There was a period last year in which I could seemingly get almost nothing right at my primary job.
The nature of my job is such that errors lent themselves to a nice paranoia. They’d take long stretches of time to come back and show themselves, so I’d spend weeks worrying over any large batch of work I sent out. They also had a habit of clumping together for some strange reason. So when it would rain, it would pour – come in Monday and a huge batch of mistakes from two month ago, sitting on my desk.
My boss was decent about it. He’s a good guy to work for. But this went on for months, and he eventually let me know in no uncertain terms that improvement was needed.
God had a lesson in it.
But it wasn’t what you think. It wasn’t just the lesson of “work harder, be diligent, be the best at your job in order to glorify me,” although that Scriptural lesson is always before us.
It was about how hard I am on myself.
As this period wore on, I started getting extremely frustrated with myself – arguably more than was due. My coworkers didn’t really see most of this internal reality. It was bad.
Now, I certainly deserved the correction I got, and though this job is broad, multi-faceted and highly technical, I knew I needed to earn my pay. I hope my esteemed readers don’t hear any of this as me trying to evoke sympathy. I’ll have none of that. Since my childhood, I’ve scorned excuse-making. If you’re gifted a job, you do it well. Period.
And the odd thing was, I was supposed to be good at this job. My skills and experienced matched it. I’ve always been detail-oriented. I appreciate redundant documentation, which is a big part of what we do. And the job is not horribly fast-paced, which allows me time to triple-check things as necessary.
So on top of the constant looking over the shoulder these errors induced, they started feeling like an indictment of who I was. I don’t like being unreliable, even for a spell. Lies started spawning in my mind, accusations that went deep. Fear, too. I can’t really go into further detail without looking like I really am banking for sympathy, so let’s just say it was bad.
That’s where God stepped in and made his point.
I was not giving myself any grace.
Humility is appropriate. Repentance is appropriate. Working hard at getting better is appropriate. Being disciplined by a holy God is appropriate. Being fired from an earthly job for poor performance is appropriate.
Refusing to accept grace is not.
We Christians perpetually tread a fine silver line between working hard to “live worthy of the calling we’ve received” (Eph. 4:1) and working hard to earn God’s approval. The latter can never be done. It’s out of reach, and it’s not needed. The Cross has accomplished that impossible goal for us.
God was using my work struggles to reveal my position relative to that silver line. He was bringing my attention to how I self-flagellate, not just in my job, but practically every area of my life. My frustration in this work problem went deeper than just wanting to do well. God was poking that part of my heart that insists it hasn’t “arrived” until it reaches perfection, until it measures up to some imaginary Brandon that’s always haunted my imagination, that’s some combination of 1) the admittedly impressive and effective mentors in my life whom I tend to idealize, 2) the comparative culture in which we live, 3) my natural competitiveness, and 4) my disappointment in myself from my past.
That’s four elements that don’t justify rejecting God’s grace.
Failure to accept grace is rejection of the Gospel. It’s rejection of the Gospel because it’s an attempt to live without the all-sufficiency of the Cross that paid for my debt and failure. We continually live out the world’s “you have to earn it” mentality and forget that God’s ways are not ours.
So I started accepting that I am already loved and accepted just as I am today, amidst a flotsam of imperfection, because of Christ.
If that’s hard to accept, well, you’re bumping up against the primary calling and point of your existence: to live in God’s grace. It is hard. Yet it is also Gospel.
I made some changes to my workflow processes at my job, and things have improved.
But even more importantly, so has my knowledge of God’s grace.