Editor’s note: The posts you’ll read this month will all center around the word “perissos” as found in Ephesians 3:20 and John 10:10. In the future, we’ll offer a greater variety and breadth of scripture, but we wanted to explore some of the depths of these two passages first.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”–Ephesians 3:14-21
When Juliet approached me about this project, she caught me in a weird time in my life. I had just quit a comfortable job in consulting to be, of all things, a writer.
In a climate where many would claw at the opportunity for a job, I left a good one behind—the steady income, the health insurance, the moderate prestige—for what, at this time, amounts to an inexplicable gap in my resume. What’s worse is that since high school, I’ve only had one writing class. It was my first semester of college and my proudest piece was a non-fiction assignment about fighting zombies.
Nowadays conversation with new folks generally involves two components. First, they say they admire me for being gutsy. Though I appreciate the sentiment, I scarcely feel gutsy. I am more uncertain, more self-doubting, and lonelier than any other time in my life. It looks like courage but it feels a lot like the realization that your pants’ zipper has been down the entire job interview and it’s too late to adjust now. Just smile.
Second, people ask what I write about. As a short story writer, I take cues from Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic writer from Georgia who was a master of thrusting grace upon her characters. More often than not, it was a violent and loud grace descending upon a cadre of grotesque and complex characters. She confronts the reader with the pivotal question: in an explicit moment of big grace, what is your response? Would you even see it? In other words, if God took a megaphone and shouted in your ear, could you hear it?
I’ve heard this passage from Ephesians many times before, but it wasn’t until this last week that the power to comprehend and to know the love of Christ assumed new meaning for me. I recognized the same challenge in Flannery O’Connor’s stories: if God presented me with that moment of big grace—a moment to root and ground me in love, and to dwell in my life—would I know* or comprehend it? Would I recognize it? How would I receive it?
I wish this were an inspiring testimony in the affirmative. I wish I could say that since I’ve quit the D.C. rat-race, I’ve left many idols behind—money, security, job status, social status (turns out, when you don’t have money, you can’t do things)—and I’ve found God in magnificent splendor and that everyone should quit their jobs, forget all about money, then sunbeams and strawberries will dance around you for eternity.
But please don’t quit your job.
At least, don’t do it for the strawberries.
After all, I did experience a big grace. I am in it now. Yet I am still content to rely on my own self-discipline, to trust my own talent, and to rest on my network as a safety net. You see, though the absence of those lesser gods helps, I still stare at the empty thrones they left behind.
One of the most indispensable lessons I have learned as a writer is to not waste words. No instrument in the orchestra is just for show. If God is an author then similarly there are no details of our lives that are by accident. No events or characters are wasted. That pivotal life event, where God finally teaches us to root and ground in love and Christ comes to dwell, is a misdirection. All the everyday little graces that lead up to the big grace hum and strum with the same intention.
The difficult characters you encounter in your workplace, the leisure you take in your spare time, the morning “hello” to your roommates, the eye contact you make with the street musician on the corner—these moments might be God showing you where His love dwells if we can effort to see it. Maybe that’s how broad and wide and high and deep it is.
The last part of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians to comprehend now makes more sense to me. God is already delivering on the first part but we will need help in seeing and knowing it. Until then, we won’t be filled properly. I feel like a bucket floating in a well, waiting to be drawn. If only I knew that water was all around me, I might not try so hard to stay upright all the time. I would only tilt.
If you are waiting for a big grace, for inspiration to jumpstart your faith or to start a new one, there’s no guarantee you’ll catch it. I’m in one right now and I’m in danger of ignoring it.
I’m only now learning to comprehend it. I’m only now learning to know it. I pray that I will.
I pray that we will.
*The translation “to know” in the original Greek is closer in meaning to recognize, perceive, or learn experientially, as opposed to knowing information or facts objectively. For those familiar with Spanish and its uses, it is for this reason that the Spanish translation of the text uses the subjunctive form of “conocer”, instead of “saber”.