Why I Don’t Believe in Grace Anymore

I used to say I believed in grace. I don’t say that anymore. Now I say I have known grace, and what I know is this: grace believes in me

grace

Photo Credit: Novafly via Compfight cc

It’s 9pm, and I walk in the door still carrying the burdens of a day at my office. The kids are already in bed, eyelids heavy but holding out for a “goodnight” from Daddy. My wife is tired but smiling and happy to see me.

And I don’t want any of it.

I stomp around, tearing open mail, griping about food that isn’t in the fridge, acting like a serious jerk. And in some secret place inside of me, I know it. Somehow, this only makes it worse. I wait for the reprisal from my wife. The well-earned reprisal. The angry, “I don’t deserve this!”

But it isn’t forthcoming. Instead, she kisses me on the cheek, says she loves me, and goes to bed with the same smile on her face. I stand by myself in the kitchen, but I have two companions. My bad mood. And my wife’s grace.

Why Psychotherapy Works

Psychologists are trained in an endless list of intervention for changing people. But the truth is, they all pale in comparison to the most powerful tool at our disposal. We call it by many names—empathy, acceptance, and “unconditional positive regard”—but it all boils down to this:

The therapy room is a pocket of grace in a condemning world.

Does that sound like a rip-off? After all, people come to us to be healed, right? How will anything be fixed, changed, improved, transformed, or redeemed if people are allowed to stay exactly the way they are?

I understand the feeling. I’ve felt it.

But I can tell you now, grace isn’t just acceptance of the status quo. Grace contains the status quo—all of our struggle and pain and mess—and embraces us and values us anyway. Grace demands that nothing be changed for love and connection to happen, and that kind of love has power.

How Grace Begins to Change Everything

In the presence of grace we are given permission to be our fullest selves: that complicated amalgam of mess and beauty, shame and glory. In the presence of grace, we can allow the wholeness of our humanity to be seen—we reveal our sputtering rage, anguished tears, petrified fear, crudest and rudest sentiment, most bizarre interest, or deepest embarrassment.

And then we look up.

And grace looks back. It isn’t cringing or horrified or judging or saying in a reasonable tone, “Well, once we figure that out and change it, then you and I can get along alright.” Instead, grace looks back with a calm admiration—probably even a smile in its eyes—and it says, “There you are, I’ve been waiting for you and you’re welcome here. All of you. You are beloved.”

This is the brilliance of grace: it welcomes our darkness into the light and does nothing to it, knowing that it doesn’t have to, because darkness thrives on hiddenness, and it’s at the mercy of the light. Light drives out darkness, not the other way around.

When we no longer have to push our darkness back down beneath layers of shame our darkness doesn’t stand a chance.

What Grace Sees

I stand in the kitchen with my bad mood and my wife’s grace. And the brilliance of her love quickly becomes clear. Her attack would have only rooted me deeper in my anger. Instead, she has given me acceptance in the midst of my anger, the space to feel it and experience the fullness of my self.

I still feel grumpy, but I discover there is something else there inside of me: I want to apologize.

I go to the bedroom and I tell her I’m sorry, and her response is quick and her grace is complete: “You had a long day, you’re allowed to be in a bad mood, and you’re a good man, I knew you’d apologize.”

My wife saw my goodness, even in the midst of my junk. She believed in my light, even when all she could see was darkness. She believed in who I am and who I can be, even while I was being something else.

I used to say I believe in grace. I don’t say that anymore. Now I say I have known grace, and what I know is this: grace believes in me.

How Grace Finally Changes Everything

The healing power of grace does not end with the embrace of our darkness.

When we find pockets of grace in this world—when our true self is finally allowed to the surface—we discover all sorts of beautiful things entwined with our darkness. Like dragging the ocean and coming up with a bunch of seaweed. And some invaluable pearls.

As grace calls our true self forth, we discover magnificent parts of us we didn’t know were there—passions built into us, a purpose sewn into our DNA. Our identity is washed clean and we begin to see ourselves for what we inherently are: creators of beauty, order, and abundance. We no longer dismiss our ability to contribute in loving ways to a crumbling world. We take the grace inside of us, it becomes our guide, and we become it.

We quit dead end jobs and risk our family’s financial security to earn a teaching degree. We stop drinking and we start coaching. We quit living at the office and we invest in the life of our family. We trade in fear for boldness. We quit hiding in our homes and we start risking in the world by uncaging our ideas and our creativity. We stop waiting on perfection and we start wading into the mess.

When we quit seeking change and begin to seek grace, we let go of our frantic effort to be like someone else, and we discover a blessed peace with who we are. Finally.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

*Note: This post was adapted from an archived post.

