When I was in graduate school, one of my assignments was to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Let me tell you, for a girl who liked to keep up appearances, that took courage. I pulled into the parking lot of the Methodist church where the group was meeting just as the sun was setting. I wanted a T-shirt that said “Not Addicted! Just a Student” or “Counselor-in-Training.” My complete discomfort with the situation said more about me than it did about AA.
I slipped into the back pew of the church as the meeting began. A beautiful, well-dressed woman in her fifties came to the microphone and began to share her story. She was honest. She was funny. She didn’t take herself seriously, but she took her need for Jesus and for recovery very seriously.
As I listened to her speak, I was struck by my own fear about merely attending this meeting as a bystander. I hadn’t even wanted to enter the church, for fear of what it would look like to “need” an AA meeting. I realized it takes great courage to admit that we need help. I realized that people sitting in an AA meeting might be braver than most of us.
Thankfully, I’ve grown a little since then, mostly in my own understanding of how messed up I really am. But here’s the problem: Most of us don’t like grace. You might think of grace as forgiveness, kindness, or love. You might think of grace as the patience that allows us to accept one another in our imperfections. Maybe you think of a Bible-word definition—that grace is about the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross that allows us access to eternal life. In some way, grace is all of these things, but grace is also so much more. To be brave enough to accept the full liberating power of grace, we have to understand what grace does, why we need it so desperately, and how it changes us so completely.1