The Other Grace
Three weeks ago today I was on a ladder in the backyard doing yet another of those absolutely imperative tasks that must be completed before vacation: spraying the peach trees. I had already had that conversation with myself about how stupid it was to get up on a rickety ladder with a heavy, awkward sprayer when you’re home alone and the cell phone is far away on the kitchen counter…am I effectively setting the scene for disaster? But it had to be done, remember. And I was being careful. That is, until I jumped down the last few rungs and landed with my right foot in a hole. I both heard and felt it snap, and though the pain was already making me ill, I managed to get back to the house (calling out loud for God’s help!) and wrench off my Wellington boot at the kitchen door. I called my husband in hysterics who promptly abandoned a lunch meeting to come to my rescue and race me off to the emergency room. Four hours later it was confirmed that my ankle wasn’t broken, only severely sprained. My relief was short-lived, however, as the nurse cheerfully assured me that a bad sprain can hurt like a fracture—and take longer to heal.
But I really didn’t care at that point. I just wanted to be at home where my sweet mother was already waiting with our dinner for that night and the tea kettle on the boil. The memory of the next day is rather blurred with pain medication, but somehow or other my husband single-handedly got us packed and ready to go to the beach for a week. (God bless him!) Thus commenced an idyllic (albeit unusual) vacation by the sea, with nothing to do but read and write in my journal and keep my foot up. It was easy to be cheerful (most of the time) with my extended family waiting on me hand and foot and precious nieces and nephews frolicking about and the absolute absence of responsibility. It was easy to laugh when we went to a dinner dance on a neighboring island one night and all I could do was sway in my husband’s arms balancing precariously on one strappy silver sandal.
But all vacations must come to an end, and last Monday found me propped up on the sofa at home with a mountain of laundry tormenting my mind and a houseful of disgruntled pets and my sweet husband kissing me goodbye, saying, “Now, honey, I’ll be back before you know it—don’t move, okay? Just rest…” He’s got to be kidding. I’m going to go mad…
I have been so incredibly blessed—my mother has been here almost every day; dear friends have brought me meals and flowers; kind phone calls have urged me to ‘enjoy’ my forced retirement. Philip has outdone even his own dear, wonderful self in his patience and forbearance. He has gone smiling on all manner or ridiculous household errands, he’s deadheaded my flowers and watered my plants and taken full charge of our menagerie. He even finished spraying those dumb trees. He’s been a saint. And I’ve been…something else.
In everything we go through, there’s an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. Some hidden strength or gifting; some deep reservoir of faith; some embarrassing deficiency. I’ve discovered what a brat I am. I don’t like being helpless. I don’t like having to ask someone for every little thing. I don’t like having my plans upset, even temporarily. I like being capable and efficient and getting things done. I love rest and refreshment, too—but I want them on my terms. And so, in this light and momentary affliction, I’ve been an impatient patient.
One of the graces of our Christian life is serving other people. Being the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. Bearing a cup of cold water in His name, be it literal or figurative. There have been needs in the lives of those around me that I’ve felt both a compunction and a capacity to meet. God’s grace is always abundant in such cases, and I’ve often found myself as refreshed as (if not more than!) the recipient—simply because the power at work in such moments of grace is above and beyond both of us. It is God that works in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
But there is another grace; a grace I’m largely unacquainted with in my bustling, capable little life. It’s the grace of being served; of being on the receiving end of this divine courtesy. Of allowing God to meet my needs through those whom He stirs into action; giving Him the chance to work in the lives of others the way He’s worked in mine when He has given me a task of service in the Body. Lying passive as those who love me assume my cherished responsibilities. I had absolutely no idea how much grace it would require to sit here on the sofa and read for days on end!
I believe that these two graces are intended to offset one another with great beauty in God’s ideal. That the giving and the receiving alike are to be done with humble hearts and graceful accord, like the harmony between wind and sail, or the action of a breeze upon the willing strings of an Aeolian harp.
Sheldon Vanauken, in his gorgeous masterpiece, A Severe Mercy, characterized true kindness as being willing to ask and receive as well as perceive and do.
“We, in fact, defined courtesy as ‘a cup of water in the night’. And we considered it a very great courtesy to ask for the cup as well as to fetch it.”
