Guest blogger: Steven Cottam
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness… it strikes us when year after year, the longed for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now, perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.
January is usually a very frustrating month for me. The reason is that I always make New Year’s Resolutions… and I almost always fail to keep them. December always ends in a flurry of nearly crazed exclamations: This is the year I will get organized! This is the year I will exercise more! This is the year I will drink less; and I will pray a rosary every day; and I will learn Spanish! Truly, this is the year I shall become a veritable superhero, doing everything right and nothing wrong, forever and ever, amen!
As you can guess, by January 7 most of my resolutions have already begun to fade, and before long I’m pretty much back right where I started. The truth is, these things are things I have wanted to change all year—things that I have struggled with all year—yet somehow I always imagine that the moment when Earth’s odometer rolls over has enough magic in it to banish all my demons in one fell swoop.
It is for that reason that Paul Tillich’s words resonate with me so strongly, and why I try and read them at this time of year. It is startling to think, as I sit among my pile of shattered resolutions, feeling grubby and small, that God accepts me. God loves me. God will not merely love me tomorrow; God will not love the me who has learned Spanish and files his taxes early. God loves me today just as I am.
To really believe this is, I think, far harder than it appears. We pay this idea a lot of lip service, but I think we fail to truly internalize it; I know that I do. We have this inkling that God likes us, maybe, but we believe that he would like us just a little bit more if we were a little bit better. It’s tempting to allow that idea to propel us to greater sanctity, but behind it lurks something of a poison. If we cannot allow God to accept us as we are, if we cannot allow infinite love to embrace us, it is nigh impossible to accept people as they are. If we demand constant improvement from ourselves, if we must earn God’s love, we end up demanding the same from others.
So, in the midst of whatever resolutions you might have made, try and sit for a few seconds and really contemplate this fact: You Are Accepted. Don’t do anything with it. Instead of trying so hard to do something, to make another resolution, to add another item to your to-do list, take a second and just be accepted. Invite a moment of grace. And then see not what you can do with that grace, but what that grace can do with you.