Sunday, December 30, 2012

James and Paul or what my sister-in-law is teaching me about grace

You know how sometimes we just have knee-jerk reactions? It's kind of like hitting your funny bone - no real harm done but a lot of hopping around while holding your elbow and muttering about partially open doors. Keep that image in your head.

Having grown up in a rather rules and success oriented home I'm kind of allergic to competence. Ok, that isn't exactly true. I love successfully hosting a family gathering or taking a particularly nice photograph. I get a nice little glow when my in-laws compliment me on my cooking or something I've done in the house. What drives me nuts are the people who have their budgets organized for the next five years and have neat little charts of their pantry stores and lost 2.3 pounds a week after keeping a food diary. It's just all so.....precise. So very box ticky. So very antithetical to how I think. And it drives me crazy when I see other people doing it. I can't really explain why except to say that after years of living with parentally mandated competence I'm enjoying not pretending to have everything together. I'm a bit of a mess actually, and there are people whose competence really has gotten on my nerves. They're just so good at things that I can barely do at all. My sister-in-law (M. for short) has been one of those people. She's a delightful young woman, but my stars is she competent! She's got letters after her name, and she enjoys doing spreadsheets! Us mere mortals aren't in the running with such as her. In some ways people like her remind me of the Law - showing up all the ways in which I fall short and providing the rubric which people like my parents use to judge others. You must understand that I don't believe she's judgmental herself. She's just good at lots of obviously good things that people like my parents equate with success and maturity. If I'd been more like her maybe I'd have a better relationship with my mom. Who knows?

As for myself, people have been telling me for the past year or so that I'm creative in both thought processes and actions. I've never really bought into it much because I was, in some ways, raised to be like M. I needed a career and letters after my name and precise budgeting and a workout plan. I needed to be grown-up. What I've turned into a housewife/daydreamer/congregant clinging to the idea of "faithful in small things" and building a home full of color, warmth, good food, and lots of cheer. I am more creative than I thought. I'd rather catch some inspiration and organize my sewing room than sit down and figure out last month's expenditures. When I went over to M's house a while back I noticed that she has, as expected, a very tidy, well organized home, and her party was well organized and laid out with plenty of delicious food. What struck me was how well it illustrated our different temperaments. Her home - organized, calm, well-run, but lacking in artwork or color. My home - somewhat chaotic and in a perpetual state of being organized, but full of color and art. Neither approach is better than the other and both excellently portray our personalities. Having seen this it struck me that perhaps this is what people have been trying to show me about myself. I've been living life half-ashamed of not being more like M. when really my weaknesses are the flipside to some rather nice strengths. My home is colorful and warm and full of meaningful and interesting art. My food is creative and inventive. I'd much rather work from an impulse than from a list or a recipe, and that's ok.

Here's where James and Paul are relevant. So long as I felt myself judged by other people's competence it threatened me. Their achievements were as law to me, and I felt condemned. Now, though, it's easier to see the grace of my own achievements. Even though I still may make faces when people post their lists on facebook or mention doing something super mature and organized I'm less threatened by it because I can see the worth of my own, possibly more creative, gifts and impulses. This frees me to learn from competent people without feeling judged by them and to offer my own gifts in return. It's James and Paul - works and grace. When all I thought I had was Law I felt stifled and broken. Now that I know about Grace I feel like maybe taking another stab at the Law. The point is simply that old saw of valuing each other's gifts and understanding what we ourselves offer. Sometimes the list maker could use a few tips on being more laid back and spontaneous, and sometimes the mural painter could use a little organization. The idea is to not let ourselves be condemned by the other persons skills but to offer everything up with faith and thanksgiving to God who has delighted to give talents around is such a haphazard fashion that very few of us are self sufficient even in our own eyes. But that's another post in and of itself.

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