The Body Series: Grace and Truth in the Body

Suffused with grace.

All he does is suffused with grace.

A great deal of my journey into love had to do with learning grace. I just didn’t “get” grace. Why did I need it, really? Oh, yes. I’m a sinner from birth and all of us fall short of the glory of God. We all need it. 

But truthfully? 

That didn’t mean anything to me.

I wasn’t in touch with my “sin nature,” nor was I quite in touch with my actual sins when I committed them. And I most certainly wasn’t in touch with my belovedness. 

And so during that dark season when I sat down on the ground of my life and decided I wouldn’t get up until I understood God’s love for me, it had a lot to do with learning grace. 

Do you want to know what I learned about grace? 

It meant not having to perform. It meant being accepted exactly as I am. It meant not having to watch my every single move to the left or right, constantly gauging whether it was the exact right move. It meant the world wouldn’t fall apart if I didn’t hold it — and myself — together. It meant being allowed to be flawed and still being completely loved.

It was a revelation. God’s grace covered all my “sins” — which, strictly translated, means “missing the mark,” like when you’re shooting an arrow at a bull’s eye target. I didn’t have to hit that perfectly round and narrow mark with every single move. If I “missed,” God’s grace covered the miss.

God freed me from my perfectionism. That’s what God’s grace did for me.

My prayer today.

Don’t ever deprive me of your truth. Not ever.

The reason I share this with you is because of something one reader, Katy, shared in response to yesterday’s post. She wrote: 

I think that I became more in-tune with my body when I became more in-tune with my emotions … I started paying a lot of attention to how my emotions were affecting my physical health, and how my physical health was affecting my emotions. Now I know that being sad or mad or stressed can give me stomach issues, and that eating low-sugar, high protein meals helps with my anxiety. The better I eat and the more I exercise, the better my mental state.

I read these words and thought, I need to understand that better

And the reason I need to understand it better is because my experience of increased emotional health led to gaining weight, to the point of being overweight for the first time in my life. Was I not as emotionally healthy as I thought I was? Did I miss a right turn somewhere? 

I think, for me, this has something to do with growing into a greater balance of grace and truth. 

One of my absolute favorite passages in the Scriptures is John 1:14, which says of Jesus that he was the “fullness of grace and truth.” In his being, he held them both in fullness of measure and perfection.

Grace. Truth. Together.

Sometimes I think the ongoing journey of spiritual formation can be summed up by saying it’s about growing into the fullness of grace and truth together. When I encountered my need to understand grace because the idea of it bounced off me like a ball against a wall, I was way far over on the truth side of things. I know now that I was pretty much like a Pharisee. 

And so I started to learn grace. And once I found it, I bathed in it. Soaked in it. Relished its amazing gift. Fell so in love with Jesus. Bowed down in gratitude. 

To the point where grace showed up in my treatment of my body. I savored rich foods in ways I never had before. I celebrated a lot. I welcomed the enjoyment of a good meal the way I was learning to welcome myself and those around me in full acceptance in the presence of God. 

Just like we can fill up on truth to the exclusion of grace, I think we can do the same with grace: fill ourselves up on grace to the exclusion of truth. 

But Jesus is the fullness of both. And that is perfection and glory and beauty and perhaps the real definition of love. 

On my body journey right now, I’m in the process of pulling truth back into the mix — while keeping grace alive. 

How might you describe your own body journey in the context of grace and truth?

Ash Wednesday: A Time to Return


At the invitation of a friend, I woke early this morning — before the sun came up — and drove to our little church for the 6:30 a.m. Ash Wednesday service. 

It was a gift to be inside that place — one of my favorite places to be in all of Winter Park — at such an early hour and with just a handful of other journeying pilgrims, praying together. 

I’m so glad I went. 

I shared with my Cup of Sunday Quiet readers this past week, as well as in a guest post for the MSFL blog at Spring Arbor, that this season of Lent could not be coming at a more perfect time. I’ve just emerged from a difficult season in my life with God, and here on the other side of it, I find myself starting anew with practices and commitments that were a long-held, integrated part of my life and routine before things changed. 

