A Thin Ribbon of Grace   6 comments

Delayed by confusion, Anne at last flung herself from her seat just as the ski lift lurched into its ascent.  The five foot drop stunned her, and so a kindly hand helped her into a small lodge to recover.  Unfortunately, the kerosene stove inside increased her nausea.  But as she lay there, a whiff of fresh, pine-scented air brushed her face.  It trickled in through the cracked windows just enough to keep her from smothering under the acrid fumes.  She called it “a thin ribbon of grace.”

Berly and I read this Lamott story weeks ago, but Sunday stumbled across her retelling it in a Youtube interview, and this time the phrase popped.  When I am lost and broken and sick to my soul, I want God to fling open the windows of grace, but what I get is barely enough to keep me coherent, like a drowning man who is chucked under his chin just enough to keep his nose above this moment’s wave and then dropped again… like a malnourished child fed a few crumbs above a starvation diet.  Survival grace.  For those of us wishing for life to end, this frayed ribbon of grace seems less like love and more like torture.  Why is God so tightfisted with His goodness as though He’s worried He’ll run short or we’ll fritter it away?  What present consolation can we suck from the ending “happily ever after” if life’s story is “miserable until death.”

But Anne’s phrase whispered across my thoughts, enticing.  Is it enough, this thin ribbon?  I want a bank full of grace to draw on for my needs, but I am only given enough for this moment… sometimes barely enough.  It’s true that I haven’t drowned yet, but every time the finger holding up my chin drops away, I’m sure the next wave will take me under.  After all, I’ve been left spluttering for air many times.  It’s a fact that I haven’t starved, but this is my last bowl of soup, and the cupboards are bare.  Living hand-to-mouth is so precarious, so uncertain, so constricting, whether the shortage is literally financial and physical or the deficit lies deeper still, a hole in the heart.

In the desert the Israelites were completely dependent on God, and in spite of dining on a daily miracle, hunger was always just one day off, for forty years running.  A thousand winters later, not much has changed for the children of God as they prove in their principal prayer: “give us this day our daily bread.”  What is this addiction God has for pocket change allowances?  Surely He doesn’t make us suffer needlessly.  If He is truly a loving God, he must think this arrangement is a real windfall for us.

But as Berly points out, many of God’s children are jobless and friendless, homeless and hungry; some die agonizing deaths.  We are not promised health or happiness or even sanity.  Exactly what does it mean to claim that His grace is sufficient if it is not even sufficient to keep us breathing?  From somewhere the thought drifted into my mind–His grace is sufficient for our hearts, the one thing that matters above all to us.  In spite of life’s miserable suffering, we cannot deny that our hearts have not only survived, but grown.  We are blossoming into the ones God created us to be.  We have faced into our fears and discovered new strength, challenged shame and found love.  We opened our hearts, and truth came in with insight, wisdom, and freedom.

But we are still tormented by depression.  Something seems very wrong with our chosen path when we end up here.  If we follow God as best we know how, should we not find peace, joy, rest, and fulfillment?  Isn’t that what grace looks like?  We want a life plan that works, that makes us feel good, accomplished, confident, whole, and if that’s the goal, our plan is clearly broken.  But we tried other popular strategies, and they gutted our souls.  Perhaps we’ve been measuring grace by the wrong scale.  If our personal growth is the better gauge, then God has been truly lavish towards us, and if it comes to us through pain, we will welcome it gratefully.  He sends a thin ribbon of consolation to keep our hearts from breaking, but his grace is not limited to this meager thread.  His grace towards us has proven to be a river, not a ribbon, even if we cannot feel it or understand it.

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Posted May 1, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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6 responses to “A Thin Ribbon of Grace

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  1. That “thin ribbon” seems impossible to find sometimes, doesn’t it? I’m learning – SO slowly – to stay OPEN to grace, because it’s always here. When I feel sad, or overwhelmed, or heartbroken, it’s easy to close in on myself and not see the grace that is really all around me. Thank you for reminding me to stay open to grace today.

    • I know what you mean, Kim. Kimberly and I are learning to find comfort in that small touch of grace not as the totality of grace, but as a sign of all the grace that is present that we can’t see. It seems to help. I know you are wrestling with big stuff. May you find a way through!

  2. Beautifully expressed, Kent.

  3. I agree with your admission of enough grace for the day. It is a maddening reality we live with as we trust Jesus, the Wise dispenser of grace. I am however still confused by the promises of peace, joy, rest, etc you allude to. Where is the abundance in this type of life? I believe it must be true this side of heaven as promised in His Word, but have yet to find it in my seeking. Any thoughts other than it is there whether we feel it or not? No worries if there are no answers. I am grateful for your honest post..

    • Thank you for your very good question. It is such a big, important question, I will need to take time in answering it. As you might suppose, I find the typical answers too shallow and even evasive. Let me answer you in another post or two. Thanks for reading and commenting. I get much more satisfaction out of dialogue than monologue.

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