Fall To Grace

I am a big fan of Jane Austen. I’ve read all of her novels, some multiple times. My favorite, of course, is Pride and Prejudice, which I have read many times and have also watched the six-part, five-hour movie version innumerable times. I never seem to tire of the story or the characters. In a free moment yesterday, the topic of Pride and Prejudice came up with a couple of my co-workers. I was about to leave for my lunch break, when I was asked, “So, which Bennett sister are you?” With no hesitation I replied, “Elizabeth, of course!” I elaborated that I could certainly imagine myself tearing a man apart the way that Elizabeth did the first time Mr. Darcy proposed! Yes, Elizabeth was my kind of heroine. She had vitality, yet was self-controlled and proper. She was an independent thinker, who was not easily turned aside. As I walked away from the conversation, I quickly realized the error of my response. The more I pondered it, the more I realized that Elizabeth Bennett is the sister that I would want to be, not the one that I was.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 11:2

My parents didn’t raise me to be a Pharisee, but it is easy to fall into pride and self-righteousness when you grow up in the church. I knew the Gospel in my head, but I didn’t necessarily apply it to myself. Pride is so dangerous. I’m not talking about Mr. Darcy kind of pride. I am referring to that puffing-up inside that makes us think we are less prone to sin than we really are. It tells us that we can handle situations we actually can’t, and that we have more self-control than we actually do. This pride leads us into temptation and all kinds of bad situations. It’s tells us that we can play with fire and not get burned. I recognized that puffed-up, I-can-handle-myself kind of pride, yesterday.

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18

My intention is not to place undue value on analyzing fictional characters, but this simple, silly question caused me to reflect on my life.  At forty, it is easy to imagine myself being self-controlled, independent, and indifferent to the opinion of an eligible man. But the Elizabeth Bennett character was twenty-years-old. At twenty, I was actually the quintessential Lydia Bennett. I was fickle, flighty, and flirtatious. And I did things that mortified my family. I made choices that caused heartache and distress. One of my sisters refers to the events of my twenty-first summer as my “fall from grace.” But it occurred to me that it was really a “fall into grace.” I needed to recognize my own sinfulness, and that summer, God held up a mirror for me to see myself correctly.

I think that people who have known me for fewer than fifteen years would be surprised at the young woman I was. It is far behind me, but I think about it relatively often. After all, I did things that changed the trajectory of my life. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to believe how stupid I was at twenty. I was trying to force my life to be what I’d always imagined it would be: a romance. I was desperate to be loved by a man. What I often fail to acknowledge, is that I am still that same woman, deep inside. I know that there is that same impulse within me to try to fill the longing of my soul with a man instead of God.

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. . .

Ephesians 1:5-7

I don’t like to make the same mistake twice, but to some extent, I repeated some mistakes when I was younger. Now, I am cautious, always looking for ways to protect myself. In many ways this is good. But it builds up that old pride that tells me I have it all under control, and I don’t. If I’m not careful, I will forget that the real lesson of twenty years ago wasn’t mistake-prevention techniques, it was surviving the aftermath. I learned first-hand about the grace of God and unconditional love. If pride comes before a fall, then grace comes after. I fell, but grace caught me. I only needed to repent and accept it. That was when I learned what the Gospel really meant.

This week, I began reading The Discipline of Grace, by Jerry Bridges. I heard about this book from Tim Challies, who listed it as one of three books that had the biggest impact on his life. One of the concepts Bridges addressed was preaching the gospel to yourself daily. The idea is to remind yourself daily that you are a sinner in need of grace and that your only righteousness is through Christ. I am redeemed, but it isn’t something I have earned. I am sure it isn’t a coincidence that the week I was reading this chapter, I received a simple reminder of my need for God’s grace. I must continue to remind myself of the scope of my sinfulness, not to wallow in guilt, but in order that I may understand that I have no righteousness apart from the blood of Jesus Christ. I pray that daily I can exchange my pride for humility at the foot of the cross.

One’s pride will bring him low,
but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Proverbs 29:23

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