Years ago I sat with a therapist, complaining about someone else in my life because it made me feel better, more in control. The therapist listened patiently and quiet, as they do, then responded with one pearl of wisdom about this person, “they can’t give you what they don’t have.” It was a revelation when it came to extending grace to the people in my life, the broken ones, the ones who hurt me often without even knowing it, the ones whose very existence or driving habits make life on this planet more inconvenient for me. You know, ‘cause I somehow dilute myself into thinking it’s all about me on this bus.
I used the mantra like salt and pepper seasoning over my relationships in the following years. Husband not noticing that I’m wearing makeup and have a new haircut? He can’t give me what he doesn’t have. Mother in law not overly touchy-feely with me? She can’t give me what she doesn’t have. Friends not able to visit me while my kid is in the hospital for a week? They can’t give me what they don’t have. My boys who just can’t seem to remember to pick up the millions of lego pieces left all over the ground? They can’t give me what they don’t yet have. It became a measure of grace I could extend, a way to give those in my life the benefit of the doubt .. when I remembered it.
I think we are all doing the best we know how to, most of the time. This is unfortunate because we’re pretty messy and cracked below the veneer of what we put out there. Our various childhoods, complete with trauma and love and sickness and abuse and religion, definitely set us up to have some deficits. We can’t give what we don’t have and unfortunately, many of us don’t have a lot much of the time. But the thing I am learning about grace lately is that it’s a lot like an echo.. the sound I send out into the world, bouncing off of others walls, is the same sound that returns back home to me. Grace is longing to make its home in me, not just through me.
This is inconvenient for me because I really suck at giving myself grace. I can’t give me what I don’t have. I don’t have a lot of patience or kindness for my own self, my own body, my own buzzy mind and wily heart. I don’t have a lot of grace to give when I lay in bed for three days with another migraine and can’t feed my family or hold my kids or fold laundry. I don’t offer any grace when I see my muscles atrophy and my cellulite descend to my knees and elbows. I can throw grace out like candy to others, but receiving it? A person with such prolific cellulite has no right to eat candy at all, right? It’s clear I’ve not made a practice of pouring this thick, syrup like beloved-ness and belonging all over me the way I have all over everyone else.
I think it’s hardest to give ourselves grace because we live with ourselves. We’ve been with ourselves from the beginning and we know where this ends.. we have to die with ourselves.. and no one else comes along for the ride, not fully. No one else has seen us, inside and out, at our best to know, inside and out, what we’re like at our worst. No one knows what a cluster-cuss things are in here. Slow and steady, as I hear stories and come to grips with my own, through pen palling you back and forth, I’m learning what Anne Lamott said the night I met her is true: “It’s an inside job.” This grace I need can only be received for me by me. I can give it out all day long, candy at a parade, to others. But I need it desperately for myself, and when I get desperate enough, I have to accept it and let it stick to my fingers. I’m the one who has to eat the candy for myself, to taste its sweetness, to let the echo of grace reverberate inside the walls of my heart, over and over and over again for me. It’s the only way I give it back to you. I can’t give what I don’t have.
Most of the time I’m still sucking at it. Most of the time I’m still convincing myself not to speak up or show up or write unless I feel valuable or fixed. Most of the time I’m still running from the candy and getting hit in the head by it accidentally. The problem is this is not the kind of grace I want to hand out. I want to be a reminder to others of their radical belonging, beloved-ness, and glory by giving them heaping amounts of grace. Knowing I can only give what I already have on me, one moment at a time, I’m doing the hard soul work of learning to hold out my open hands and say, “grace, please. I desperately need some grace in this moment.” And then I accept the grace already extended to me from Divine Love, I gobble it up for myself, for my mess, my fractured underbelly, my literal underbelly and my cellulite proudly displayed in a swimsuit at the community pool. This is how I grow in grace. I build up my reserves in micro doses each day, so I can give others what I possess. “It’s an inside job.”