spent 10 minutes in church thinking about how long it would take to break in my new flats.
I think about God too little and work too much. And then worry that at some point God’s going to blow up the building or melt my laptop—teaching me a lesson about putting him first.
I have a long list of all of the things I do wrong—all of the mistakes I’ve made, and all of the ways I’ve fallen short.
And this economy is exhausting.
My back is aching from the list that hangs around my neck—buy flowers for her, and his birthday present early, return that, write them a note, and apologize profusely for that stupid, stupid comment.
And the thing is, it all comes down to love. I’m not trying so hard because I want to be perfect. It’s not for praise or recognition. It’s for love.
I just want their love—and am thoroughly convinced that if I do everything right, I can earn it.
But when I fall short, as I so often do, I crawl into the hole waiting for the moment when the rejection shoe drops.
I hide in there, feeling somehow safe in my sadness and fear, suffering in my self-inflicted punishment until I can find a way to bribe my way back into love, (sometimes with trash bags for our kitchen, sometimes with perfect church attendance).
And every single time I’m shocked as they remind me that the grace bucket is deep, and that nobody else is tallying my flaws.
And so I’m learning to grab the hand that’s reached down to me—and allowing their love and grace to pull me back up into the sunshine.
Have you ever felt like you needed to earn love? Has grace ever taken you by surprise?