I feel so much like a beginner. 

I feel so much like a penitent. 

Accordingly, it was so meaningful to pray the liturgy for Ash Wednesday this morning.

We prayed Psalm 103, and my eyes teared up upon saying aloud, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” There were many times in this past season of fallowness where I did forget the Lord’s benefits and where I stopped asking my soul to bless the Lord. 

I gave thanks when we prayed: 

“For as the heavens are high above the earth, 

   so is his mercy great upon those who fear him …

For he himself knows whereof we are made;

   he remembers that we are but dust.”

— Psalm 103:12, 14

I was reminded of my frailty — and that my frailty does not surprise God. I was reminded of his mercy toward those who fear him, and I was (and am) thankful he has given me a heart that fears him.

Later, after we had received the imposition of ashes, I was thankful to be reminded that “the sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart [he] will not despise” (Psalm 51:18). I received in that moment what God offers today on Ash Wednesday: absolution. I accepted that I can stop berating myself for the things I regret having done or said or thought or felt in these last months. I accepted God’s forgiveness, knowing that my heart, indeed, is troubled, is broken, is contrite over all these things.

And now begins the time of my returning.

May these next 40 days be a disciplined return that grows anew within me a heart that praises God and seeks to build up and to serve. May it be for you the invitation God has set before you, too. Amen.

Free and Made Alive

Gorgeous sky.

I have the incredible privilege of having been asked to proofread the entire biblical text of the New King James Version of the Bible for one of my freelance clients, a publisher, who is putting out a new study Bible this year. 

I know — pretty stinking incredible, right?

It’s a project I feel so humbled and excited to be part of. I am so loving it.

But one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve worked my way through the Old Testament is how heavy it makes my heart. Everywhere you turn in the pages of the Old Testament, all kinds of wickedness happens left and right. Brothers kill and betray and turn on each other. Daughters trick their fathers into sexual sin. Husbands lie about their wives. Not to mention the way nations war at the drop of a hat. 

The violence, deception, and general brokenness of humanity, written so plainly all over the pages of the Old Testament, hurts my heart. 

But something else about the Old Testament has been hurting my heart, too, and that’s the onerous burden of the law. Read through the Pentateuch — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy — at a single, continuous stretch, and you’ll find law upon law, statute upon statute, written and repeated over and over, again and again. 

And these aren’t simple laws, either. The law of God as given to the people of Israel is rich and complex, with layer upon layer and contingency upon contingency. I can’t help wondering how Israel possibly remembered it all. It makes my head spin.

It also makes me feel like I’m sinking in a very thick lake of molasses. 

It’s just impossible. It’s so nuanced — it almost feels like you can barely lift your feet or turn from left to right without worrying whether you’re up the law correctly or breaking it.

And then the other night, as I was reading through those pages and sinking ever so slowly into that murky mire of despair with all its tentacles gripping me, my thoughts (thankfully) turned to Jesus. And it struck me for perhaps the very first time in a truly gutteral, known-in-the-depths-of-my-heart kind of way what the precepts of Christianity have been teaching me all along: 

We could not fulfill the law, and so Jesus fulfilled it for us. 

The coming of Jesus fundamentally changes everything. God hasn’t changed, nor was Jesus a different representation of who God really is. But our relationship with God has changed now because of Jesus. The way we relate to him and the way he relates to us has changed — all because of Jesus. 

And I am just so thankful. 

Along similar lines, this morning I was sitting by the pool outside our Captiva condo listening to a Phil Wickham album called “Singalong” and was struck by these words in the final song on the album:

The earth was shaking in the dark,

All creation felt the Father’s broken heart,

Tears were filling heaven’s eyes,

The day that true love died.

When blood and water hit the ground,

Walls we couldn’t move came crashing down,

And we were free and made alive,

The day that true love died.

The walls we couldn’t move came crashing down, and we were free and made alive. 

That’s what has happened because of Jesus. On this side of the Old Testament, where we now live, we have been given freedom and life.

