An Inadequate Grace

I’m in the middle of PhD studies at the University of Virginia, a “public ivy” that trades off with UC Berkeley most years for the spot of top-ranked public university. What this means is that there are multiple times a week when I’m the dumbest person in the room. I console myself with how I’ve got life experience, often by nearly two decades, on most of my cohorts; but this additional fact only means that on top of being slow, I’m also old. I’m 41. Welcome to college.

Being in a situation where your limits and inadequacies are laid bare provides a true gift. Since I’m a writer and a father and a pastor, this position is nothing new to me. Regularly, I’m reminded of how many better writers there are, how much better their books sell. Several times, I’ve found a copy of one of my books bargain-priced in the used book store, never read. I know this because I looked. Closely. Once, I found a copy at a bookshop across the street from the church I pastored. So I’ve pieced this together – one of my own parishioners thumbed through the book, shrugged and said, “Eh, toss.” That book sat on that lonely shelf for over a year. I know this because I looked. Regularly. I was only released from that gloomy wake because we moved four hundred miles away.

Further, I’m a dad, and most weeks I find the last few drops of my fatherly know-how circling the drain. I love those boys, but I will tell you that most of the time, I am absolutely winging it. When it comes to my pastoral life, it’s no different. There are many, many pastors who seem to have the right word and the right shine. We all like to play the part of the humble pastor, but God knows, some of us hit it on cue simply because we’re flailing about no matter when you look our way.

This isn’t to say I don’t have my stellar moments. From time to time, I’ll land a zinger of a sermon, and most days, I like the words I scratch together. While I flub regularly and have to say “I’m sorry” an awful lot, on the whole, I’m a pretty kick ass dad. I’m even learning to muck my way through a PhD.

But here’s the thing: the more we try to compensate for our weak places, the more we try to edit the “us” others encounter, the more we attempt to hide the fact that we really aren’t nearly as smart or agile or profound or intriguing as we suspect others judge us to be (or as we desire for others to judge us to be), the less we become our true selves, the less beauty we’re able to give away. Worse, as we maneuver and manipulate in all these places, we will find ourselves exhausted by our self-absorption. One of the graces Lent has brought me is this relaxing revelation: I am so tired of myself.

The world does not need perfection. It doesn’t need the best ‘you’ that you can dream up. The world needs you. The actual you. Foibles and giggles and goofiness and all. Would you be brave enough to give it to us?

20 Replies to “An Inadequate Grace”

  1. What good, good words Winn. As we start our new journey here in Murfreesboro I have to continually remind myself to let new people fall in love with the real me and not to worry about fitting patterns or molds that were laid out before me. You are right, it takes a great amount of bravery to be real. So thanks for the encouragement and the reminder that it is most certainly ok to be me. Thank you, also, for the word on being over yourself. It does tend to be most easy to be ourselves when we are not thinking about ourselves at all.

    1. Dayna, I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about. Sounds to me like you’re on your way to giving ’em the real you. The last line says it straight. M’boro isn’t going to know what just hit ’em.

  2. Love. The Holy Spirit is doing a work of vulnerability in His Church right now, it is very clear. And it takes much courage. I read Luke 10:3 phrased as such once – “He sent them out, clothed in nothing but vulnerability…” – and verse 17 – “and they returned triumphant, wounded by no one.” And that gentle reminder in verse 20 to stay low to the ground… :’)

    Ps – I totally fist pumped at the proclamation of being a kick ass dad. Preach.

    1. Luke 10, in those tones, is interesting. Thanks for sharing — and for first pumping. I love a good fist pump.

  3. This one is really good, Winn. There is the winsome self-deprecation… and the laser-like truth about all of us kinda faking it (ahem~ esp. clergy and parents!), but the voice is just right. You bless me because you just talk, you don’t pontificate. And I predict that your PhD cohort is gonna see that your voice is true. That each of them will be blessed (though none may say so to you…?) because you are with them. In your excellent, real search.

  4. Oh, and love your advice about being brave enough to JUST JUMP, and then go get ice cream. (Some days, sorry to say, after jumping I might need vodka…)

  5. Love, love this one, Winn. Thank you. Hey, I was 44 when I went to seminary and I was always the dumbest one in the class. But I learned and I held my own. I’m sure you do, too.

  6. Anyone in a PhD program has already proven they’ve got some smarts.

    It’s freeing to just be foible-y me, but I don’t know how to fake things well. So I just fling open our front door–the one with the paint peeling off–and invite people in to our messy, mismatched home that reflects messy, mismatched me. And I hope that they will sit down and have some tea, because when we meet and share our giggling, goofy, actual selves, I think we’re all sitting closer to the cross, humbled and at rest.

words have a way of making friends. drop a few here.