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    By the Grace of God: Jim’s Story, Is It Yours Too?

    Jim dreaded family reunions.

    His wife, who practically forced him to go, handled all the details. He went, if only so the kids could see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There were so many reasons, however, not to go: It was expensive; it took up vacation time at work; he never spent time doing what he wanted to do but what everyone else thought was important; somebody usually wasn’t speaking to somebody else at the reunion; and people expected more from him than he wanted to give. Reunions were chaotic and messy. What should take 15 minutes took an hour. It was a struggle getting three sets of parents, a set of grandparents, and eight kids to do anything!

    These reunions tore up his insides, and he just wanted to go back home — to peace and quiet — from the moment he arrived.

    But what disturbed Jim the most was spending time with his younger brother, Steve. As long as they were with a group of people, it was okay, but if they ever happened to be alone in a room, things became uncomfortable. Jim preferred to convey an adult image of calm and reasonableness and create an impression of competence and control. Steve knew better.

    Growing up, Jim had treated Steve very badly.

    As the older brother, Jim found Steve irritating and bothersome, and he resented the way Steve always seemed to catch a break from their folks because he was younger. Jim made up for it by being hard on Steve himself. Looking back over the years, Jim had come to realize he’d been a jerk.

    Whenever they were together, alone together, he always had the urge to say he was sorry. He hated family reunions because he never could bring himself to do it.

    If we were perfect people with perfect relationships, we wouldn’t need grace. Truth wouldn’t be difficult to accept, for it wouldn’t contain the wreckage of sinful lives. In a flawed world, however, in order to accept ourselves and others, grace is imperative. Sin constantly binds up relationships with harmful actions, both large and small.

    Grace allows relationships to flow.

    Grace untangles the knots of bitterness and blame.

    With our own sin and the sin of others, there are plenty of both to go around. But where do you get grace and how do you apply it? The answer is that grace comes from God. Like love and forgiveness, the concept of grace goes against our very nature.

    Grace is freely given and cannot be earned.

    Once we truly understand that we are fallen people, living in a fallen world, it can be difficult to accept that God loves us. We know the truth that he does, but we still feel we need to earn it somehow. We think if we can just act better and be better, we can hurdle over regret, blame, and shame on our own. All of this effort is in vain, however. We cannot jump far enough or high enough to get around the consequences of sin.

    Only God can lift us up through grace.

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul said, “and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

    Grace isn’t a right to earn; it’s a gift to accept.

    Can you relate in some way to Jim’s story? Do you have a strained relationship with a family member? They seem to be at the root of so much hurt in this world. Perhaps nowhere is grace needed more than within the family. For it is within the family that many people feel “safe” to act their worst. They would never think of addressing a friend, colleague, or coworker in the way they talk to a spouse, parent, or sibling.

    This is where grace comes in. God, through grace, re-establishes his relationship with us by granting us what we don’t deserve. He loves and forgives us, and he remains faithful to us. He controls the relationship by granting us grace. He doesn’t allow our poor performance to bring the relationship down.

    SOURCE: Chapter 2: “Acceptance,” God Can Help You Heal by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.

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