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Next Post: Why Sometimes Hope is Hopeless and Hopelessness is Our Only Hope

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • babybarracudess

    This is absolutely beautiful. Grace is so often mistaken for other things. May your wife continue to cover you with it until yours flows freely.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you. And, yes, I am indeed grateful for her continued grace!

  • pkw

    I was a therapist for 20 years and I love this description of therapy–what it is and why it works.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for the work you did!

  • Catharine Phillips

    What a lovely thing to read right before my next therapy session. Thank you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Catharine!

  • Doreen M Vitullo-Matheny

    Love this message…just what the world needs to hear! GRACE is so amazing, healing, liberating and although you don’t mention His name I call Him Jesus, Abba, Wonderful Councilor;) Very timely message thank you once again!!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Doreen. “Liberating” is a GREAT word to associate with grace.

  • Swd

    Yes, from a beginning therapist, THIS. Thank you.

    “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” ~Carl Rogers

    • drkellyflanagan

      Welcome to the field! And thanks for sharing this quote. It’s good to be reminded of the thread of grace running through our various philosophies and theologies.

  • cj

    My first response to this post was to make a face and shake my head. But I realized that my doubt and cynicism were based on the fact that I have never received the kind of grace you describe. We learn to give it through having received it ourselves as children and recognize it as love. So I read the article again experiencing the uncomfortable feelings of pain and grief I have always carried. What you say is all true. In the place I am now, in the middle of a divorce, I can see that I never received the kind of grace your wife extended to you. And I never gave it the way she did. Instead we “put up with each other” waiting for our “ideal, fantasy selves” to emerge so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the demands of giving and receiving grace. Giving yourself grace precludes being able to offer it to others, and when you aren’t that kind to yourself, you withhold it from them. My initial reaction also contained bitterness about this failed marriage – I feel my responsibility for its death. I wish my spouse would also recognize his graceless, hurtful attitudes and behaviors. He won’t because he extends himself a kind of grace that creates self-deception and denial in order to protect a fragile ego. Maybe this is the the starting point for me to give myself the gift of grace instead of beating myself up for marrying him in the first place. Those words, “you’re allowed to be,” reverberate.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for such a thoughtful reflection on the role of grace within your own story. It will resonate with many, and I think you make such an important distinction between authentic grace, which embraces everything we are, and counterfeit grace which actually serves to keep parts of us in hiding. Perhaps one of the core characteristics of a true grace experience is increasing levels of revelation.

    • Lee

      Your post says this so eloquently. I thought I was giving grace, but saw myself reflected in the comment about “fixing it”
      I’m going to reassess myself, and share this with my husband.
      So sorry for your divorce troubles. Forgive yourself and try to learn from it and move ahead. 🙂

    • gracenotes

      I have never seem a more helpful comments section than on this post – what a nice surprise. cj makes such a great contribution, I didn’t want a word choice issue to get in the way. I understand her to mean:

      “Giving yourself grace *precedes* being able to offer it to others, and when you aren’t that kind to yourself, you withhold it from them.”

      cj, that sounds like a really challenging situation. Thank you for sharing your insights. I hope you receive the grace we all need.

  • If I could only read one message – ever – it would be this one. There is so much struggle that boils down to this. The light witnessing the shadow. Thank you so much Dr. Flanagan for who you are, what you see and articulate and how you make a difference in my life.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Cara, you’re very welcome and I’m grateful for the grace you’ve extended to me in your comment!

  • Onajourney

    I’m currently working on a thesis proposal, which is about creating an environment within marriage where spiritual transformation can best take place. I’ve been trying to find the right word to describe that ultimate environment: Is it primarily connectedness we need in order to grow and change? Safety? Koinonia? Your description of grace describes perfectly the environment I want to teach people to create within their marriage. Thanks, Kelly!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad it came at the right time; may your paper bear fruit!

  • Vin

    I so appreciate these words, even as I squirm a little, recognizing how many times I could have done for my husband what your wife did for you, but chose the wall of defensiveness instead…
    And as a therapist, these words are deeply meaningful and really create a framework within which I can be of service…
    And as a parent….well, by ensuring my kids experience grace from me, they can extend it to themselves and others….
    What a gift!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for highlighting the ways grace can be a part of all relationships, including parents toward children.

  • Sandie

    Amazing words. I wish you will write children’s books or blog to share such inspirational words.