Being weakened—even by something as transient and annoying as a sprained ankle—can remind us as few things can how utterly needy we are before God and how much we depend upon His help for our very existence. I’m having to ask Him many times each day to help me behave like a Christian—like Christ—as I’m stuck here brooding over all the things I want to do but can’t. I’ve had to ask His forgiveness—and Philip’s—more times in the last three weeks than probably the last three months before. But, like Christ, Philip loves me and forgives me, and he brings me that cup of tea I just griped over. And Christ Himself, the very being of love and courtesy and mercy wipes the slate clean and helps me start again.
Mom hurt her foot in about the same way last summer. During her long recovery we girls got an unprecedented experience in housekeeping 🙂
One of our friends said that when she broke her foot it was a blessing. She had so much more time to focus on God and pray. Keep you eyes on Him.
Praying for you Lanier – you’re right it is difficult – especially for one who loves to serve. And it becomes increasingly difficult the longer it persists. I am praying for patience for you (and Philip)- and for grace to see and receive all the Lord wants to show you in this time.
Lanier, I’ve been a lurker on this blog for a while. But I felt the need to comment on this post, see I have a broken ankle. Right now. I broke mine on the 10th (or was it the 11th? Hmm….) of May. I’ve had surgery since then and I know what you mean about having to sit still and have people serve you.
My Mom has been doing just about everything. It was really hard for me to just sit and have everything brought to me, but God has shown me many things through this and if I had the choice to have not broken my ankle I probably still would have.
Hope you get better quickly! More importantly though, I pray that God would give you grace and endurance through this trial. I can sympathize with you a bit, since I broke my right humerus a year and a half ago and had to be dependent on my dear mums for even a bath at first! It is hard to be dependent on others, but perhaps through this God will show you new ways to bless others. I distinctly remember coming home from the ER and thinking, “How do the persecuted Christians endure when they are tortured and injured beyond belief – and then left to suffer that way?” How thankful I am that we serve the same God, and He will give each follower of His the strength to endure the trials that come our way. 2 Corinthians 4 illustrates this so well, and it is one of my favorite chapters. Verses 7 and 17 are especially meaningful:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us…
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;”
That incident certainly allowed me to be more understanding of those who experience pain, and gave me a greater awareness of those who suffer for Christ. How thankful we should be for the daily blessings He bestows us with! Ah, I am afraid I miss them half the time in the hurrying schedule of life. Below are two more of my favorite verses; hope they brighten your day!
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee. –Psalm 27:14 & 39:7
I also loved your example from A Severe Mercy. Here is another of my favorite quotes from Sheldon Vanauken, “God gives us many gifts, but never permanence. That we must seek in His arms.”
Praying for you and Philip!
Isn’t it funny how God slows us down…perhaps because we wouldn’t otherwise. I find that in times of helplessness (which is frustrating for this I-can-get-it woman) that I can “suffer” for self pity, or grow and “suffer” for sanctification. I believe it is in large part in the perspective and willingness to identify and deal with removable warts.
I’ll be praying for God to bless you (and Phillip) with patience as the trials of your foot lead to greater sanctification. Thank you for sharing your struggles with us.
you have certainly struck a chord with many of us with this honest and transparent post. I, too, can relate, being 6 months into my first pregnancy and still not resigned to how it has changed my life! I have required so much help, in the silliest of things, and spent many more hours on the couch than I had ‘planned’! Couches are for making pillows for – not lounging on, for pete’s sake! 🙂 The Lord has been gently teaching me humility and true gratefulness. What a handicap we have if we gracefully receive other’s service ONLY when we know we can repay them in our own strength. Thank you so much,
Another delightful, yet serious reminder, Lanier. 🙂 Thank you.
I really enjoyed your post. (I especially liked the picture!:) And how kind of your husband to take you to the beach- you must have had a wonderful time…:)As the eldest child, I’m used to “shoudlering it all”…serving my family by doing chores, cleaning, supervising, playing with them, helping them, etc…It can be very hard to RECEIVE acts of service, though…:) Like when I’m sick or otherwise “rendered weak and helpless”. I think God sends us days like this, so we’ll have to fully rely on Him… It’s hard to surrender, to accept your helplessness and be content to let God carry you and “do everything” (like a helpless little child relies on and trusts in her father).
