The River of Grace
Last summer, I worked as a counselor at an all-girls camp in Mentone, Alabama. Although extremely challenging, the job was incredibly rewarding, as I learned and grew more than I ever thought possible. The Lord used those campers to reveal more of Himself to me, and for that, I am forever grateful. I am fully convinced that being a camp counselor is one of the hardest jobs I will ever have, so if you have ever been a counselor, I tip my hat to you.
At the beginning of that summer, we had a week of staff training before campers arrived. The week was full of seminars on caring for children, CPR training, team building exercises, and lots of prayer. The last night, we had one final talk from the director of the camp—not one to build any more excitement, but one to remind us of the foundation of the camp itself: the grace of God.
The director stood before the seventy-five of us on staff and said, “We want to remind each of you that we are a grace-giving community because out of God’s fullness we have received grace upon grace (John 1:16). Out of God’s grace for us, we will extend that grace to each other. It is not if you will mess up, but when. And when you do, you will be met with grace in the midst of your mistake.”
I remember being genuinely comforted by that statement, yet I felt an equal sense of disconnection to it. False voices filled my heart with words such as these: Remember Sarah, you are a rule follower, and you thrive within boundaries. You are the girl who cannot even fathom doing anything intentionally wrong or rocking the boat. You will just stick to the guidelines, and because of that, you will not make a mistake! Thanks for the grace, but you will not be needing it, really, because you will not mess up.
Fast forward to the third week of camp, and I was drudging back to the cabin after a rainy morning. I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, and all I could think about was making it back to my cabin for a brief moment of respite. On my way, I met my head counselor who looked frustrated and stern, and as soon as she said my name, my stomach dropped.
I messed up. My head counselor confronted me about an issue, although minor in the grand scheme of things, that needed to be rectified. In a total lapse of my mind, I forgot to abide by one of camp’s guidelines. By no means was I chewed-out or my job threatened, but I got a stern confrontation to make sure that I remembered the standards set before me since the beginning of camp.
I held myself together for the time it took to get back to my—mercifully—empty cabin, and as soon as I walked in the screen door, I bawled. I’d like to credit the tears on my lack of sleep, but I was crying mostly because I was so ashamed. As I look back on it now, I realize the mistake I made was not as big of a deal as I made it, but in the moment, I was devastated. I went directly to what I endearingly call “Shame-town”—where all truths about who God made me to be and who God is are forgotten. I cannot believe myself. I am such an awful counselor. They probably think I have zero respect for the camp and its rules. I am so embarrassed and feel so dumb. What an easily avoidable mistake.
I regrouped enough to stop the tears, but I was drowning in shame. Even though I already apologized once, I felt the need to speak with my head counselor again—to reassure her that I could, I would do better. Before I could make my way to speak with her, my cabin door swung open. My head counselor walked in, and I was a basket-case once more. I apologized profusely until she came over to me and wrapped me in a tight hug. She then stepped back and placed her hands on my shoulders and said, “Sarah, do you see that river behind your cabin? I like to think of it as a river of grace. Now what I want you to do is throw this mistake down that river. Why are you operating out of the mindset that you are not covered in grace, forgiven, and loved? Everyone messes up; there is no reason to be ashamed. The same grace that God gives me, I extend to you, and you should receive for yourself.”
What a gift that the Lord would use another person and a painful situation to remind me of His true character and endless provision of grace. Probably for the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to tangibly experience the grace of God. My false identity of the “good girl” was crushed even in my best efforts, and what was I met with? God’s graciousness and a reminder of my Gospel identity.
I remember Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I am not defined by mistakes made, and as I am a sinner, mistakes will most definitely be made! I am not defined by obedience or any “good girl” image I could conjure up for myself. Instead, I am defined by the fact that my Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ, and because of that, my life has been crucified with His (Galatians 2:20). My life’s foundation is Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In Him there is no shame; there is graciousness and thus, freedom. I do not have to strive for perfection or live in fear that my performance in this life will fail me. I can find true rest in the Gospel of Christ—knowing that when, not if, I fall short, I will find a Savior who is gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29), extending His graciousness to me as a gift out of the abundance of Himself.