Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a talk given by Mark McMinn on the subject of integrating the concept of grace into his counseling sessions and the impact of its message on the clients with whom we work in relationship. Listening to this message by McMinn helped me reconnect with grace in my own life. Here are a few of my reflections.
I have identified as a Christian for nearly all of my life, but I'm not sure if I always truly understood what the concept of grace means. I’m certain that I heard sermons about it, read about it in the Bible, and heard other people talk about their experience of grace, but for the most part, I was ignorant as to how it affected me. It wasn’t until I read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning that the true message of grace sunk in. I learned that no matter what I did, no matter what mistakes I made, no matter how many times I failed, I could rest in the love that God had for me and know that it was enough.
McMinn talked about grace in this way: Grace is a free gift of love, forgiveness, and God’s favor with no strings attached. It is above and beyond all we could ever want or need. There is no hidden agenda or any way we could pay God back for the grace we receive. It isn’t contingent on how we respond. It is unconditional and is given to us before we decide to receive it. It doesn’t make sense. It changes us.
Grace is a free gift of love, forgiveness, and God's favor with no strings attached.
Grace is believing that I am enough.
I often struggle with what I call my "enoughness." "Am I enough" is a common question we face, and we often answer this question one way or the other based on what we see in our lives. But grace shows us that our actions cannot add to or detract from our fundamental worth and value. If I am going to experience grace for myself and extend it to my clients, I must rest in the truth that we each have individual and inherent worth and value, and that because of that, we are enough.
With grace, we can practice acceptance.
If you were to speak with any number of my clients, they would tell you that I often talk to them about the surprising freedom that comes as we take stock of our circumstances and give ourselves grace for how we are handling them. Often we are plagued by the “tyranny of the shoulds,” where we wonder about how we “should” be facing a certain circumstance, or we worry over how our circumstances are not working out as they “should.” However, the energy spent on “shoulding” all over ourselves :) and others simply increases our distress. As a therapist, one of my goals is accept and love you in the middle of your circumstance, offering you grace when you aren’t able to offer it to yourself, with the hope that you will learn the path to offering grace to yourself.
Our values are important.
Just because we are able to accept our circumstance, it doesn't mean that we are waving a white flag in defeat. Accepting our circumstances doesn’t magically fix them. What it does is provide clarity on what actions we can take to move toward our values. In the urgency of the day-to-day, we can lose sight of the things most important to us. If you make a list of all the things you value and compare it to your current schedule, you would likely find inconsistencies. Identifying and reminding yourself of your values and choosing to act in accordance to them even amidst chaotic circumstances allows you to experience peace.
Accepting our circumstances doesn't magically fix them.
Treatment is very different with a grace mindset.
Manning, the author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, suffered from a lifelong pull toward alcoholism. Alcoholism and addictions of any kind are driven by shame: as the addict feels shame in their life, they will choose to medicate or run away from that shame with addictive behaviors. However, addressing shame with grace removes the fuel for the fire of addiction.
Resist shame by befriending the thoughts that are plaguing you. Accept them, normalize them, and allow them to be there while also making decisions based on your values. Imagine a sex addict feeling the urge to view pornography. In the moment when he or she feels that urge, they may experience shame and “should” all over themselves, which will lead to medicating that shame with the most effective tool that is available to them – acting out their addiction. With an approach of grace, however, the person can choose to normalize their urges (“Of course I’m wanting to view pornography, I’m an addict and there’s a chemical imbalance in my brain.”) and then choose to act in a way that is in alignment with their values (“Sobriety is important to me, so I’m going to choose to call my sponsor instead.”)
Grace is humbling.
Grace offers us the opportunity to admit that we really don't have it all together. Over the years, McMinn named that he had adapted his counseling style from one focused more on concrete thoughts and emotions (cognitive behavioral therapy) to a method that involved more mindful awareness and acceptance of the present state of circumstances (acceptance and commitment therapy). He even wrote a book about the first style of therapy that he admitted to his audience was not in alignment with what he currently practices. Grace gives us the humility to adapt and change our response.
We develop empathy as we connect with our personal brokenness. Accepting grace requires us to admit that we are human, that we’ve failed or done wrong or made a mistake. It makes it easier to forgive others when we see how broken we are ourselves. Imagine the difference this could make in marriage if couples extended grace to themselves and to one another. Imagine the effect this forgiveness could have.
Grace gives us the humility to adapt and change our response.