I am so, so thankful for this. I’m thankful for the grace-filled, tender, always-full-of-growth relationship with God that is now possible for us to experience because of Jesus. 

What about you? What is it like to hold the gift of that fundamental shift in the way you can relate to God because of Jesus?

Choosing Grace Today

Craggy heart.

Kirk and I returned home late last night from a conference in Nashville we decided would be our birthday gift to each other this year. (Our birthdays are a day apart from each other in January.)

It was a very refreshing, invigorating time full of laughter, reflection, and great conversation. Also, we got to experience some bona fide winter weather, since it doesn’t really exist at all in Florida where we live.

But as I sat at my desk this morning and reflected on the gift of being back home and able to do my most favorite thing in the world — sit in the quiet with a mug of hot coffee beside me, Diva lingering nearby, and the Scriptures open on the table of my desk — I noticed a crowd of thoughts rushing into the forefront of my awareness that had been kept at bay all weekend. 

You didn’t eat well this weekend.

You didn’t hear your alarm go off for the road trip, which is why we left 3 hours later than planned.

You don’t belong in a crowd.

You didn’t interact with other people at the conference much. 

And on and on it goes. All kinds of accusing thoughts, seeking to diminish me and make me feel like a failure.

I didn’t eat well. It’s true. Road food is not good for the body, and restaurant eating all weekend wasn’t either. My body feels sluggish and deprived of the fruit and water and simple meals I’ve gotten used to feeding it, and now I must begin the uphill climb to retrain my body what to expect. 

I didn’t hear my alarm go off. It’s true. And that first hour and a half after waking up on the day we left for the trip was stressful for us both. We thought we might miss the first night of the conference because we got such a late start out. But it turned out okay. We learned Tennessee is in a different time zone than Florida, so we gained an unexpected hour on the road. There wasn’t any traffic in Gainesville or Atlanta or any other place we thought we’d find it. We made it to the hotel with enough time to get settled in and refresh. And we were more rested while driving than we would have been otherwise. 

I don’t belong in a crowd. It’s true. I’m an introvert and prefer one-on-one connections to crowds of two-hundred-plus. But we weren’t there for the crowd. We were there to learn and share with each other what we’d taken in. And that happened in abundance. The weekend offered us what we hoped it would — and more. 

I didn’t interact with others much. It’s true. Several networking opportunities presented themselves, and while the crowd busily mingled and chatted, I more often took the safe route of talking to Kirk or just one or two others already seated around me. There were people I hoped to meet, but such meetings never happened. But that’s okay. The people I did meet were nice. I enjoyed those quiet conversations. And my introverted self needed to not get pushed into an extrovert’s world. 

I guess what I’m saying is this. 

Accusation takes advantage of hitting us at every turn. It tells us what we’re doing wrong or how we’re not doing enough. It points its finger at every nook and cranny and every tiny crevice of our lives. It never, ever, ever lets up on us.

But grace abounds in each situation, too. Grace shows up to carry us through. 

I’d rather choose grace over accusation. I’m noticing grace’s invitation and choosing it today instead.

How about you?

How Grace and Truth Relate

Reading the psalms.

I mentioned in a previous post that the first thing I learned in my long journey of coming to understand grace and my need for Jesus was the reality of grace — that grace is the aspect of God that invites us closer to him wholeheartedly and without a single reservation. It’s about our full acceptance and welcome in the presence of God, no strings attached.

This was a pretty huge paradigm shift for me. 

I knew my whole life that God’s love was unconditional and that Jesus created a way for us to have full access to God — but really, that idea lived mostly in my head. I didn’t really understand unconditional love and acceptance because I’d lived most of my life inside rules and conditions.

So the journey into grace was about learning to breathe and receive my love and worth before God. And it took several long and searching years for me to find that path, let me tell you.

But I’ve come to believe it is this foundation of grace that prepares us for the truth of God. I’ve come to believe that no matter how long it takes or how hard-won the journey might be, it is the most essential reality God desires us to receive through our life with Christ.

