extending grace

note: this is the second in a two-part series. click to read the first installment here.

as i shared in my previous post, i spent about three days heeding the compelling invitation to listen to the quiet. at first, it felt comforting, like a sweet relief from all the noise i had been cramming in my head for days on end. but toward the end of that intense three-day directive, i began to feel just plain irritable.

i had grasped that all those distractions were not the answer to my plight, that they would never fill me in the way that i wanted them to. so now i couldn't read books. i couldn't sit for another moment longer in front of my computer. i couldn't handle the thought of one more movie. all of it felt empty, devoid of the life i sought. these days of quiet had revealed this to me, and i had actually lost my taste for them [at least in such large doses]. but just sitting and listening to the quiet? it took forever. it seemed to go nowhere. it even felt [gasp! the horror!] boring.

so there i was, feeling completely irritable and stuck. the hole inside my chest kept growing more vast, pleading with me to fill it now, but i felt completely helpless to do so. i couldn't go back to the futility of the old ways, but hearing that listen to the quiet prompt was making me want to scream and punch my pillow.

thus began the days of walking listlessly around inside my house. there were a handful of these, and they were pretty intolerable. i would hear the prompt and heed it half-heartedly, and then i would get up and walk around my house aimlessly. mind you, our house is not very large, so the walk took very little time. it landed me back at square one way before i was ready to be there.

one night, kirk and i were out driving around town. we were talking about how we could best invest our time and resources after graduation to get us moving along again financially. as we were throwing around ideas, i could feel that cavernous place inside my chest begin to fill. i began to feel excited. i began to envision throwing myself into some new adventure. i began to think of all the ways my competencies could be used somewhere. oh, yeah! i thought. here we go. i just needed a direction in which to focus this whole time. that's all that i've been waiting for.

except i quickly realized this wasn't true. because you know what? in the same amount of time it took for me to think gleefully that i'd found the answer to filling my chest-sized emptiness, that answer just as quickly revealed itself to be a sham. that hole was filling up in the exact same way that the hole had filled when i threw myself into thinking of writing as my vocation in the last few years, and then into thinking that the business idea i'd been developing over this past year was my vocation. really, all of this was just another form of distraction, albeit a weightier one than the piddly distractions that had occupied the extent of my days in recent weeks.

but perhaps it was an even more insidious distraction . . . because these attention-claimers, the ones that have been tied to vocation and questions about what i should do with my life, are also so closely tied to the notions i hold of my core identity. and, given my experience with how things have gone before with all these things, i knew that the same thing would happen this time around if i wasn't careful.

what would happen is this: i would think i had found some answer to my life, some notion of what i was meant to do, and then throw myself into frenzied activity in that direction. i would work and work and work so hard to make something happen with all of that, and i would feel so fulfilled in doing it. the hole in my chest would close, having become filled to the full with a mission for life that i was purposely called to do. and then suddenly i would wake up one day and realize that it had become empty again. i would cast about, wondering what had happened. and eventually, i would find that my attempts to distill my life into some active direction that encompassed all of me wouldn't last because no one thing could possibly encapsulate all of me. and so the hole inside my chest would empty and i would be back to that cavernous ache, unsure of who i was or what i was supposed to do with myself. i would be back to feeling aimless and alone. i would be back to feeling completely lost.

that night in the car, i felt myself go through this roller coaster in a handful of minutes, filling up with excitement and then seeing it through in my mind's eye to its inevitable end. and this time, i was able to see how often and how easily this happens inside of me because i attach my whole life and identity to these kinds of answers. i encamp my very worth around them, and then i feel depleted and devalued when the bubble eventually pops, as it always does.

i didn't want to do that again. i wanted to learn forward this time. the only trouble was, i was back to sitting with that cavernous hole. i still did not know how to fill it. this was very frustrating, and also frightening. what was i going to do? and if it had taken me this long to search and try and still be misguided, how long would it take to search and try and find the actual life i was looking for?

a couple days later, kirk and i attended a training day that his friend kevin was conducting. kevin runs a business that helps people and businesses discover their purpose and align their lives and practices with that purpose. in the past few years, kirk has been working as an independent contractor with kevin in this, so he was attending the training day to connect with others who may also begin to offer these services. kevin was kind enough to extend the invitation for the "train the trainer" day to me, given my interest in helping people along in the area of God's work in their lives.

it was a valuable day of training that ran the full workday. as a group, we went through the primary materials that kevin and kirk and others have been using to consult with clients, and a lot of us took notes and asked questions and posed scenarios from different points of view. as i was participating, i was thinking only of how to apply this knowledge in a client setting, not of how to apply it personally to my life. that is, until about the last 45 minutes of the training day, when the personal application hit me completely unaware.

