With every turn, my GPS is taking me further from the highway, bouncing over ever-increasing potholes. I’m now navigating backroads in a corner of my home province that I’ve never been to before, heading to a secluded beach house for a week-end retreat.
I’m a bit nervous. What will this intimate gathering be like? Will these soul sisters open up and share with one another? I’m not sure I’m ready for the level of vulnerability that might be expected, and I’m the only one who knows everybody who will be there. Introverted me is the unexpected hub connecting all the women to this event. But with my personal life the current mess it is, I feel incredibly unworthy for God to use to bless anybody.
I finally reach my remote destination and drive up the long, red dirt driveway toward the beautiful guesthouse I’ll be sharing with half a dozen other pastor’s wives for the next few days. I park my car, grab my bags and head to the back door. My friend from Louisiana, who is leading the retreat, is busy unloading groceries. She has intentionally designed the weekend to refresh us not only physically and emotionally but also spiritually.
Our itinerary gives us ample time and space to hear from God personally. We attempt to identify any lies we are believing and begin replacing those lies with God’s truth. The second night of the retreat my Louisianan friend sends us off to bed saying, “As you climb into bed tonight, envision yourself climbing into your Heavenly Father’s lap, and pray to Him like you would speak to a loving Daddy.”
In the privacy of my ocean view room, I do just that. And as I begin to pray, something very unusual happens. Images start flashing on my inward eye. It’s as if God is showing me a movie. The pictures are coming too quickly for me to be consciously conjuring them, and they are scenes that I would never choose to envision anyway – painful memories I don’t like to dwell on.
As the scenes continue coming, the word “gift” keeps running through my mind. Gift? I wonder. These things are certainly no gift! They are a curse! But sitting there, curled up in my Heavenly Father’s lap, it feels safe to look at anything. These painful memories are not stirring the same sadness or anxiety or shame within me that they normally would. After I finish praying, I drift off, sleeping like a baby that night and never really thinking much more about the experience.
This week our family is on vacation and yesterday in the church we were visiting, the sermon was based on Romans 12:1-8. The passage starts with surrendering every last bit of ourselves as a living sacrifice to God and discovering His will for us. But there was a phrase that came later, in verse six, that nearly jumped off the page at me: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Gifts. Gifts and grace. For the first time, I could so plainly see that my giftedness is directly linked to God’s grace extended to me.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us… – Romans 12:6
Sometimes, as we try to find God’s will for our lives and figure out what gifts and talents He’s given us to fulfill our purpose here on earth, we can feel sort of lost and overwhelmed. It’s not always obvious. We long for a clearly marked map to chart our course. But I think this little phrase in Romans 12:6 gives us such an encouraging clue. As we try to figure out what our gift is, what we have to share with others, what we are supposed to contribute to the world, maybe we should look to the places in our lives where we have been on the receiving end of God’s grace.
Last week our ladies’ Bible study group was discussing grace. A definition I memorized as a child came back to me. In its simplest form, grace is “undeserved, unearned favour and kindness.” If we look to the corners of our story where we have experienced God’s undeserved kindness, we might just find the gift He wants to give the world through us. What are the hurts and wounds that He has soothed? What sin and disobedience has He forgiven? Where have we been surprised by God’s lavish grace? That may be where we can shine the brightest for Jesus. We might be so conditioned to operate from our strengths though that this feels a little unnatural; we would never think of looking to our weaknesses. But they are the very places scripture tells us that God’s strength is perfected.
After being the recipient of wave after wave of God’s unlikely grace in recent years, I think I’m finally starting to understand why He called those painful and uncomfortable memories of mine a “gift.” As I have brought the dark corners of my heart that I used to be scared to peek at into the light of Christ, He has surprised me by transforming my fears into freedom and my shame into praise.
Romans 5:15 says “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” God’s gift of grace restores to us all that sin has sucked away – whether through wounds inflicted by others or through our own willful disobedience.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! – Romans 5:15
In relation to Romans 5:15 Thomas Aquinas once wrote: “The works of God are perfect, and what He means to restore He brings to perfection. He even adds more than had been taken away.”
God’s overflowing grace brings full restoration, even in our most broken and hopeless places. Only His grace can transform our hurt and shame into a beautiful gift. So don’t be afraid of the ruinous corners of your story. Your greatest gift to the world could be hiding there!