  • callmecrazy66

    I wish you were my therapist. I love the way you think and I don’t know how you would find that just looking at advertisements. People say you have to try different ones and find a good match but I don’t have buckets of money to try with. I wish there was a trick to it… 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      It really is a matter of being intentional and discerning and then settling it with a therapist who is a good fit for you. It’s a lot of work up front, but it will pay off in the long run!

  • Sherri Hudson

    This was impactful!! Many points you made really struck a cord in me and challenge me to be more grace-filled as your wife is. Thank you so very much-please keep it coming!!!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Will do, Sherri!

  • Jim Sando

    You have a way with words…one of helping us to picture and understand a deep concept in a simple, everyday way. Thank you for taking the time to write. I suspect you will heal more people with your written words than you will ever be able to reach personally. I will definitely share what you have written. Many thanks.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jim, thank you for your kind comment. I’m beyond grateful that something I enjoy as much as writing might also be helping people.

  • AG

    A friend sent me a link to this post, and I just wanted to say thank you so much. I have been able to do a tremendous amount of healing with a very gifted therapist and you just put into words exactly why that healing happened. I live a much fuller, more engaged life now than I would have ever thought possible. That was a beautiful and eloquent description of a very deep truth. I think the best part for me was that experiencing grace from my therapist actually opened me up to seeing other people offering it. And knowing that you can be met with grace is what allows us to “step into the mess” as you so aptly put it.

    I have a blog I write about my therapy and wanted to ask permission to post a link there, I think this post would be really helpful to a lot of my readers. Thanks again. ~ Attachment Girl (AG)

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad this resonated with your own experience in therapy. It looks like the link didn’t work, but feel free to email it if you wish!

  • annam

    I love this post, and at the same time would like to clarify that grace is one’s sharing of love and acceptance through trust and understanding for another human being. I want us all to practice this definition of grace in our daily lives but I worry about women in less equal partnerships translating fear based acceptance of what we know isn’t right into grace, when really the two could not be more at odds with each other. I encourage all of us to accept the innate right to stand your ground and simultaneously encourage acceptance of the other person as a whole person, worthy of love.

    • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

      I think you are so right to point out that grace is not about accepting poor treatment or abuse. It is about knowing our partner’s goodness, at the heart of things, and accepting that he or she will be beautifully, frustratingly imperfect. I would like to add to your thought that this is a concern for women and for men whose relationships can be devastatingly unequal. Any romantic relationships that slide into patterns of one sided taking open up the possibility of the dangerous interpretation you’ve envisioned.

    • Christina Haas

      Yes, so true. Mostly because of my religious upbringing, I found myself extending grace to my former husband when the real situation was abusive. Extending grace to ourselves first is so important. And interestingly enough, I am meeting more and more men who have been in abusive relationships too. It isn’t just a woman’s issue.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes. This is a critical thread in these comments. Grace without boundaries is codependency, and often abusive. I think the three of you have said this so well here, so I will just add that I think grace is actually what allows us to set boundaries with love, rather than aggression.

      • Kathleen Dennis

        YES! Finally a balanced perspective! So many marriage books, retreats, teachings and seminars, not to mention conferences on relationship in general focus solely on gender issues and roles, rather than the humanity we all share. My husband and I “Grace” meant never saying, “That hurts me to my very core, STOP! this isn’t love or loving!”

    • cj

      The concept you suggest- acceptance of another in their entirety, worthy of love, while standing your ground- is one of the great paradoxes of human relationships. I suppose it’s a “both/and” way of thinking. I wish I could manage it without it feeling like a tightrope walk. Think too much of your own needs and desires and you can become selfish. Think too much of another’s and you can become co-dependent. Managing the simultaneous perceptions of self and other in a balanced, relaxed way is the height of actualization which I think few people ever really master.

      • spacing from experience…

        Keep filling up on truth and you will find that your thoughts and actions are being transformed over time. Be patient. You can’t change old habits overnight, but a steady diet of grace-filled literature like this blog and books like the Boundaries series by Christian authors Drs. Townsend and Cloud will help over time. You will be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Let God change you instead of trying so hard to change yourself. It’s amazing what he can do when we take our hands off! 🙂

        • spacing from experience…

          Lol, my nickname was supposed to be “speaking from experience…” But getting healthy space is good too. Oops!

      • roamingator

        a lot of finding that balance without being on a tightrope is a matter of finding the right person to work it out with. I have no idea how I got lucky enough to find my husband, but with him I’ve learned all of that comes naturally when you are with someone who truly recognizes the person you are at all levels. When you have that sort of relationship, both people consider the needs of both people most of the time. It’s really a rather amazing experience that I didn’t believe existed until I met him.

  • Toma

    Applause.

