Grading Grace


This is my #tbt (throw back thought).

Last week I was speaking with my brother about one of my posts. He reads them, maybe not all of them but he does read them which is cool because in 1986 my sister and I convinced him to use his allowance money to buy the Bon Jovi “Slippery When Wet” album instead of some cool toy he wanted. So naturally, I thought maybe he still had not forgiven me (who even thinks that?).

But it’s all good, it appears that he holds no grudges and that he also still knows all the words to “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Believe it or not this has a lot to do with what we were talking about. We were discussing the issue of grace. Wait, what?

Anyway, he had just read my post “Flightless Bird, Thrashing Deer” and said that he felt the ending was incomplete. I used the word “undone.”

I agreed with his points. I had ended the post quickly mostly because I already rambled on about my animal characters and I wanted a quick way to finish it. The issue left undone was the issue of grace. I said this:

“Girls, ladies, mommies, friends, sisters we all deserve grace. If we ground ourselves because we are afraid of flight it’s because we don’t accept grace. If we thrash and buck because we are afraid of the still, quiet pain then we don’t accept grace. It’s crazy because grace is free and we still think we have to earn it or pay for it or do something amazing, supermom-ish worthy to get it. We don’t.”

Here’s what we agreed on: we actually do not deserve grace at all. It is because we don’t deserve it that makes it so elusive and such a hard for our human minds to grasp. Things we can earn, like money, or things we deserve, like dignity, seem a little easier because they are less abstract concepts. We certainly have a very skewed concept of how to give ourselves grace, which means we have an even harder time offering it to others. Let me see if I can explain myself and try to articulate what I meant to say the first time. Of course, I have a story.

When I was in my Master’s program we had psychotic professors. Well, psychotic is kind of a heavy word. They were really smart, gracious people who taught us psychotic things. Things like how to diagnose ourselves with personality disorders, various mood disorders and trichotillomania. Wait, what? Okay, that was just me. But anyway we learned a ton about how to be better therapists and we also learned a lot about our own processes and our own pathology. Basically, we got emotional boot camp and a peek into why we do the things we do for the very small price of “still paying it off.”

Having been a stellar collegiate athlete and a successful corporate professional I was, of course, perfect (clue number one into my pathology). But underneath this perfection was of course, insecurity (clue number two – not as obvious to me as evidenced by the thought that I was, of course, perfect).

Enter craziest (and probably one of the best) professors in my program. I have forgotten the exact details of the assignment, but we were asked to complete a series of questions. Questions, I believe, that had nothing to do with anything (again, crazy professors). Once we completed the “assignment” we were asked to give ourselves a score. We could give ourselves any score based of what we thought we deserved.

ANY SCORE…LIKE A 100. I could give myself a 100.

I gave myself a 50 something.

Here was my logic. I hadn’t really tried very hard on this “assignment.” I wasn’t going to give myself a 100 because nobody deserves a 100 (except the narcissists in our class who did indeed give themselves a 100) and based on my athletic background if you don’t try really hard and you haven’t given 120% then you are nowhere even near the ball park of 100. I also thought I had no clue what I was talking about so I figured better than half, but not good enough to be in the 70’s or 80’s. The professor then began to ask each of us out loud what score we gave ourselves and he proceeded to write that number in his little grade book. That was the grade of our first assignment for the class. It comprised almost half of our grade for the semester.

When he got to me and I gave my score, I was mortified. Mostly because out of everyone in the class I was THE ONLY PERSON WHO GAVE MYSELF A FAILING GRADE! Who even does that? A very insecure person hiding behind the guise of perfection, that’s who. I pleaded with my professor at the end of class to let me change my grade. He let me change it and do you know what? I STILL COULDN’T GIVE MYSELF AN “A!” Are you freaking serious? He kind of laughed and said “you still couldn’t give yourself an “A.”

Hearing that stung. Of course perfect people don’t cry, so I didn’t do that in front of my teacher. I waited until I got into my car and then the floodgates opened. With all the things I thought were perfect in my life, clearly they were very far from perfect. Far from 100. Far from 80. Far from 70. I allowed little room for error and when something wasn’t 100 it was failing. Ugh. Let’s put it this way I processed that grade and the entire concept of grace the rest of my time in that program. I processed it after I graduated. And when I got married I still processed it. And then when I had my children I still processed it and you know what in the world nipped it right in the bud? Jesus.


God celebrates our diversity, not our perfection. He is also okay with my doodling in church.
God celebrates our diversity, not our perfection. He is also okay with my doodling in church.

The concept of grace is such a hard one to grasp that only God himself can explain it by offering it to us for free. The trick is that we have to accept it. That is the hardest part of the lesson. There comes a time in everyone’s life when you choose to be real or you choose to grade yourself. Whether you give yourself a 100 or a 50 being real gives you a starting point. We all have to start somewhere. We have to begin with the grades we have been giving ourselves and we have to put them on God’s gracing system. I will never be the person who will just give up or not try because I know God’s grace is right there to catch me. That is so not my style.

To that extent, I will probably always wrestle with the balance of perfection and grace. But grace means that I no longer have to grade myself or be graded by others and that is a huge relief. I like God’s gracing system much better than my self-imposed grades.

And guess what? I think this post is still undone.

Published by pytallman

Wife, mother, Christ follower.

4 thoughts on “Grading Grace

  1. Grace perfects the soul. It gives you a perfect 100 score.

    I think that Grace incorporates the Mercy and the Goodness of God. Some have defined Mercy as “not getting what you deserve” from God. And the Goodness of God as “getting what you do not deserve” from God. It makes Grace somewhat to understand.

    Bottom line: it is offered for free. Take it.

    1. The catechism of the catholic church tells us that grace is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call. It is the gift that inspires and empowers us to change our lives. Believe it or not, Grace and Faith, the two are closely intertwined. God’s grace without our acts of faith has little ability to change us. No matter how faithful and disciplined we may be, simply won’t have much impact if we are not open to the flow of grace that God is always pouring out from heaven asking us to leave our old selves behind. Let’s exercise our faith, confident that God’s grace is always available to us. We can find guidance, encouragement and peace we need to live as joyful disciple of Jesus. Have faith in God and we will find ourselves filled with grace.

      1. Thank you so much Marie! I have always admired that you stay so connected with the church even within the midst of how busy you are. Thank you so much for commenting!

  2. You are welcome. Know Priscilla that my church connection and my faith in God are helping me to stay a flow of my daily activities.
    Extended Mom Marie. I love you.

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