the entire day, we had been building up to the final segment of how to help clients write their overarching life purpose statements, the idea being that each person has a unique spiritual DNA, beyond the collective spiritual DNA we all have [to glorify God and enjoy him forever], which is the specific way each person is designed to exhibit that collective aim. kevin didn't describe it this way, but i'm thinking it is somewhat similar to the concept of naming in the scriptures: the way people named their children, the way God renamed people at times, the new and secret name that we will receive in heaven . . . all of these speak to a uniqueness that describes an expression of the image of God that each person individually bears.

so we're in the session, fleshing this out, hearing some examples, and i start noodling with some ideas on my notebook for what mine could potentially be. i didn't work too hard at it, and nothing i wrote felt like it tapped into the deepest, most fundamental parts of me, so eventually i turned the page and continued along with the rest of the group.

at this point, kevin began to the tell the story of a woman who had approached him after a lecture he gave one time. she told him she had found her purpose in life, and that purpose was to lose weight. of course, kevin's spirits dropped when he heard that, and he took a moment to talk further with her about it, sharing that losing weight was more like a goal, whereas your purpose is fundamental to your sense of being. and then he asked her if she knew what grace meant.

as soon as i heard the word grace, my mind was off and running again. i thought about how crucial that word has been to my spiritual journey in the past ten years. i thought about how that spiritual journey began in response to a lack of grace i had carried toward myself or received from others in the previous years of my life. i thought about how much i desire to share grace with others now, in whatever form it can possibly take. and i thought about how even that day i had heard a few people share that a person's purpose usually ends up being connected to something they had personally struggled with over the course of their life.

i turned back a page and looked at the examples that were written there. i looked at the ones i had tried to create for myself. i added a couple more possibilities, with question marks attached to them: offering grace? extending grace? thinking about my desire to minister to others, i figured offering grace made the most sense, so i circled it and turned the page again. but the longer i sat there listening, the more the words extending grace kept resounding in my head. extending grace. extending grace. extending grace.

i turned the page back again and stared at the two options. although offering grace was circled, my eyes kept moving to extending grace. i tried to think why that might be. and then i thought about the fact that grace is really something that flows down from heaven. of myself, i have no grace to offer. i can only extend that which has been given to me. also, i thought about how much of my life has been about learning to receive grace myself, and about continuing to receive it every day. i'm not here, completely healed, ready to offer without need to receive. but i can be here to extend grace to others and to myself. this is something i will need to do the rest of my life, in fact.

suddenly, i realized that i had it. i had hit upon my purpose statement without even realizing i was looking for it that day.

i exist to serve by extending grace.

i tried to get kirk's attention in order to share it with him, but he thought i was just trying to hold and squeeze his hand. [hee hee.] but a few minutes later, an opportunity naturally presented itself for me to share my discovery with the group, and that was such an amazing experience. it felt so good to profess what i was coming to understand was core to my life, my soul, my mind, my heart -- what God created me to offer of himself in the world. and even though i've been circling around this word grace for quite some time now, there is something really special about naming it as fundamental to my being. i exist to serve by extending grace. it gave me tears and goose bumps. it does still to this day, even a week later.

it is so neat how every single thing they shared that day through the course of the training about what would happen when someone hit upon their real and true purpose statement was true for me: that it would make sense of every major event in their life, that it would transcend a specific job or vocation they could hold, that it would inform the devotional way they read the scriptures and would explain why particular passages mean so much to them, that it will form the basis for even the slightest interactions they have with others or the way they carry themselves to complete different tasks in their life. i could see it in an instant. i knew it was true down to the depth of my bones. and i knew that this was something bigger than any "answer" i could try to find for my life. it was simply about a matter of being.

earlier in the day, kevin had shared an illustration of what he calls a person's core life accounts [spiritual, emotional, mental, social, financial, and so on] by depicting a circle with a lot of smaller circles nestled within the large circle, funneling their way down to a hole in the middle. these circles represent the different core life accounts of a person's life and the way they move outward hierarchically from the core of the person to their more external interactions in the world. like i said, at the center of the diagram, depicting the core of the person, was a hole. and you know what goes in that hole? according to kevin, it's the person's individual purpose.

at the time, i didn't connect this diagram at all to the hole that i had been feeling in my own chest so intensely in the previous days, but once i uncovered my purpose statement later in the day, my mind flew back to the diagram and made the connection immediately. i find that so totally cool. it makes so much sense of why i'd been having trouble knowing what to do with that hole, how much filling it with a particular activity or job or calling, as great as some of those things can be, can never be permanent enough or big enough to fill that hole there inside of me. that hole was meant to be filled with something more transcendent yet fundamental to who i am. it's meant to be filled with, simply, my way of being.