When we look at Jesus, we are told that he is “the fullness of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What does that really mean? 

It means that somehow, in love, grace and truth peacefully coexist and belong together. 

But without a foundation of grace firmly rooted inside us first, without knowing in a visceral, very real way our full welcome and acceptance with God, then words of truth — and particularly words of correction — only strike us as harsh and shaming. All we hear in words of truth is that we’re going the wrong way and need to go the right way, as though going the right way is more important than who we are.

At least, that has been my experience. Has that been yours?

But once we are in a relationship of full acceptance and embrace, knowing that nothing we do wrong will remove that full embrace and that standing invitation of welcome, we can read these words that David wrote in the psalms …

Train me, God, to walk straight;

   then I’ll follow your truth path.

Put me together, one heart and mind;

   then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.

— Psalm 86:11 

… and give thanks and make them our prayer.

In a loving, grace-filled relationship, the truth that teaches us to walk straight becomes a gift. It becomes a gentle and loving guide intended for our good. It becomes an object of hope, rather than a ruler of judgment. It becomes something for which we give thanks.

What is your experience of grace and truth? Where in the journey into either do you find yourself today?

Room to Be Yourself

Sun-drenched foliage.

I’ve shared here before that my path to an authentic relationship with God began with an honest confession that I really never had come to understand grace or my need for Jesus, and that this confession was followed by a prayer for God to teach me both. 

That was 13 years ago, and my life has been an ever-winding journey toward the answer to that prayer ever since. 

I’ve learned some things since then — about God, about myself, about the nature and intent and process of formation — and the very first one has to do with grace.

Grace is that aspect of God that invites us in wholeheartedly and without a single reservation. 

This is what Jesus makes possible: full access to God. 

And not just access but welcome! We are ushered in with the unending invitation to draw nearer and nearer and nearer. 

My reading yesterday morning in the psalms affirmed this truth with these words: 

You’ve always given me breathing room,

   a place to get away from it all.

A lifetime pass to your safe-house,

   an open invitation as your guest.

You’ve always taken me seriously, God,

   made me welcome among those who know and love you.

— Psalm 61:3-5 

Love is first full of grace. Of welcome. Of invitation and full acceptance. 

Can you receive this gift of grace from God today? What is it like for you to receive an irrevocable invitation into the safe-house of God, a place that offers you unending breathing room, a relationship with One who always takes you seriously?

Remembering the Grace that Abounds

I love this little girl.

My kitty Diva, who so often teaches me vulnerability.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’ve been wrestling with the superhuman tendency again. This morning, as I sat in the quiet with Jesus for the first time in several days, I could feel the effects of so much strain. My body was tired, my mind was tired, and my spirit and heart were particularly weary. 

I could feel, sitting there with Jesus this morning, how much the superhuman tendency creates an incredible dependence on myself and my own strength.

I’m not free to simply be. I’m not free to connect in real ways with others. And I’m certainly not in a posture to receive God’s grace. 

It’s almost as though, when in superhuman mode, we gear up with so much armor. We’re like young David going into battle with Goliath wearing the too-big and too-heavy armor of his king. That armor is heavy. When wearing it, it wears us down and wears us out. It creates an always-present awareness of navigating our way around the world with that heavy armor braced upon on all our limbs and vulnerable places.

We’re not free, and we’re always straining against heaviness with all the strength we can muster from inside ourselves.

But this morning, Jesus reminded me of his grace. 

It is a grace that abounds, more and more, always. It reminds me that I belong to him and no one else — not even myself.

And in belonging to him, he decides and declares my worth. 

The incredible thing about belonging to God is that we always win. We receive infinite worth, unending love, and a grace that never ends. 

Would you like to receive the gift of that grace from God today? 

More on Limits

Morning reading.

I’ve set aside today as a day of rest. It’s the first day I’ve allowed myself a full day of rest in eleven straight days — and let me tell you, it’s been a difficult morning so far, keeping this commitment. I keep wanting to write e-mails or make plans to schedule my upcoming week. I keep thinking about deadlines and how much I want to keep working in order to meet them or get ahead of the game. 

