The Spiral of Grace

Most of us want to deal with life the same way we climb a set of stairs. We want to face our problem, get through it, step up and move on. Then, we want to face our next problem, deal with it, step up and move on. Once we've dealt with a problem, we don't want to ever deal with it again. We want to be done with it and never have to talk about it again. Productivity experts tell us to deal with any piece of paper only once. Either throw it away, assign to a subordinate, or take action. We want to face our problems the same way. Deal with them and only deal with them once and then move on to the next challenge.

Life doesn't work that way. We find ourselves coming back to same issue again and again. This can be frustrating, frustrating enough to make us doubt the goodness of God. We've prayed and prayed about this, we'll tell God in our prayers, but still You will not answer. Our friends will remind us God has promised to never put more on us than we can bear. (By the way, hearing this doesn't help). We'll begin reading Paul's testimony about the thorn in his side for which Christ would provide no relief. We will come close to despair thinking we were past something only to find ourselves confronted by it again at a moment of surprising weakness.

There are some good reasons for this. First, the human body and mind are designed to survive. We can endure the most horrific events and gruesome moments and stay alive. We can do this because our bodies tell our minds we can't deal with this right now. So, the mind builds a dam and holds the grief on the other side of the dam. We can function on this side of the dam. We can plan the funeral and deal with all of the details of our lives. Then, when the body understands it's safe to do so, the mind will open up the dam and we'll crash. We'll do this over and over until we process our grief. This could take several weeks, several months or even a few years. The point takes time.

Not only does it take time, it requires us to deal with an issue at different levels. My dad died in 2012. When he died, I had to take care of my mother and didn't have time to grieve my father. When my mom died in 2018, I found myself grieving both of my parents. Some days, I missed my dad. Other days I missed my mom and on my worst days, I missed both of them. I don't care how old you are when you lose your second parent, you become an orphan.

Because we can't deal with the overwhelming grief, we deal with it a little bit at a time. That's one part of it, but I noticed something else. We keep coming back to the same issue again and again but at a deeper level. We deal with our grief as well as we can, but eventually, we'll have to begin to think through what it means. What does this experience mean in the course of my life? How do I understand its significance to my future? How has it shaped who I am?

Yes, we keep coming back to the same issue again and again, but we come back at different levels each time we come back. Say we need to forgive someone and we do forgive them. We forgive them for as much as we can in the moment, but we don't forgive everything. For one thing, we don't understand how being wronged has affected us. That will take some time. That's why the Spirit will keep circling us back again and again at ever deeper levels through the same issue.

Although it took me quite a while to fully understand it, I finally did. Our progress in life is like walking up a set of stairs, but it's a spiral stair case. Yes, we are making progress, but it feels like we're walking in circles. We keep coming back to the same point again and again, but always at a different level. We'll come back again and again, each time with a different perspective to try and understand what's going on in our lives.

We're making progress. It just doesn't feel that way. Only in time can we look back and realize how far we've come.

So, the next time you come back to an issue you thought you had dealt with and start to get frustrated, relax. Christ is just taking you to a different level of understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and grace. We're not walking in circles. It's a spiral. We'll get through it -- completely through it just as Christ promised.

We just won't get through as fast as we would like. Keep walking.