I know how hard it is to ‘not do anything’…:) I’ll keep you and your husband in prayer. Hope you heal soon.
Very true, Lis, that it’s probably hardest for those who love to serve to accept being served themselves.
Ack. Sorry – I know that must be painful. I stepped in a hole while passing out tracts a few Saturdays ago and it pained me something awful! It’s still not normal as it hurts in different positions still… Mama comforts me by saying it will probably cause problems for the rest of my life!! :0
I have to smile at seeing this picture — I don’t know any other adult in the world who could have ridden so gracefully in our stroller — A LONG WAY down the beach! You kept your cheerful countenance all week, even with two nights of dancing on one foot.
Our girls still play “Aunt Lanier” with her “crunches.” Just yesterday, they were hopping around the backyard with a new set of sticks under their arms.
Enjoy having an excuse to read as much as you want — and remember that others find it a blessing to help you, after all you do for them!
Thank you for your post, Lanier…as always, it was wonderfully written and I definitely could relate…it’s hard for me to have others serve/help me also. Your concept of giving and receiving as both being “graces” was very good…hopefully that idea will help me in my slow learning of letting others “bless me”. I’ll keep you and Philip in my prayers…
Oh Lanier… I enjoy reading your writing so much. Your honesty and humor are a breath of fresh air.
I understand where you’re at, but I suppose I’m in another sort of helplessness. Instead of a physical helplessness, I’m helpless to fix my situation and the things around me. I’m trying so hard to wait patiently, but its hard to when I feel like everything is going the way I dont want it to.
The one thing God has been showing me through all of it is that I have such a controling spirit about me, and if I could just learn to rely and trust in Him, my worries and anxiousness would end.
I’ve learned through it that my amazing soon to be husband is more patient and loving then I ever knew, and I’m learning that I have so much more growing to do.
Thanks for this post, its great to know someone else is feeling the same way I am, even if its of another sort!
I’ll pray for you, and Philip too! God bless, and please post more! I so deeply appreciate your wisdom as a wife and a mature women!
Ah, what you write strikes a chord in my own heart… and brings memories of frusterations, tears and all manner of feelings during one long illness of my own. But, if we can just learn to see these things as the lesson books they are, though the lessons be painful, perhaps, we shall come out so blessed…
Prayers for both of you…
Thank you Lanier for this sweet post and your honesty…I’m afraid I
must admit to being a terrible ‘patient’ myself. Do you remember when
I sprained my ankle while pregnant with Knox and Graham? That was
quite a sight to see ~ not a graceful movement when 7 months along
And, I must agree with Elisabeth about those with the gift of service.
I have such a hard time accepting those sweet blessings when others
want to give back.
Thank you for sharing ~ I’ll be praying for a very speedy recovery and
the balance to ditch those crutches! : )
Ah, Lanier: being faced with our own weaknesses can certainly bring out the best in us! 😉 Reminds me of my recent months on the couch… I’ll be praying for you both. 🙂 ::hugs::
Ouch. 😛 Yes, I have sprained each ankle once. It is hard to feel that you are burdening other people. But if you think about it, this is what we do to God every day. That’s why we need grace so desperately.
This is such a good post. I’ve been relearning my own need for grace recently myself.
Thank you, dear Elisabeth! 😉
We both covet your prayers…and you can certainly pray with understanding! I hope that your ankle doesn’t give you trouble anymore…and I love that about not ‘stealing blessings’!!
Wow, Lanier, I feel your pain! Literally, since I suffered a sprained ankle here in Jerusalem last spring, and my long-suffering sister Kate had to fetch and carry for me.
Do you think it’s hardest for those with the gift of service to accept it? I suspect so.
But you’re so, so right. I loved the way you wrote about this: so honest! I loved Sheldon Vanauken’s quote. It reminds me of what my mother says when I don’t want to accept a gift: “Don’t steal my blessing.”
Guess Philip’s getting mighty blessed this week! :O)
But I know, too, how hard it is to be on the receiving end, so…
I’m praying for you both!