  • Christina Haas

    Yes! Beautiful! This is exactly what I hope to bring to the experience of abortion! I worry sometimes that I don’t have the coaching credential, but time and time again, I am told I have the open heart and acceptance that are more important than any credential. Thank you for reminding me of that! I loved this post and will reference it back to one of my future blogs. <3

    • drkellyflanagan

      Christina, gifts and grace can’t be credentialed. : )

  • Moses

    What an incredible description and explanation of grace. I love just how messy Christ has called us to be in a sense that we can’t be scared of the not so happy things of life. I love how you said, “we start wading into the mess.” Great article, thanks!!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Moses!

  • Anna

    For me this was your most profound post yet, I hope you always stay open to grace and are able to share it with the world. May you and your wife be blessed with many more moments like this!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Anna!

  • Megan

    Thank you for this article. This is by far the one that has resonated the most within myself. I need to extend the kind of grace your wife extended to you, the way I used to. I have forgotten to do so in the midst of my husbands new career and our first child being born. Grace has fallen out of our marriage and us into a darkness that often feels interminable. Grace. It needs to reappear and I can be the beginning point. Thank you for such a poignant article.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Megan, it’s exciting for me to think about the kind of redemption that might happen in your marriage if you become intentional about grace again!

  • kt

    Thank you.
    -From a Marriage and Family Therapist that needed this today-

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, and thank you for the work you are doing!

  • Sohaib

    Wo ek sajda jise tu giran smjhta he…
    Hazar sajdon se deta he admi ko nijat…!!!
    ~Dr Allama Iqbal
    (My attempt at translation)
    The ONE connection to Grace that you find burdensome
    Will set you free from thousands of pointless and painful connections.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Fantastic. Thank you for sharing and translating!

  • Rev. William Gallagher

    Thank you, Kelly! I needed that. I have been an ordained minister for over thirty years, and never understood – or felt – Grace in the infinitely loving way you have expressed it. This is a revelation, and a blessing. It causes me to feel like the Prodigal Son, coming Home. May god/Source continue to create such beautiful sacred healing through you and your words.

    • drkellyflanagan

      The Prodigal Son is one of my favorite images of grace; I’m so glad the post brought that image to mind for you. I hope you continue to be surprised by the infinitude of grace!

  • Ben

    The therapy room is not a pocket of grace in the true sense. It is a pocket of something that kind of looks a little like grace, but is only an exceedingly small taste.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I absolutely agree with you, Ben. I actually get excited by the idea that no matter how big and vast is the grace we are experiencing, it is always and only just a small taste.

  • Eoin

    Im reading a book by Perma Chodron at the moment and its literally all about Grace. Its funny how once you’re open to seeing it Grace is right there and you can create it for yourself, you dont have to have someone else give it to you first.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Pema writes BEAUTIFULLY about grace; thank you for that reminder!

  • manny

    This post is the message I’ve been trying to get across to my peers. Truly inspiring and I hope it moves those whom have never manifested that type of Grace to do so, and for those who need to know Grace can find it. Thanks again. This post really is one of your greatest works.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Manny, and you’re welcome!

  • Erna Atkins

    This article describes mercy. This is not grace, and not to be confused with the Gospel. Mercy is very powerful though.

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  • Julieann

    All I can say is this was amazing. I am in the middle of struggling through adult attachment stuff and this is my goal, my trial, my hope….to wrap my arms around this concept, to wear this idea all day long, just drown in this. I am making progress. I experience this Grace from the Savior and from my husband. But I don’t know it yet, but God has been kind and I am getting there. I am planning on referring back to this article many times. Thank you.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I like the phrase “drown in this,” because receiving grace always feels like a sinking into, an opening up, a releasing, a letting go. My best to you as you seek to swim in grace.

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  • LeRoy Thompson

    Hi Kelly. This was such a marvelous post I had to comment. My wife and i are pastors and our daughter is also a clinical psychologist. We have had similar conversations as we support and help inform each others efforts. This was also one of the most practical explanations of the gospel I have heard in an awful long time even that was or was not your purpose. Thanks for so clearly expressing these truths.

    • drkellyflanagan

      LeRoy, the image of you, your wife, and your daughter, encouraging, strengthening, and expanding each other is a beautiful one. In my experience, the most healing people I know are those with a background in both psychological and spiritual disciplines. And I consider this–“one of the most practical explanations of the gospel”–a huge compliment. Thank you!

  • Angie

    Wow. What a great post! Thank-you!

  • Cindy

    This is an awesome article. I love all your writings, thank you so much!

