good girls need [a lot of] grace, too

I’m in the middle of a book called Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman. The subtitle is “letting go of the try-hard life.”

Let me tell you: this book resonates with me. I grew up “good.” I had a happy family life, PG-rated at most. I fell in with a sheltered crowd in high school and, as a homeschooler, I didn’t deal with the issues or temptations I would have faced at public school. As a teen, I never really rebelled against my parents.

In the book, Freeman writes:

This innate desire to be good indeed protected me from a lot of heartache and baggage. It protected me from teenage pregnancy and bad grades and jail. But it did not bring me any greater understanding of God. It did not protect me from my own impossible expectations (p. 26).

I don’t regret the happiness of my childhood. I do regret how I’ve felt about it.

I’ve been proud of it. I’ve been proud of myself for being “good,” for staying out of trouble, making decent decisions, and avoiding pitfalls. I’ve been proud of a “goodness” that wasn’t mine, that was soured at its core by pride.

This book, along with other things, is helping me see myself and my life in a new way. Although I’ve embraced grace already, I am beginning to understand it in a deeper way. I’ve tended to fall, again and again, into thinking that I have to work to become Christlike.

When we believe that God expects us to try hard to become who Jesus wants us to be, we will live in that blurry, frustrating land of Should Be rather than trust in The One Who Is. We will do whatever we believe it takes to please God rather than receive the acceptance that has already been given. We will perform to live up to what we believe his expectation is of us rather than expectantly wait on him (Freeman p. 32).

“…The acceptance that has already been given.” Yes. It’s done. God accepts me through Jesus Christ, and adding my own “good works” done with my own two hands to win his approval just doesn’t do anything for him. He is decidedly unimpressed by my attempts to impress.

What does that mean? That there’s no work involved? I should be free to do whatever I want, chasing my personal pleasures, because I’m secure in his grace?

No. There’s work involved. But it’s not my work; it’s his. It has to be – all his, or no good will come of it. Yes, I’m free to do what I want, to chase after the attractive butterflies of personal fulfillment. He won’t reject me…He never does. I’m the one who runs away. Always.

I’m learning a better way. I let him do his thing. Let him work inside me, even when I don’t understand what is going on. When I let go, he can live through me.

…Service is an act of faith. It isn’t me doing work for God, but it is me trusting God to do the work in me. That is what Mary [mother of Christ] did. She believed the angel, and then she offered herself as a servant. She didn’t pull herself up and get to work. Instead, she ran to her cousin Elizabeth and began to sing. Worship, not work, flows out of the hearts of those who believe (Freeman p. 63).

What a relief. I don’t have to perform for God. He isn’t scrutinizing my every action and decision. He tells me the truth about myself because he wants to heal me, but always extends his hand simultaneously to remind me that I’m accepted. I am loved.

Anything we do to get life and identity outside of Christ is an idol, even service to Christ. He doesn’t want my service. He wants me. And from that life-giving relationship, “streams of living water will flow from within” (John 7:38 NIV) (Freeman p. 65).

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