In John 5:17, Jesus tells us that “My Father is always at his work, to this very day…” In Philippians 2:13, the Apostle Paul reminds us that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In our "Stories of Grace" feature, members are invited to share a particular instance of how God has been at work in their lives.
This month, our contributor is Grace Brown.
As a person who grew up in Taiwan, I was entrenched with the belief that you have to work quite hard to win the love and respect of others. For a very long time, in the bottom of my heart, I felt that there was no such thing as unconditional love. Even after I became a Christian, trying to resist the values of the world was not, and is not, easy. This world adores the strong, the smart, the kind, the beautiful, the clever, and the powerful. Even though I have devoted myself to serving the Lord, many times I have also fallen into the trap of trying to earn or work my way to the top. Of taking, rather than giving. Of refusing to accept or admit my weakness.
But one time, I happened to read a poem by George Herbert, a 17th century Welsh priest in the Church of England. The poem was the third in a series simply called, “Love.” I read it aloud, and it captured my heart:
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything. “A guest," I answered, “worthy to be here”: Love said, “You shall be he.” “I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.” Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?” “Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve.” “And know you not," says Love, “who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down," says Love, “and taste my meat.” So I did sit and eat.
I was deeply touched by the line, “‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.’ Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, ‘Who made the eyes but I?’“
I can work my way to becoming a diligent, hard-working person. Maybe I can also work my way to becoming a polite person. However, I cannot work my way to becoming a kind person. Kindness flows from the heart, and I know there is no kindness in my heart.
When I encounter the Lord, I often focus on my shortcomings, my flaws, and my sins. I never have a problem admitting that I am a sinner, but I often have a problem believing that the Lord loves me and cares for my well-being. What kind of experience is this? I feel desperate that I cannot change myself to become even a slightly kind and grateful person. So I do not want to look at the Lord ever again.
Yet, Herbert’s poem says, beautifully and most gently, “Who made the eyes but I?” I realize his point that returning to the Lord never lies in my kindness and gratefulness. I will never have enough. It will never be enough. I can only throw myself at the feet of the Lord and depend upon his mercy and love. Yes, the eyes have been marred, but, by that same pair of the eyes, I can look upon the Lord. As a Christian, looking upon the Lord is the essential activity of my life.
But Herbert reminds me that there is also a passive dimension to the Christian life. “You must sit down and taste my meat.” I had never understood that the starting point of Christian spirituality is not working, standing, making something, or even serving. Rather, it is sitting down and receiving, like a newborn baby receives his mother’s tender care, or a girl receives her lover’s passionate embrace. I, too, must sit down and taste my Lord’s meat, accept His love. This is where I start my Christian journey.