Look for the Love

Recently, there’s been this word…this Christian-y word orbiting me: Grace. The free love of God. That no matter what I do, I cannot add or subtract a bit from the love of God. I can do nothing and I am loved. And I don’t feel it. My spiritual direction supervisor has been on my case about grace, since I tend to be my harshest critic. The need for grace comes up in my most intimate relationships, where I play out a cycle of doubting their love for me and trying desperately to earn their affection. Which is exhausting and leads to more separation than connection between my loved ones and me. The insecurity and doubt goes to further loneliness. Then more insecurity and doubt, and the cycle continues. So the more I hear about grace, the more I am certain it is the monkey wrench to my cycle.

And yet grace feels like such a flat concept. Grace is the most played out word in Christianity. For the past month, I’ve been struggling to grasp it in a way that feels true in my inmost being, something that reverberates down in my gut, the way truth feels. I brought this to my own spiritual director, who gently told me it was going to be a long journey that unfolds over many years. Which both annoyed me and made me feel helpless. I WANT A QUICK PATH TO FEELING GRACE.

Over the past month, though, I have begun to feel grace’s presence. In small, subtle ways. Perhaps it was because I was looking for proof of it already existing in my life. But I am so grateful to notice the following shifts and moments that have occurred recently.

In a sermon at church I was reminded of the Mister Roger’s quote “in times of disaster look for the helpers.” That the helpers mean hope exists. As I reflected on my doubt of love’s existence, I adapted the phrase to “Look for the love.” That the love means grace exists.

So I’ve been doing a kind of daily “love Examen” — where I recount the experiences of love throughout the day. To be like a little kid and make SURE there’s a fair portion of love and attention for me. I light a candle, sit on the edge of my bed, and recount the acts of love that have been expressed to me by loved ones and strangers. In these moments cradling my head between my hands, feeling slightly ridiculous, I recount out-loud each one that comes to mind… noticing how the insecure layer of myself smoothly slides off when faced with the reality that I am loved. Shawn’s phone calls while on tour, writing dates with my roommate at local cafes, my coworker bringing me a doughnut on a busy day, morning greetings from the senior citizens and children who ride the 12 line with me, words of encouragement from a classmate as she clasps my hands in hers. More than anything, these moments feel relieving: “Oh love WAS given to me today. Whew!”

Grace is also becoming more of myself and loving that person. This has surfaced in my inner wrestling with my specific technique of being a spiritual director and a writer. In supervision yesterday, I stubbornly putting my foot down about an experience I brought, one that my school may have frowned upon my technique in, but that I felt really good about what I did. My supervisor pointed out perhaps this stubborn reaction is an indication that I didn’t do anything wrong, but that I am increasingly aware of who Dani is as a director. As an extrovert, as someone who contemplates in motion while holding a quiet interior, as someone who is rather intense, etc. This stubborn shift surfaces in my writing too. Shawn has pressed me to write more like I speak: with passion and direct language. But when I have sat down to write a blog post on this spiritual direction website, I sense an inner “should” that my voice needs to sound like what I imagine a spiritual director would: peaceful and flowery. These two moments have made me realize how strongly I feel “This is who I am, and I don’t want to be any other way.” For the past few weeks, I’ve felt this more than I ever had. Insecurity will surface, but for now, I’m enjoying this newfound ownership and love of who I am. That I can name my strengths and not take my weaknesses so hard. Finding that love within rather than only from external sources. Which feels miraculous. Man, I love rounding the corner on turning 30. Everyone was right when they said the 30s are more about knowing and accepting the self. Bring it on. I am so ready to leave the self-doubting 20s.

Then there is the potent experience of grace that happens on nights when I’m too angry, lonely, or anxious to do my love Examen. Instead God gets an earful. A few weeks ago the candle was lit for all of 60 seconds. I aired my frustration, told God I didn’t know what the fuck to do, and asked the Divine to please handle it. Because I’m tired. Thanks. I blew out the candle and crawled into bed. In the raw honesty of profanity, tears, and release of control, I viscerally felt secure in the love of God. I sensed the Divine giving me an eye-roll, maybe a smirk, but mostly a long steady gaze. I trust in that knowing gaze of parental love, wholly accepting and secure. Which for me means everything.

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