  • Dee Dee Wike

    Thank you for this post, which so beautifully explains a concept I shared with my husband in regards to taking a different approach with our 20-year-old son. I have hope of a breakthrough because of grace.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Dee Dee, I hope you, your husband, and your son can find healing.

  • Holly Mason

    This is hands down my favorite post thus far. It is so eloquently written and really hits home with me. I will be forwarding this to multiple people, because I honestly believe that this is something people need to open their eyes to. Thank you, and please keep your ‘pearls’ coming.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Holly, and you’re welcome!

  • LCM

    Your words, Kelly Flanagan: terrific. The photo you chose to accompany this commentary: disturbing. I don’t know why – just very disturbing to me. I wonder if it bothers others, as well.

    • Wife in progress

      🙂 I can see what you’re saying, but funny enough, the pic is actually what drew me to the article. I didn’t do such a good job being a loving, kind, sweet wife tonight. I was grumpy and irritable after a long day at work and several minor misunderstandings between my husband and me tonight as we prepared dinner and got ready for tomorrow. I wanted to crawl under a table and hide because I felt myself falling so short of “selfless love,” but then I read this article, and now I’m receiving grace from God. My hubby is asleep now, but I am pretty sure he will be gracious toward me tomorrow, and hopefully I will be the same for him. I can be so very hard on myself, and that makes all other relationships more challenging than necessary. But God.

      • drkellyflanagan

        Several people have asked about the photo, and I’m happy to share why I chose it. I entered the term “hiding” into a Creative Commons search engine and this was one of the first images returned. It seemed to capture well the idea of hiding in shame. I did consider it provocative, but it didn’t strike me as disturbing. To Wife in Progress: I’m glad it drew you in! : )

  • meonthissite

    One of the best ways people can help the world by fighting for what is right, compassionate, and true is stop believing the fearmongers, the violence advocates, the warmongers, and the greedy and start helping their fellow man. Stop being convinced that it’s okay to hate the poor, the sick, the elderly, or the veteran. It’s not true, we shouldn’t be listening to these people who have an agenda and allowing them to play on our fears in order to get a vote on voting day. We’ve got to stand together no matter our philosophy and get the people who’ve harmed our society and our neighbors out of office and allow the healing to begin. All those who took bribes, who sent our kids to war for resources, who ran up the bill, who voted against helping our citizens do not deserve to be allowed to continue with their hate and lies about what’s really happening and just who is to blame for trying to break the flow of progress. Grace isn’t limited to local communities, it there for everyone, the transcendent know grace because they connect without doctrine or religion or church or title, they simply do by seeking it out themselves inside. You cannot call yourself full of grace and cause harm.

  • Diana

    Thank you, Dr. Kelly! Your post was beautifully written with heartfelt truths of grace that is out there for all. My journey is to become grace-filled and share it. Blessings to you, your grace-filled wife ,and children!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Diana!

  • Steve

    I thought this was really great, wonderful and very insightful. I hope that those that read this really read, reread, and listen to their inner voice as they read this. It rung true with me in realizing that I wish that I had read this in the beginning of my marriage so that after 27 years of marriage, I wouldn’t be writing this 7 months after a divorce. She didn’t want to be married anymore, she said that we were better friends than a married couple. In your article I noticed in you a lot of me, and probably many others noticed themselves in your article. Can’t go back, I can move forward, and I hope that grace will go along with me!

    Thank you for sharing!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Steve, I know grace will go along with you, and you seem to know where to find it: your “inner voice.” May we all listen a little more closely!

  • janet

    thank you so much for that post – amazed at how timely that was for me to read on this particular day when my worst side was exposed….
    but now l see myself was exposed to tremendous grace and the one true Light that consumes the darkest of dark….
    as l read your words l melted realizing that grace believes in me – stands by me and is 100% for me
    l was reminded of the late Jack Frost – author of the Father’s embrace
    and he mentions INTAMACY
    the Grace and Light ‘in to me see’
    nothing hidden
    no condemnation
    grace kissing us with acceptance
    accepting us in our messed up human state
    grace knowing we are made perfect

    • drkellyflanagan

      It’s amazing how when others see into us, it feels vulnerable and scary and shameful, but when grace sees into us, it feels like freedom. Thanks for this clever way of describing it!

  • mikemesserli

    Kelly, this is an awesome work! Well done brother. It’s profound and simple as well. Much needed by the body. You may not realize it, but you have written a piece that will be shared all across the kingdom. Well done!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Mike.

  • There is no beauty like that of grace. Thank you for this lovely article. A brilliant perspective.