But so far this morning, even though there have been great surges of struggle to let go of work and sink into rest, I’ve been able to remain committed to what this day is about for me. I haven’t written the e-mails. I haven’t opened my notebook and planner. I’ve rested — literally gave myself permission to sleep a little bit longer — and I’ve continued to let myself actively embrace the plans I’ve made to spend quality time with a very dear friend today. 

But the struggle has gotten me thinking this morning more about the limits of our humanity.

What is at the root of that drive in us that wants to burst through our limits and not be stopped short by anything? What is it that keeps hounding at me to do more and more and more, not welcoming that still small voice in me that pipes up to say, “What is done is good and will have to be enough for now, and now I need to rest”?

I don’t know about you, but for me, the root of that striving drive and that hounding voice has a lot to do with fear. 

I fear falling short. Failure. Not being enough. I fear letting people down or creating some inadvertent catastrophe by a moment’s lack of vigilance. Plainly put, I fear whatever might happen — via circumstance or relationship — from my not being perfect or all things for all people or situations.

Can you relate to this?

I remember another season in my life when I began to recognize this tendency in me as something possibly unhealthy or other than God intends for it to be. I started seeing this drive in me as a tendency toward what I called the superhuman. It was so helpful to even call it that because then I could step back and say, “What does it mean, then, to be merely human?” 

Being human means not being God. It means having a body that can only be in one finite place at a time. It means having a brain that can only hold so much. It means having systems inside me that need nourishment and rest in order to thrive and get rejuvenated.

Being human is an invitation to grace. 

Perhaps it will help you to hear, as it helps me, that when we try to be superhuman, we’re trying to be other than what we actually are and what God made us to be. When we’re aiming for the superhuman, we’re actually trying to be what God alone can be, which is to say without flaw or failure or misstep.

When we’re trying to be superhuman, we’re more than likely trying to protect ourselves from pain or judgment or rejection or disappointment in some way. More often than not, we are acting out of a fear of what might happen if we don’t do it all, whatever “all” might be for us. 

Right now, in this moment, with what you’re facing, what do you fear will happen if you allow yourself to embrace the reality of your limits? If you played out your worst fears to their imagined conclusion, what might that look like? What is it like for you to hear that God made you human, not superhuman?

We Are Not Defined by Guilt

This past weekend, I attended a retreat to complete three years of training in the ministry of spiritual direction. For this week’s entries on Still Forming, I’ll be posting reflections gleaned from the retreat that made me think of you and this space throughout the weekend.

Today I am writing the post that first inspired me to create this week-long series of retreat reflections for you in the first place.

It has to with guilt.

On the first night of the retreat, I was weighed down with feelings of guilt in a big way. Earlier in the week I had received an invoice that informed me I was not paid up on my Audire account like I thought I was. I had a large balance I was unprepared to pay that weekend.

Although grace was offered in the payment schedule, I arrived at the retreat feeling a bit unworthy to be there. After all, I hadn’t yet covered my expenses.

I walked around with a bit of a hang-dog feel.

I also realized about halfway through the first night’s session that I’d forgotten to bring my assignments for the weekend with me. I’d left them at home. I had to leave the retreat campus that evening in order to go home and retrieve the papers.

On my drive home that night, the hang-dog feel was in full force. Guilt was my very-present companion.

But sitting at a stop light on that drive home, I had a revelation.

I realized how much my feeling of worthiness in that moment was dependent on what other people thought. In effect, they held the validity of my worthiness in their hands.

The funny thing is, they didn’t even know this was the case.

In actuality, they likely hadn’t given me and my supposed shortcomings a second thought. And they most definitely weren’t walking around the retreat center stewing over what I did or didn’t do!

Sitting there at the stop light, I turned my thoughts to God. When God looked down upon me and these supposed shortcomings, what did he see?

I saw nothing but grace and understanding on God’s eyes.

