I've been thinking about the way that Paul starts and ends every letter to believers in the Bible with some form of "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." These words have been on my heart and mind for months now. Because if you think about it, these words are so, so vitally significant in my life and yours. Grace and peace to you.
Grace and peace to you.
Grace. And peace. To YOU.
Those words are important because a few weeks ago I came face to face with the monster of sin inside of me. I woke up the same way I wake up many mornings in the last several years: sleep-deprived. In desperate need of coffee. And feeling like I need about 24 more hours of sleep. :) Difficult, yes, but no excuse for the thoughts that came thundering into my mind and heart that morning. For goodness' sake, why can't the baby just sleep?? And who is that I hear coughing upstairs? Of course, they are going to need me. Everyone needs me. I do everything for everybody. Who does things for me? Nobody started the coffee last night, and now of course I can't do it because I'm holding a screaming baby and trying to quiet him down so the rest of the house doesn't wake up but OH HOW DESPERATELY I NEED COFFEE. My throat hurts, but nobody cares. I'm just here to meet everyone else's needs. Nobody thinks about little old me.
Grace and peace, My dear precious Julie. Grace and peace.
Yeah, yeah. Did you hear that woman last night and the rude things she said? Did you know how hurtful that was, Father? That was awful! Doesn't she know I'm doing the best I can?
Grace and peace, My lovely bride Julie. Grace and peace. Come to Me. You are weary. Heavy burdened. Full of anger and selfishness this morning. Come to Me. I, too, came not to be served, but to serve. To give my life as a ransom for many ungrateful people who gave nothing back. I get it. Come to Me.
Okay Father, I give you my selfishness. I give you my anger. . . . but my hurt, that I just don't know what to do with. I am hurt because my daughter Allie is going away again next week. I am going to be spending another Thanksgiving without her. You know I hate spending special days and holidays without her. (Insert the Accuser of the Brethren's voice here: That's what you get for being a total failure in your first marriage. You've lost her and it's all your fault. Shame on you. You will spend so many holidays without her.) He's right, Father. I shouldn't bring that sadness to You. It's because of sin that I'm in that place anyway. If only I hadn't sinned and gotten a divorce, I would be spending every holiday with her. I am so ashamed.
Grace and peace. Grace and peace.
You do not have answers, but you have My grace and it is sufficient. You are abounding in grace because of My Son Jesus. Shalom, My child. Shalom begins with "Shhhhh. . . " Quiet your soul. Be still. Grace. And peace.
That particular morning I just sat in His presence confessing my sin. It hit me that on my own, I begin each day thinking about me. What I need. What I want. What will make my day a happy one, an easy one, a good one. How if only I had more sleep, or if only I had this or that, life would be great. I start with discontent and selfishness and a "me first" mentality. Unless I begin the day acknowledging that before God and slaying the beast of self, I will continue the day that way. And the day will get ugly, quick.
I can even have my "quiet time" and spend time reading His Word for an hour, but come away with self still on the throne. Still searching for grace and peace by hoping to mark things off my to-do list, or hoping the kids will get along and not complain that day, or that someone will come along and give me a nap and some chocolate. :) Basically that someone will serve ME. But that grace and peace will not come. Even if those things happen, grace and peace come only ". . . from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
These words are important because Satan uses the holiday season to change my focus from the Messiah in a manger to (surprise, surprise!). . . myself. How quickly I revert back to the Christmas of 1993, when I was in the deepest throes of an eating disorder that was threatening to take my very life. I remember feeling overwhelming guilt after every bite. An irrational fear gripped me that a bite of pecan pie would make me fat and therefore unlovable. I was in such a prison. Unless I remember that there is grace and peace in the presence of Christ, I find myself in that place again as I sit next to my size 0 sister in law during our holiday gathering, who is asking me if I still work out. Telling me in detail about her amazing workouts. How quickly I go back there. Unless I remember that there is grace and peace in the presence of Christ, I look at my decoration-less Thanksgiving table, such a far cry from anything Pinterest-y or Instagram-worthy, and I feel so insufficient. Yes, you are insufficient. But My grace is all-sufficient. My grace is what matters. Not your table. Not your decor. Not your size. My grace.
My very favorite way Paul makes his greeting is at the beginning of 1 Thessalonians and the end of 2 Thessalonians, like bookends reminding the church at Thessalonica, and reminding me today: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. . . may the God of peace give you peace always and in every way."
Grace and peace to you, my friends. From the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Grace and peace.