  • Chery Hume

    This is the most wonderful thing I’ve read in a long time. Thank you. Isn’t it peculiar that when we begin to grasp this, it feels as if we are falling way from Christianity but falling more in love with Jesus.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Chery, that last observation deserves an entire conversation of its own. Thanks for adding it.

  • Anna

    Thanks so much for sharing this! Grace is the most freeing part of my life and I’m so glad it’s got a hold on me! I want others to feel it too!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Anna, you have absolutely named a hallmark of grace: when we have received it, we want everyone else to receive it, too. Grace multiplies. Always.

  • Kathy

    The article was interesting. Why was the photo chosen as an illustration. It’s rather disturbing and appears to be a child or young adult stuffed in a box. It detracts from the article and it’s message.

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  • tyler Cleveland

    Bless you! And thank you. As a photo-editor, photojournalist and beginning blogger, I must ask that you consider changing your choice of photograph for this article. I understand the concept of the young woman in the box – just looking at it makes me want liberation for her and my own heart – but it’s borderline porn. Many men will struggle (as men do) upon viewing this wonderful piece of prose. Why give a foothold for the enemy or cause people to stumble? Continue to keep it real, but keep it pure. Continue extending grace for your readers to walk in freedom. Thank you and God bless you friend! – Tyler (keehnphotography.blogspot.com)

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  • Jacqueline

    This article is so true in many aspects! We all need grace! I think this why my relationship with God is so important everyday! I struggle to give grace and even to receive it. I believe I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and yet, I don’t have the ability in myself to truly bestow this treasure called grace. However, when I’m in my depths of anger, determined not to forgive or when I’m convinced I just don’t deserve grace, I have someone infinitely greater than me to call on. And grace may not come pouring forth right away, but I can rest in Him knowing He is working on my heart! I know this because He showed the ultimate act of Grace, the kind of grace none of us would ever show. He was tortured, mocked, humiliated, and killed all because He wanted to show me grace. But what gives me such hope, is He didn’t stay dead. By His great power that breathed the stars into existence, He conquered death! And I know that same power is available to me because I’ve put my hope in Him and I am His child! So on days when I don’t have an ounce of strength to offer grace, I know the one who loves me, who took all my shame, is sufficient for me!

  • Giving In.

    Maybe I’m just a child saying this. I’ve seen my parents fought, they fight every day. And things always go wrong because one’s a hard head and the other keeps her thoughts to herself. I’ve never seen my dad apologized to my mom before. Nor did my mom. My mom had a hard past, and my dad always seem to take things for granted. They never kissed, or held hands, bought gifts for each other during Valentines or even greeted each other during Valentines day. I asked my mom why, and she said my dad didn’t like it. But honestly, my dad’s just shy to show his affections. And up until now, married for about 30 years, still no sense of affection toward my mom. She gets upset. and whenever she wants something, he always fail to please her. This drove my mom mad at him and now she’s just completely given up on him. So as to my dad, when I asked him why? he started tearing. He couldn’t give me a reason. I just couldn’t understand why haven’t they talked this through and how did both of them manage to stay like this for 30 over years. It’s so upsetting that now that I’m 18 and have never seen my parents showing love to one another has affected how I treat others. I don’t know how to show love, to show affection. To go an extra mile to make someone happy. I’m just as stiff as both of my parents and I hate it. I don’t blame them but sometimes I just wished they both didn’t have a big ego so that they would both apologize and make it up to each other. But all they do is argue, fight, and says they’d rather die. One thing that reassured my siblings and I about our parents’ relationship was they both will never get a divorce. No matter how bad things were. And I salute my mom for having said that. I sometimes wonder, why haven’t my dad apologized? And maybe it was pride. or it ‘shows power’ but I don’t see how a apologizing makes you a weaker person. Pride is a sin. So I really don’t get men sometimes. Anyway, what I’m saying is that, it takes two to tie a knot. Two hands to clap. So I believe that two people can work things out if they lay their cards on the table, be truly honest about their feelings and say them in a soft and calm way. It’s about both giving in and respecting each other. Not taking advantage of the other or leaving things be when you’re both fighting.. and especially not knowing how to exchange apologies. If you want the other person to love you for who you are, might as well start loving them for who they are and show a good example. If you can’t change the other person, then change yourself , your ways before approaching them. And maybe you’ll see that these fights are so small and you’ll love each other more because you both understand how you guys feel. And I still pray that my parents will communicate well, and to learn to forgive each other one day.

