MICHELLE WILLIAMS THE HOLY SPIRIT, GRACE ATTENDER & BLOGGER
I snagged a copy of Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son from the Grace bookstore the spring of 2014 immediately after David Bell recommended it in a very powerful sermon. In record time for my full-time-working-mom life, I had it read from front to back, staining its pages with many tears along the way. I’ve always considered that time to be a fork in the road along my spiritual journey. It’s the time when I saw a path from disgrace to grace—and I took it.
Initially, I was all about relating with the younger son; lamenting all of the ways I had turned my back on God over the span of 33 years. What an incredible relief it was to know that I had God’s love despite the fact that I’d done a poor job of giving him mine for so many years. I surfaced with an understanding that my own shame had come between me and God, and with a strong resolve to never let shame get ahold of me like that again.
Then it suddenly hit me: I was more like the older son in ways I hadn’t even realized. In fact, I was actively practicing disgrace toward several people at that time. I believed I was the central figure (victim) in a situation that felt very unjust to me, and I had become filled with an unrelenting anger as a result. I even thought my anger was justified. I was in deep. In the span of a few days, I realized that God wanted to relieve me of a burden of shame—at the same time I realized that I was working (pretty hard) to impose shame on others. Yikes.
Making that connection set a new trajectory of spiritual growth in my life. Looking back, I’m astonished at the rapid-fire changes I began making almost instantly. I started a blog with a friend. I engaged in serving regularly by tending a plot in the community gardens at Grace. I quit my job (in an effort to relieve the massive tension I had helped to create). I wrote a few public articles about the suicide of my dad—a topic in which I’d been super secretive about previously. I became pregnant with our second child. I took up freelance reporting at the urging of the Holy Spirit. I stepped out in faith and decided to leave full-time work, which led to an amazing opportunity to work part-time from home. Oh, and I also started writing for the Grace Church blog even though the idea of it kinda terrified me a little! All of these changes were ways in which I pursued grace and left disgrace in the dust.
That being said, I think I’ve finally realized 4 years post mortem that Jesus delivered the Parable of the Two Sons to illustrate to us the many ways in which we practice disgrace. (Thanks for a rockin’ sermon, Barry!) Because until we understand that we’re practicing disgrace, we remain lost. Until we realize the many ways in which we shame ourselves and hold anger towards others, we cannot even fathom the depth of the Father’s love. The first step toward grace is an awareness of disgrace.
Once we recognize the ways disgrace shows up in our lives, it’s hard to “unsee” it. I sometimes feel my own consciousness almost hovering and observing the ways in which I fall back into those old disgraceful patterns. This awareness enables me to change my direction more swiftly when it does happen. It’s pretty amazing.
When we begin to consciously choose grace over disgrace, I believe that’s when we can start to understand the depth of the Father’s love. That’s when we start taking lessons on learning to love more like the Father. We become a little softer and acknowledge that our enemies are actually our brothers and sisters. Serving others becomes a daily preference. Forgiveness and grace come naturally. The soil becomes fertile and the fruits of the Spirit grow and ripen.
I have a hunch that a few people who heard the sermon this past weekend are now at a fork in the road of their own journeys. There’s the beaten path of disgrace, but also a new, untraveled path to grace. It might seem unfamiliar and overwhelming at first, but you’ll want to choose the path of grace. I promise you’ll be glad you did.