She stood in the dark doorway sobbing over an Easter basket that never came. Despite the gift-filled baskets from family members and a weekend full of festive activities, the space where the basket from mom & dad ought to have been left a void inside her broken heart.
After consoling my 10-year-old daughter with an embrace and reminder of prior occasions where we had surpassed her expectations, she calmed enough to return to bed, assured of our love, and that next year we’d try to do better. I closed the door, slithered into my bed sheets, and crumbled from a fragile psyche weighed farther down with the crush of “mom-guilt”.
“I’m a horrible mother,” I began to sob to my husband, “I can’t even give my kid an Easter basket.”
In that moment, it wasn’t about the Easter basket—it was about my failures, about their piling up day after day, and my inability to do better and be better. How many times have I let down my daughter, my husband, my family? Countless. How many times have I let myself down, that I wasn’t a more gracious person, more skilled at navigating the challenges of motherhood and marriage? Innumerable. How many times have I hungered and thirsted for righteousness only to trip over my one broken flesh, one broken mind, one broken heart? Untold.
No, I wasn’t crying because I didn’t have the bandwidth for curating an Easter basket—I was crying because I didn’t have the capacity to live up to anyone’s expectations…especially my own.
When Grace Has Gone
It’s no wonder the Lord led me to the book of Galatians to uncover the heart of my problem. The epistle is written to Christians who have come under the influence of false teaching and the lie that circumcision was a requirement for saving faith in Christ. Paul spends most of his time reminding believers in Galatia that “by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16) and that their ongoing Christian maturity is not an accomplishment of flesh, but of the Spirit (3:3). He rebuked the Galatians for turning back to “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more,” (4:9) then targets their hearts with a piercing question: “What then has become of the blessing you felt?” (4:15)
What then, imperfect mama crying over her incessant failures, has become of your joy? What has your lackluster law-keeping given you?
There’s no question that when grace has gone, joy goes with it. And when our rules and expectations become the idols of our hearts, we fall away from the blessing we once felt in our communion with Christ. Indeed, our relationship with Jesus feels cold and distant because we’ve placed ourselves under a false gospel. We quickly grow lonely, isolated, and hopeless because we’ve ceased to abide in him (John 15:5). Paul puts it bluntly:
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (5:4)
The Grace and Hope of Righteousness
Yet, as stark as Paul puts it in verse 4, the shining light of the gospel comes breaking through the walls of our legalism in verse 5.
“For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (5:5)
True, we’re found waiting for and working towards the crown of righteousness kept for us (2 Timothy 4:8), but we’re never found wanting of it in God’s estimation. This isn’t a crown earned, figured, or achieved, but one already guarded for us by Jesus himself. By grace, through faith, we have been justified (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8) and by the Spirit we can rejoice with eager expectancy that our hope of doing better, being better, and walking with Christ better is not just a goal, but a guarantee (Philippians 1:6).
Grace is no back-breaker, but a law-keeper on our behalf, meant to “overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy,” J.I. Packer writes, “and to drive us to cling to [God] more closely…to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast.” It is only by way of our inadequacy that we can see Christ’s sufficiency clearly enough to rejoice in it—only by way of our shortcomings do we learn to keep latched to the life-giving bosom of grace.
“And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17)