Why I've Stopped "Giving Myself Grace" (And Why You Should Too)

I don't know about you, but I am results-driven and struggle not to conflate performance and productivity with worth. I am drawn to phrases like “give yourself grace” and “you are enough” because I am constantly battling feelings of inadequacy. I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

“Less hustle, more grace” seems to be the mantra of all of us weary of the rat-race. Everywhere I look, there’s another article or book about why we should give ourselves more grace, why we are enough, and why we deserve good things. The secret to success is no longer to work like a machine, but to embrace simplicity and self-love. And it’s no surprise. We’re fed up with our western culture’s obsession with performance, influence, and affluence. We’ve become suspicious of the notion that we can be it all and do it all. We’re tired of being anxious and depressed. We want to be defined by more than what we do.

I’m one hundred percent here for trading burn-out and shame for contentment and joy. I too am desperate to be freed from the lies that performance equals worth and productivity equals purpose. But I also think that grace is being gravely misused and misrepresented.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines grace as: (noun) a virtue coming from God, a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance; approval, favor, mercy, pardon; a disposition or act of kindness; consideration, thoughtfulness. (verb) To confer dignity and honor on.

When I consider the definition of grace, it doesn’t quite align with the “grace” I have given myself or the “grace” that is touted by the world as the antidote to striving. Often when I "give myself grace", I end up on a dark road I didn't intend to go down. The grace that I give myself reeks of narcissism and compromise.

The world tells us that grace is self-awareness and self-acceptance. These sound like good ideas because there is some truth in them. However, we cannot be self-aware apart from our Creator and we cannot accept ourselves apart from God’s love. Grace isn't something we can muster up ourselves. God is the author and source of grace.

The Lord is the one who makes us worthy of kindness and consideration, who confers on us “dignity and honor”. We are made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). He thought we were worth rescuing from sin and destruction (Ephesians 1:7) We can love ourselves and take care of ourselves because He first loved us and showed us what love is. Divorced from God’s perspective, self-love and self-care become self-promotion and self-obsession. We learn to love ourselves so that we can love and serve others; not so that we become consumed by our own abilities and importance.

Jesus is the one who gives us favor, mercy, and pardon though we are wretched sinners. We are sanctified and approved by the blood of the Lamb. We are not inherently good or deserving of kindness; in fact, it is quite the opposite (Romans 3:10,22-27). God’s grace says- I see that you are weak, limited, broken, and sinful; I will give you the power to overcome all of this. We can’t cloak our sin in “grace”, ignoring the idols we have built next to the cross of our Savior. God gives us His grace to conquer sin, not as a license to continue in sin (see Romans 6).

God's grace is about a right view of ourselves in light of who He is (creator, sustainer, omniscient God) and what He has done (defeated sin and death on the cross).

I have been deceived by a counterfeit grace time after time in search of reprieve from striving and the constant feeling of not doing and being enough. Countless times I have called something a “boundary” when it was pure self-interest; simultaneously ignoring the boundaries that would actually enable me to serve and do what God is calling me to. I have indulged in “self-care” that was really self-destruction; spending money I didn’t have and forming unhealthy and sinful habits. Pride and arrogance have masqueraded as self-love and acceptance; making myself feel worthy and wise while making others feel small and insecure. I've wasted precious days and weeks "being kind to myself", when what I really needed to do was get up and get moving.

Our culture is waking up to the fact that we need to let go of the burden of the hustle- and we absolutely should do that. But, as followers of Christ, we are to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, and then pick up our cross and follow Him. (Luke 9:23-25) If the grace we give ourselves does not honor the sacrifice of our Savior, it is not grace. True grace will always result in abundance. As Tony Reinke said, “Grace is shorthand for the full and free access we have to all the merits and power and promises to be found in the person of our Savior.” We are filled with His grace so that we may worship our Lord in wonder and love and so that we may generously serve others.

So, I am no longer giving myself grace, I am learning to live in true grace. It may sound like semantics, but our culture has hijacked grace and it's time for us to reclaim it. It’s a work in progress! I encourage you to examine your motives and attitudes as you “give yourself grace”. As I read His Word, I am regularly convicted as I recognize where my grace has been false. He is giving me true grace to lay down the weight of performance and to hold on to what is true and holy.

© 2020 by Bethney Stanberry-Jacob