My friend Kim and I were sitting with our toes in the sand, watching our boys climb up the ladder and slide-splash into the lake. The weather was a glorious seventy-eight degrees in western Minnesota, following a cold snap that had killed all the mosquitos. It was a unicorn day at Lake Beauty Bible Camp. A kind of day where, like light through a prism, I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
Now that winter is approaching, the freezing temperatures have brought me far from the shore of any lake. However, in Advent waiting and celebration, in these cozy, hymn-filled moments, I sense those same glimpses of God’s kingdom on earth. Christmas brings a hope that I may dwell in the continual presence of God’s grace, and I expect God’s light to glimmer into the dustiest corners of my heart. However, in the busyness and expectation of the season, I often forget. I forget that grace isn’t determined, earned, or controlled. Unlike that day at the beach, I act like it’s all up to me.
Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown writes, “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” How many times have I allowed myself to say yes when I should have said no? How many times have I wanted to say yes to something that brought me joy and wholeness but couldn’t because I hadn’t asked for what I needed from someone else? How many times have I forgotten that grace is offered to me apart from what I can achieve?
Amid the demands and expectations of well-intentioned celebrations, I find myself believing I should fix these things for others and for myself. I must make them see it my way. No phones at this Thanksgiving dinner. You need to spend the holidays with us. These are my grace-forgetting thoughts, the lie being that it’s my job to control the people around me. Even worse are the lies that hold my own actions and beliefs hostage to God’s loving presence. If I just bake enough cookies, mail enough cards, smile, sing, and buy enough things, then I’ll feel loved.
God doesn’t act this way. God chooses to repair our brokenness not with force, power, or performance. God becomes the neediest of humans, an infant. God’s greatest act of unconditional compassion is to subject God’s self to human limits. It is within these limits that Christ becomes our salvation.
Maybe the way to remind myself of God’s grace is to do not more but less. Maybe that day on the beach glimmered with hope because it was something I had been given, something that was meeting my need. Sometimes I wonder if heaven isn’t a place where all our needs are met but a place where it’s okay to ask for everything we need.
Perhaps there’s a connection between what Brené Brown noted, what I experienced that day on the beach, the incarnation of Jesus, and these words from Matthew: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (7:7-8, NIV).
During this season of waiting for a Savior who enters into relationship through limitation, perhaps the way to be continually aware of God’s compassion isn’t to be everything to all people; it isn’t to change someone else’s opinions, ideas, faith, or practice; it isn’t to get the best gift, host the most memorable party, or light all the candles. Maybe it’s this: God, grant me your grace. God, I need. Heaven on earth indeed.