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Moments of Shared Grace

Magda W.
Magda W.

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (2 Corinthians 1:4, The Message)

From the moment I was asked to write a post for this blog, the words “shared grace” have come to mind time and time again as I reflect on encounters with friends and family in my everyday life. This winter has been busier than usual driving elderly family friends to medical appointments or visiting friends following surgery, along with leisurely conversations over a cup of coffee or lunch. I feel blessed with a wonderful community of both Christian and non-Christian friends with whom I share life’s journey.  I am a member of the baby boomer cohort that is at the stage of life when careers come to an end, and children are generally established in their own lives. While this is a time when many enjoy the freedom to do things they had no time for earlier in life, it is also a time when we  are faced with the realization that life has not evolved as we had expected or planned.  Few families are spared issues of declining health (due to aging or disease such as cancer), aging parents, marriage break-ups, mental health problems and economic struggles in the current recession. These issues are a reality of life for both Christians and non-Christians alike.

As a society we have developed coping mechanisms and one of the most common ways is to keep busy rather than dwell on our problems. Work and recreation can take over to the degree that we have no time to think about and deal with the issues at hand. Generally, we seem more comfortable helping others fix their problems than looking inward and coming to terms with our own. While activity in the form of reaching out to others in both a professional or volunteer capacity is  fundamental to the process of  Christian ministry,  there is another side to ministry that author Henri Nouwen refers to as “passion” in his book The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey.

{The} moment when Jesus is handed over to those who do with him as they please is a turning point in Jesus ministry. It is turning from action to passion. After years of teaching, preaching, healing, and moving to wherever he wanted to go, Jesus is handed over to the caprices of his enemies. Things are no longer done by him, but to him……

It is important for me to realize that Jesus fulfills his mission not by what he does, but by what is done to him. Just as with everyone else, most of my life is determined by what is done to me and thus is passion. And because most of my life is passion, things being done to me, only parts of my life are determined by what I think, say or do. I am inclined to protest against this and to want all to be action, originated by me. But the truth is that my passion is a much greater part of my life than my action. Not to recognize this is self-deception and not to embrace my passion with love is self-rejection.It is good news to know that Jesus is handed over to passion, and through his passion accomplishes his divine task on earth. It is good news for a world passionately searching for wholeness. (p.156)

So many of the friends in my life have had to face difficult situations over which they have little control. Times spent with them become moments of shared grace when we can mutually support one another and acknowledge without feelings of guilt or shame that our lives are not perfect, and that problems we face may not be resolved as we would like.  In our spiritual journey God does not promise us freedom from trouble but peace in spite of it.

A few weeks ago a speaker at a Christian women’s prayer breakfast provided further insight into the process of passion verses action. When Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet, Jesus responded that “Unless I wash you, you can have no part in me.”  She suggested that what Jesus is saying is unless we embrace what Jesus is doing TO us (washing, purifying, transforming), He cannot work THROUGH us.

The Christian faith has two fundamental components – the social and the spiritual. How we respond to the events that happen to us in life is the spiritual, and what God does through us is the social. In the spiritual process God transforms our minds in how we view and respond to what happens to us. Our greatest and most effective ministry as Christians in social work may be our passion rather than our action.  In other words, our being may be more effective than our doing. Accepting the Christian concept of struggle or suffering as redemptive in our own lives and those we serve, can transform times of social intervention or friendship into moments of shared grace.

Magda W. came to social work as a second career and is currently retired. God continues to use her in the role of spiritual friend and mentor. She has been a member of NACSW since 1999. To learn more about Henri Nouwen, or to browse his catalog of  40+ books, check out the Henri Nouwen Society.

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