Be Real

“Humility is not having a need to be more than you are.” – Henry Cloud

I first experienced this valuable lesson on humility early in life. We kindergartners were learning our letters and sounds. Some of my classmates were having difficulty with phonics, but not me. My papers regularly earned smiley faces, high praise and those coveted gold foil stars. It’s a miracle that I didn’t need rotator cuff surgery by the end of my inaugural school year as fast and frequently as my hand flew up whenever the teacher asked a question.

After you’ve been told over and over again how bright you are, you start to believe it. One day before I had learned to read, I decided to look for the biggest book in our classroom and check it out to take home. Four inches thick and weighing about five pounds, it was no easy task for my five-year-old arms to wrap around the hard-backed blue behemoth with the large lettering on its spine. The only thing bigger than that book was my head as I proudly hauled it onto the bus after school.

Strolling down the aisle in search of a seat, I made eye contact with Joey. He was in the fifth grade and more importantly, he knew how to read. Joey asked me what I was doing with that book. With a haughty look, I replied smugly and loud enough for the other kids to hear, “I’m going to read it.” Joey smirked and snickered deliriously, “You’re going to read the DICTIONARY??!”

It is a great gift to be reminded that you are just like everyone else on this planet – a human being. When we can surrender our need to be more than we really are, we are well on the path to living an honest and open life.

Life blooms when we recognize that we can be good, but we are not good all the time. Sometimes we are hypocrites, acting contrary to what we say we believe. We will disappoint each other. We will make mistakes and we will fail. It’s not the number of mistakes we make that counts, but the number of times we continue to make the same mistake. Failure becomes a friend when we learn from it and do the next right thing.

Our failures also help us to empathize and identify with other normal human beings like us when they fail. We develop the capacity to offer kindness, compassion, understanding and assistance to others when they stumble, because that is what we desperately want for ourselves when we fall. We become merciful grace-givers. Our relationships deepen and become richer as we begin to allow our loved ones the freedom to be real and to be known, as we, too, are honest and fully known by them.

When we begin to see our failures as part of the growth process, we find the courage and strength to learn from our mistakes, to get back up and keep moving forward instead of remaining stuck or quitting. My mistakes and failures do not mean that I am an idiot. They just mean that I still have much to learn. And the more I know, the more I know I don’t know.

Almost five decades after the laughter and teasing on the school bus has died down, I still haven’t read the dictionary. However, I am grateful for that first of many lessons on the importance of being real.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

-Proverbs 11:2.


Grace is Not Fair

The best way to ruin a relationship is to play fair. How do I know this? Because that is how I lived most of my life and in the process, wreaked havoc on many of my relationships.

As a type A person who has almost always tried to be a good girl and get along with others, playing fair came easy for me. It was as natural as breathing. I will be nice to you if you are nice to me. I wanted justice and grace for myself – justice when I deserved something good and grace when I deserved something bad. But for you, I only wanted and doled out justice – both when you deserved something good and when you deserved something bad.

Grace is the opposite of justice.

Justice is playing fair. It’s about getting what you earned and what you deserve. Justice means pulling your own weight and doing your share. Justice evens the score, doing to others what they’ve done to you. Tit for tat. You love me, I love you. You hurt me, and I am entitled to hurt you back. Justice reflects the law of sowing and reaping. Justice is good, understandable and right.

Grace is unfair. It’s about getting more than you earned and better than you deserve. Grace is illogical. It repays evil with blessing. You are cruel, I am kind. You hurt me, I bless you. Grace is unusual, unnatural and must be learned from experience. It’s giving back better than you got, doing unto others what you want them to do to you. It’s sowing weeds and reaping an unexpected crop of goodness. Grace is amazing.

Justice is good, but grace is greater. Grace is love that has grown up.

Most of the love I have offered others has been conditional. I love those who love me and am friendly to those who are friendly to me. The formula works perfectly…until it doesn’t.

As soon as someone messes up, the relationship is on the rocks.

Sometimes, the messes are small. A neighbor does something inconsiderate. A friend gossips about a shared confidence or breaks a commitment. Your spouse speaks to you harshly. Other times the messes are big. Your business partner steals from the company or your spouse has an affair.

Playing fair with these people means giving them what they deserve. To the neighbor who habitually annoys you, you give a piece of your mind, a slice of self-righteousness or a hefty helping of judgment. Your gossiping friend justifiably gets your cold shoulder. You throw back a curt, sarcastic or fiery comment at the man or woman you have sworn to love and to cherish till death do you part. After all, it’s what they deserve. The punishment fits the crime.

But just because you can – and society says you are entitled to – doesn’t mean you should. The trouble with a strictly justice based system of living is that it escalates problems or at best, only restores the parties to the status quo in a relationship. Grace elevates the offender and takes the relationship to a higher place of love and maturity.

But you cannot give what you have never seen or known. To be a grace-giver, you must first have been a grace-receiver. To get grace, you must understand that you need it. For (mostly) good girls like me, it is a terrible truth and a stumbling block in our relationships and to salvation that we often fail to recognize that all our righteous acts are as filthy rags before the Lord. We are just as dirty on the inside, where it matters most, as others may be on the outside. Only when we finally understand this can we begin to receive and grasp grace and in turn, extend it.

I am an infant grace-giver. My prayer is that as I grow in the truth and knowledge of my Rabbi Jesus, that I will also grow to be like him – the most generous grace-giver of all.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:32-36.

Give back better than you are given.