“You are doing a great job.”
We had finally taken our son to a child psychologist. After years and years of not wanting any labels, wanting to treat him like a normal kid, wanting to just work with him, we just couldn’t do it anymore. He was getting so big that I physically couldn’t control him. Teaching him how to handle himself was taking all my time away from my other kids and exhausting our whole family.
We needed help. We decided to go for a full workup, and the doctor didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. Still, it felt nice to be validated, and having our hurt seen. It makes you feel less crazy when people acknowledge how hard it has been. It’s not in your head. Your life is really that hard.
If I were to summarize the psychologist’s assessment, it was that my child had many more problems than met the eye. He struggles to focus, and he struggles with impulse control. He tires easily and schoolwork especially exhausts him. His ideal environment is when his parents are working with him and offering him nearly around the clock therapy.
Because we have taught him so many accessible, healthy, and socially acceptable coping skills, most onlookers wouldn’t know his challenges. Our son truly is a wonderful young man.
“So, where do we go from here?” I asked her.
“Seriously, just keep doing what you’re doing. I wish all kids with his issues had a situation like he has.”
“But…we came here because we can’t do it anymore. Our other kids can’t have us doing this anymore. I mean, it’s nice to hear. But we need help. We might look like we’re doing great, given the circumstances, but we aren’t doing well. We are all falling apart.”
This has been a theme in my life that keeps circling around in conversations like a merry-go- round. We might look fine, but we are falling apart.
That was over four years ago. It was actually just the beginning of a long health journey. Life is so much better now. But in all honestly, it’s still hard – just in different ways.
Give Yourself Grace
I feel like I can’t go anywhere lately without people telling me to give myself some grace.
“Give yourself some grace. You have six kids.”
“Give yourself some grace. No one is perfect.”
“Give yourself grace; it’s harvest time, and that’s an intense season.”
I appreciate the sentiment to give myself grace. It’s not entirely wrong. When I’m crushed under expectations or I completely fail my kids, when I forget something important or I’m not there for my husband, I beat myself up. I need grace.
But I struggle to give myself grace. For a while, I blamed other’s expectations on me. I thought my husband expected too much, or my extended family didn’t help enough. Giving myself grace felt like disappointing people I loved.
I give myself grace by minimizing my schedule. I give myself grace by delegating. I give myself grace with the ever-popular self-care. Those are all good things. There is wisdom in planning and organizing. But it’s never enough.
I love truth and justice, so turning a blind eye to any wrong, no matter how small or insignificant, seems wrong; it’s what makes me hold onto grudges for so long. I despise sweeping things under the rug. These feelings intensified especially when they came to my own responsibilities. If I dropped the ball about anything I felt God called me to, I couldn’t just let it go.
Giving myself grace felt like I had to say that something was okay when it wasn’t okay. I had to just shove the hurt, hide the failure, or turn a blind eye to things I regret. It weighed on my heart.
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My grace sure feels cheap. My grace is kind of condescending to myself: “Yeah, you know that was probably too much.” Cheap grace sounds like a commercial, telling me that I deserve it, I did my best, I’m enough, and any other cliché that cycles around.
When I’m struggling, I don’t need someone telling me to take it easy. I need someone to take the burden. I need someone to show up and just do the stuff.
If Christ offered cheap grace, He would say, “Pray if you need anything. I’ll be around.” It would be like someone giving you advice on how to handle your mess better, instead of just coming over and helping out. It would be “We all have our issues! Know you’re not alone. Keep doing what you’re doing! You’re doing fantastic. Don’t anyone tell you different.”
It all sounds nice, but something in me doubts these platitudes. It’s because I’m living the truth of my deficiencies. Can we just be fine by saying we’re fine? Self-talk. Self-care. Self-grace.
Then there’s this King—this God, who comes through the womb of a virgin. He was born in the humblest of circumstances. He didn’t come for the fanfare or the honors we could give Him. He knew we were too weak for that. Instead, He showed up on our doorstep to work.
He came to fulfill the law, something that I could never do. I remind myself that He did not come to fulfill everyone’s expectations. He disappointed many people. For some reason, that’s a comfort to me.
Jesus did the work I could not do. He humbled Himself. He reached into the most intimate and darkest places of humanity and He showed us the power of resurrection.
He didn’t come to motivate us or praise us. There was no “You can do it!” or “Just believe in yourself!” Jesus knew that self-help was failing humanity. We needed something much more powerful. We needed God-help.
Jesus is God is with us: Emmanuel. He is the God who showed up.
He never leaves us or forsakes us. His expectations for us are not based on our works, but on abiding in His works. It is believing that Jesus truly is with us. It is knowing that He paid our full debt of sin, rose from the dead and sent His Spirit to sanctify me, grow me, and convict me.
I don’t need cheap, well-intentioned grace. I need the resurrection-power grace. I need the grace that never asks me to pretend I’m fine when I’m not. I need the grace that’s there when I have nothing left to give.
Too often during the Christmas season, I feel like my load has doubled with so many things to do. There is so much weight put on my shoulders. It’s almost ironic, since that’s the opposite message of Christmas. I’m sure the enemy has a plan to set my emotions against the truth.
God humbled Himself.
God came to do the work I couldn’t do. The work He does is in me.
He does not intend to leave me unchanged.
His grace isn’t a sweet thought, or good intention. It’s a roll-up-His-sleeves grace, the kind that completed the work that needed to be done, the work that I was unable to accomplish.
It’s often hard to heal. It’s not always comfortable. But truly, I’d take the healing, justice-filled pain of the good grace over the nice-sounding cheap grace any day.
“Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”
Gretchen Ronnevik is a mom to 6 hilarious kids from toddler to teenager. She works as a homeschool mom, writer, and tutor to middle school kids in classical studies. She has published an e-course for mentors in inter-generational ministry called Gospel Mentoring and works to equip women’s ministries in churches from falling into legalistic patterns that compromise the message of the gospel. Gretchen enjoys knitting, reading many books at the same time, and embarrassing her teenagers in public. She and her husband, Knut, live in Minnesota on the family farm. She blogs regularly at www.gretchenronnevik.com and you can also connect with her on Instagram @gretchen.ronnevik . Gretchen is also a regular contributor for Women Encouraged.