    • Chris D-C

      Dear Child, I read this with sadness for you and your siblings. I understand how negatively your parents’ lack of affection, acknowledgement, kindness & compassion affected you kids, and the truth is, that it is affecting them just as negatively. It is a “shame” that they don’t love themselves or you enough to handle their issues. However, you can be every bit of what they are not, because they have taught you all about love. They’ve clearly demonstrated how NOT to be. Bless you for seeing this. You are half-way there.

  • Carole Pallier Cazzazsnapz

    I read this article and I wonder have you been spying on me!!! This is practically mine and my husbands testimony.
    I won’t go into all the ins and outs, but we struggled with grace in the early days due to my violent childhood and my husbands nature at the time, we were involved with bikers, trucks, partying tattooing and life was not all that calm, then we did a 360 and became Christians in 1996, at that point we radically altered our lives in certain areas, but it’s not a flick of a switch and everything is fixed, you have to work through stuff, and work we did!!!
    Years later in 2005 after a lot of family things going wrong, we decided to up and move interstate, the best move we ever made!
    Then in 2008, I sat side by side with my husband in a 26 metre B Double truck for nearly 5 years, giving up everything material, to work with him, little did we know that those 5 years would be the most life changing of all.
    God has a sense of humour, he put little me who hates being confined, in a steel cab, He had a captive audience, as we clicked over 6,000 kilometres a week.
    After that time which ended in 2012, we survived the close confines, became even better inseparable buddies, and have that continuous grace you speak of.
    My hubby is back out on the highway, chasing white lines all over Australia, and I work a casual job and have been able to turn my passion of photography into a small business, I now have the freedom to travel and take landscapes and I am so in love with life it’s intoxicating!!!
    So when I read your article, I got you!!!! very well written.

  • True!

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  • Drumsforjesus

    Such a beautifully written article! Thank you Dr. Flanagan! I am blessed to live in an entire community of Grace, and it has made all the difference. Here is bit of the story if you are interested: http://truefaced.com/michael-elia

  • OnAJourney

    Would like to thank you for your enlightened messages. Since discovering your blog a week ago, I have been traveling through it – and with this journey I have experienced big ahaaaa moments. Each post stirs alot of emotions in me. I thank you for sharing.

    I am an anxiously attached type of person & I was sexually abused as a child. I know that I am too nice, that I constantly try to please people – that I struggle with boundaries. I also know that I have mostly associated with people who are emotionally unavailable throughout my life. When I try to explain to these people in my life things that they have done that have hurt me – they can’t handle it – and the typical response is a verbal attack on me. Partially as I’m not good at explaining my hurt (I have been working very hard with my therapist on these approaches and am getting much better at it), but I also know that these people in my life are hurt at their core – just as badly as I am. They cannot admit to anyone their behavior was hurtful – they can not apoligize. I know that their actions are a result of their hurt. But over time these attacks have damaged my self esteem – so much that I question myself constantly.

    So my question to you Dr.Kelly is how do I go about extending grace to these people who I care about without becoming a doormat? This balance is something I struggle with.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad you found the blog and are finding some revelations within it! Unfortunately, I can’t respond to your specific situation, because I’m not in a professional relationship with you that would allow me to understand the nuances. Your current therapist is definitely in the best position to do that. I will say in general, though, that I often work with people on distinguishing between forgiveness and reconciliation. The former is about grace and freeing both parties from the emotional ties of the wrong that happened. The latter is about wisely deciding whether or not to continue relating to the person who harmed us, based upon their willingness or lack thereof to make changes and become a safe place for us. My best as you continue this hard work with your therapist.

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  • Russ

    Wonderful thoughts! Thank you. Happy New Year.

  • Mikki Lawrence

    What a beautiful post! Such a lovely description of grace. I’m so glad a friend shared this with me and I will share it with my friends as well.

  • Jonathan Mayer

    Wow. I’ve honestly never heard anyone talk about grace so much with never a single mention of Christ, or even God. The truth is, we have no concept of grace without Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We have no motivation to act on behalf of others unless it benefits us somehow—that is, until “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

    So my question is, why do you go to such efforts to avoid talking about faith (I presume you’re a Christian) when discussing such a fundamentally Christian topic? I dug through pages of comments to find any hint of your faith. Even the “About” page doesn’t give us a clue. That you taught at Wheaton College was the only hint I found that you might be a man of faith. So are you afraid your popularity will take a hit? That it will make you seem unprofessional? That you’ll offend someone? Pardon my frankness, but you’re probably used to it.

  • Lisa Gonzaga

    I have never looked at grace the same way as I look at it after reading this article. Beautiful.

  • Norris

    WOW! Well spoken!

  • SJ

    Ephesians 2:8-9King James Version (KJV)

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

    Not of works, lest any man should boast..

