"What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of lovable... Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It hs everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that has nothing to do with weights and meassures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called "gifts"... Grace is one-way love. The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience... Take an inventory of yourself. Watch other people about whose happiness you care. You will see it over and over: one-way love lifts up. One-way love cures. One-way love transforms. It is the change agent of life." (Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice, p. 36-37)
We are always in danger of growing callous or cold toward anything with deep meaning which we are exposed to continually or repeatedly. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. But grace is to important an idea... indeed, it's to important a reality to let ourselves harden to it's richness. Grace is to the soul what oxygen is to the body. It is absolutely necessary to the sustaining of life, much less to the flourishing of life. We live on grace. We thrive on grace. We draw energy and hope from grace. We are strengthened by grace. We are healed by grace. Grace imparts meaning. Grace is what gets us out of bed in the morning.
Our souls can only breathe in an environment of grace. Anything else contaminates our lives and suffocates us. And here's the problem: while all of us have a need for grace to survive, we are pathologically disposed to withholding grace from one another. We need one-way love. We were designed to operate on that and out of that. But sin has rewired us to function on conditions of reciprocity. We fixate on even handedness. We demand tit for tat.
Love conditioned on the performance of the other, or the assets contributed by the other, or the benefits that come to us from the other is inherently anti-grace. But it seems right to us. We all want grace and know we need grace, but we are determined to fight for and defend gracelessness. We inject toxins into an atmosphere which we know must stay clean for our survival.
That poison comes into our environment through assumptions like, "I deserve better," "they owe me more", "I can't believe they did that", "how dare you think that of me", "I just wanted...", or other seemingly benign thought patterns and beliefs. Subtly, what's happening beneath the surface, is we are breathing in the air of exploitation that sees the other as a means of gain. I don't mean criminal exploitation. I simply mean that there is a predisposition in every one of us that gladly seeks what we want from another with little or no consideration to them. We are naturally relational predators, seeking to have our needs and desires met by others while giving little or no consideration for what they need or may desire.
Oh sure, on the surface, we care and give and contribute ourselves too. But I've noticed in walking with others what I've also noticed in my own heart: that I tend to always think I'm giving more than my share and never quite receiving what I deserve. This is the natural system of weights and measures which we administrate always in our favor internally, if not externally. This is the contaminated air our spiritual lungs breathe in when they're made for the clean air of grace. And we keep inhaling it to our own demise.
We have been covered by grace in such a way that we no longer need to breathe the poison air of guardedness. We no longer need to breathe the toxic air of "getting mine." Jesus has insulated us from that pollution, and he's purified the atmosphere with the grace of his completed work. He gave himself fully to us, without reservation and without reciprocity. He withheld nothing from us and opens his arms wide to us. There is no self-protection in Jesus nor self-preoccuptation. Only self-emptying, one-way love.
If we'll start to breathe in the clean air of the gospel, we may just find the spiritual lung capacity we need to take back the hill of dysfunctional and damaging relationships which have grown out of the soil of gracelessness. We cannot bask in the one-way love of Christ and then continually love others based on their ability to fulfill our subjective requirements of them. Grace necessarily abandons any claims on others to meet my felt needs and expressed desires. Instead, grace reorients us toward the needs and desires of the other with no expectation or requirement of reciprocity from the other.
May the grace of Christ re-oxygenate your soul today so that you are both breathing in and breathing out one-way love.