“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Death: The Final Stage of Growth
Keith and I are not beautiful people. Yes, we’ve known failure, loss, suffering, and struggle; by the grace of God, we were able to keep going. That said, we do have moments of appreciation, sensitivity, and understanding. But we have a long way to go before we’re consistently filled with compassion, gentleness, and loving concern—at least I do.
Scott Sauls’ latest, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen: How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans, is my favorite of his books to date. Sauls shares himself as a deeply flawed human being, as all human beings are—never good enough. “Our failure to measure up even to our own standards leaves us feeling defensive, ashamed, and prone to medicate and hide. It makes us bristle at things like scolding, shaming, and condemning, while also—and ironically—turning us into people who scold, shame, and condemn.” Sauls takes us down into the basement where fingers point inward in confession instead outward in blame.
No matter who or where we are, we are not good, he rightly states. “…according to Scripture and human experience, all people—including you and me at our very best—are not essentially good. There is something deeply wrong with us. Because of this, our esteem can be derived not from a sense of our own goodness but from belief in the goodness of God.”
So, are Christians hypocrites? “It is impossible to be a Christian and not be a hypocrite, if by hypocrite we mean someone who lives inconsistently with who they claim to be and what they claim to believe. But our hypocrisy does not negate our Christian faith. Instead, our hypocrisy establishes it.” In this regard, what makes us Christians is that we are self-aware and humbled, saddened by our hypocrisy.
Sauls tells the story of John Newton, a former slave trader who became an Anglican clergyman and authored “Amazing Grace.” He also told the story of the hymn being sung on a music award show by an artist who changed the lyrics, “that saved a wretch like me” to “that saved someone like me.” Sauls’ comment? “When sin ceases to be wretched, grace ceases to be amazing.”
Yesterday, while playing “Amazing Grace” during communion, starting just before minute 58, I thought about the words. Grace, sweet sound, saved, lost now found, blind now see. I suspect John Newton was a beautiful person.
Keith and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary on Saturday, again sharing one dessert with two spoons. Finding love later in life after defeats makes us appreciate our time together all the more. I’d like to think that by practicing compassion, gentleness, and loving concern in marriage, we’ll be better able to share those qualities more consistently with others and grow them into the final stage of life. Not because of our goodness, for we’ll never be good, but because of God’s beautiful and amazing grace.
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