When he looked at the circumstances of my unpaid bill, he knew it would take some time for me to pay it off. That didn’t stop him from welcoming me into the retreat to spend time with him and discover what he had prepared for me to discover. And when he saw my forgotten papers waiting there at home for me, he knew why I had forgotten them. He saw the circumstances surrounding it.

And it was all okay. Really okay.

I was reminded in that moment of that passage in Romans 8 that says there is no condemnation — absolutely none — for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is only full acceptance, love, and grace.

Do you struggle with guilt, too? Are you able to see that guilt as a way of placing your worth in the hands of others? Are you able in this moment to place yourself instead in the hands of God?

You Need Not Do Anything

This past weekend, I attended a retreat to complete three years of training in the ministry of spiritual direction. For this week’s entries on Still Forming, I’ll be posting reflections gleaned from the retreat that made me think of you and this space throughout the weekend.

Today I’d like to reflect on the grace of being invited to simply be where you are. We were invited several times throughout the weekend into this kind of grace-filled space, and I couldn’t help but think of how important this kind of invitation really is.

For instance, half of the weekend retreat (Friday night through Saturday evening) was intended for silence. We met for periodic sessions as a group, during which time there was ready laughter and observations and sharing, but the rest of the time was offered as an invitation to experience silence.

We ate our meals together in silence, and we were given several blocks of time between sessions to simply explore the grounds, sit quietly in the gardens, pray and journal, or take a nap.

How often in our lives are we given such ample space to simply be still? 

But the retreat leader was keen to say that this invitation to silence was not meant to impose rigidity on us at all. “The world is noisy — have you noticed?” he asked. “Silence is not meant to be external to us. Ultimately, we are meant to discover what it means to be in silence in the midst of noise.”

The goal wasn’t silence for silence’s sake, in other words. If we needed to talk or connect during the time allocated to silence, then so be it. We had complete permission to use this weekend time set aside in the best way we saw fit.

I so appreciated that grace.

Then later in the weekend, we were offered these words from a poem by Franz Kafka:

You Need Not Do Anything

You need not do anything: you need not even leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You don’t even need to wait, just be still, quiet and solitary
and the world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked.
It has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

— Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

It struck me as slightly odd to be receiving such a gracious invitation to freedom from a man whose name is synonymous with a cockroach in my mind (Kafka is most famous for having written a book called The Metamorphosis), but I was deeply encouraged by the words of this poem when receiving them. 

You need not do anything. 

You can just sit at your table and listen. 

In fact, you need not even listen, if that’s too much to do. You can simply wait. 

In fact, you need not even wait. Just be still. 

The whole world will open to you in this stillness of the quiet.

Isn’t that encouraging?

To me, this is so much about dethroning expectations. We often think we’re expected to do this or do that, and it creates so much noise inside our heads that keep us from that true, still center, doesn’t it? But if we are invited to simply be where we need to be, all kinds of freedom opens up inside. Then we can get in touch with the truth of ourselves, our connection to God and the world around us, and the creativity our lives invite us to experience. 

Are you familiar with this kind of grace? Is it easy or difficult for you to dethrone expectations and sink into the truth of your heart? Is there any specific measure of freedom you need to receive in this moment? What is it like for you to experience the invitation to just be exactly where you are and need to be?

Of Stars and Wildernesses

As an intern spiritual director, I have a supervisor I visit once a month. She is there to provide support for me in my work with individuals on their spiritual journeys, and she is truly a gift from God. 

Usually during our sessions together, we talk about my growing edges as a director, the places where I stumble or falter when working with others and the places I’m finding my stride. But this particular time, we ended up just talking about me. Not me in the role of director, but me as Christianne.

I found myself telling her about my struggles through the dying process, and specifically my struggle to feel surrounded and loved by God and others. I told her I feel alone and that I wished there were more people I could look to for guidance on how to do this. I told her that I feel the need to be strong in all my respective spheres of life, and I shared examples of how that shows up in my life right now. I told her that this need to be strong and have something to offer feels particularly pronounced for me right now.

Read More