    We cannot truly understand grace until we understand what Christ did for us on the cross. Sadly, because ” all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God” Rom 3:23 , we will never be able to show true grace to others. For as much as we try and hope that we are demonstrating grace, we fall short in our sinful nature. The good news is that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1. #Jesus+Nothing= Everything!

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  • Mathew

    I was touched by your honesty and believe that grace must be experienced to be understood. You walked us through that experience. Thank you it felt tangible to me. And thank your wife for the part she played in reflecting God’s grace/love.

  • Janet Carter

    This line in your post is the best written recovery line I’ve read in a while: “Grace demands that nothing be changed for love and connection to happen, and that kind of love has power.” I am three years free of a 20 yr. food addiction. I have been facilitating a food addiction 12 step group since that time. It has been hard for me to articulate what grace is, where grace comes from, and that the most effective tool of recovery is the grace we offer ourselves. I still don’t know if I’ll be able to articulate it properly but this blog post of your’s will certainly be something I will refer people to time and again in the future. Thank you.

  • Elise

    What a beautiful picture of grace. Thank you…you’ve touched me and reminded me of how often this grace is extended…and not to be taken for granted.

  • Sharon L. Barney Casey

    I borrowed a line…

  • At the dinner meeting of the National Association of Catholic Therapists here in Denver a couple of years ago I heard Bishop Sheridan say he believed it was providential that the professions of therapy and concealing had grown so dramatically, that without them priests and pastors would be overwhelmed. He clearly saw God present in the work of helping professions.

  • Tim Gesicki

    I’ve consistently experienced the same love and grace from my wife our entire 26 plus years together. I’m a better man because of her. Thanks for your post!

  • Debbie Grace

    Kelly, this precious blogpost of yours came up again in my “On This Day” feed on Facebook.

    It brought a warm smile to see that I’ve shared it 2 years in a row. As I read it again this morning, tears welled (probably “again”). We are fixing to get on the road having spent the weekend telling my beloved uncle goodbye. And sprinkled in between the visitation and the funeral and the meals? There has been so much grace.

    Ah, and now the tears are so abundant that my eyes runneth over. Thank you for this beautiful, perfectly timed post and for your presence in my life. ❤️

    • Debbie, I’m so glad this post could “revisit” you at such a tender time. Blessings to you and your family as you walk through this loss together. It sounds like you are approaching it with intention and love. In other words, like you do everything else. It’s one of the things I like about you.

  • Na’ima B. Robert

    I read this again today because I was searching desperately for a way to understand what was going on in my relationship. The second paragraph brought tears of recognition that tore down the walls of pride and fear. This was it. This was what I had lost. I had replaced grace with judgement, condemnation and contempt, even as he reached out for understanding. I cried because this was the penny drop moment, the moment it all made sense, the moment I realised that I had to change, that I wanted, more than anything, to change.
    Thank you.

  • Kitha Cockrell

    I just subscribed to your blog and while browsing through the archives I found more grace… That is, GOD’s grace reaching out to me through your writing. I find it awesome and humbling that the gift of grace our Father GOD gives us is a gift that He keeps on giving to others through us. So many different gifts and talents in so many different people shown in so many different and unique ways, all to display GOD’s grace to a grace starved world. Through your writing our Father has opened my eyes to see more of His grace. I’ve had a passion for writing and abstract painting ever since I can remember, but getting married very young and having children took priority over those desires. I was saved two days after our wedding, and not knowingly at the time, my marriage and children also took priority over my relationship with GOD. I only realized that fact years later after a very painful divorce. So devastated I turned to alcohol for a short time to numb the pain. But by GOD’s amazing grace He brought me back to Him. Then for years I lived my life through my children and grandchildren, again not realizing it at the time. Now for the last five years or so His grace has enabled me to let go and let GOD be GOD in my life and in my children’s lives. It’s a daily surrender to His will and His ways not mine. Of course as you know, that means I am now free to live the life He created for me to live, to love freely, unconditionally, and to laugh…belly laughs. To give myself more grace so I can give more grace. So I have been writing and painting and noticing the tiny ways each day I can give grace to others, with smiles, tight hugs, an attentive non judgmental listening ear, and the list goes on…. I guess to sum it all up, GOD’s grace is never ending, and I’m thankful for the grace of second chances, third chances and all the chances after those. For the grace of new beginnings. And again for the grace of Untangled. Our loving heavenly Father truly has alot of untangling to do in each of our lives. Thank GOD He has promised He will finish what He has begun!!!

  • Lisa Vanderveen

    This is beautiful and just what I needed to read this morning. Thank you.