The high-pitched scream of the steamer marks the moments in this little coffee shop. The sun hasn’t quite come up yet, and only the regulars are sipping their regular cup of brew. The meekness of the morning light makes the shop feel all the more inviting; her blaring yellow lights and the constant chatter of baristas with their morning conversational dance with the regulars starkly contrasts the still-sleepy streets.
I’m at a little table in the corner, half leaning against the wall. The shop is empty enough that there are few within my earshot. The painting hanging only inches from my face is a nude, not the tasteful kind, and with a deep breath I mutter, “Good morning, world.” My coffee is still hot, and with only my pen and paper on the table, I’m perfectly postured to observe the scene.
Those here are quite different from one another, and I devise imaginary narratives for each. There is the stereotypical businessman, because the office isn’t open quite yet, and there is much work to be done. There is a mother and a toddler, who just wouldn’t sleep any later than 5 am, and wouldn’t be put down long enough for mom to make coffee. There is the group of men meeting in the back, a collaborative meeting, evidenced by the constant spinning of ideas and animated gestures. And there’s the writer in the corner, already tired from a long morning of to-dos, who would rather just observe than converse, thank you very much.
Each imaginary story reminds me of my own. This morning, though short, has already been full of tasks. After work today, my man and I are heading out on our first vacation together since our honeymoon two and a half years ago. In the wee hours of the morning, I racked my brain with all of the things that could or should be done to prepare. Did I remember everything? No, my phone charger is still plugged in by the bed. There was something I jotted down to remember, but I left the note at work. What was it? Oh yes, take out the trash. “Hey babe, can you take out the trash?”
We hustled all morning to get everything in the car so we could leave right after work and beat traffic. Without the smallest effort, as I sit in this little shop, my mind is flooded with all the things I forgot to do or bring: my own pillow, in case the hotel’s is too hard or too soft, that book I’m perpetually halfway through, I didn’t print the hotel confirmation, I didn’t turn down the AC, and I forgot to text that friend back last night, I hope she didn’t take a personally. Even now, I know these missed items are menial. But that does not stay the feeling of failure. I know they are not big failures, but my heart of pride and achievement stews over every self-made standard that has not been met. I mentally kick myself; how could I forget? How hard is it to remember your pillow? Harsh? Perhaps, but it does not feel unwarranted.
Even as the thought comes to mind, I am struck by how quickly I add something to my mental to-do list, and even if I have just conceived of the task, and do not accomplish it, my day can be derailed. And so, to avoid this, I spin and spin on the treadmill of to-dos throughout the day, keeping everything in balance, squeezing tasks into the smallest crevice of my day, to impress not only those around me, but also to impress myself.
The sun has started to illuminate the streets outside, and kids are starting to walk to the school bus. The scene is slowing changing in this coffee shop. I’m outlasting some of the early morning crowd, and the commuters are in and out like on an elevator in a lobby.
Each face seems to mirror my own in some way. There are achievements to be had today, and there written across the faces of each person who frequents this little shop is either the expression of failure already realized or the fear that failure will sneak up behind them and startle them today.
And I can’t help but think of how unchristian all of this is: this notion I have of effort toward success and fear of not making the cut. How unlike the Gospel this is, and how remarkably self-indulgent. At the root of it all, I think, is a staggering lack of grace. Grace, which is so central to the Gospel that I claim, is so often sorely lacking my own daily mindset.
I imagine that if I were to ask each person in this shop for whom I concocted a narrative to share the real-life version, it would be much messier than I originally guessed. The failures represented in this room – including my own – are larger than forgetting to pack something, but dear friends that have been drastically disappointed, life-changing opportunities that have been missed, poor decisions that have changed the course of life for the worse, lies that grew completely out of control. And I just want to take each stressed-out, anxiety-ridden face in my hands and say, “Everything is okay. You are okay. And goodness gracious there is so much more grace than you think.”
Maybe you, too?
Maybe your story is messier than it would appear at the surface, too. Maybe you’re reading this in some coffee shop, and though your Instagram makes everything look like a put-together adventure, the reality in your heart tells otherwise. But whether your failures are things forgotten or things left undone, if they’re relational failures or the dinner you burnt last night, there is grace enough for that. Tell me whatever scenario you want, and there’s grace enough for that. Yes, tell me your worst story, biggest failure, most haunting secret, and I’ll tell you there is grace enough for that because there is a God who went to the end of the earth so that He could extend to us the generosity and favor and pardon that we did not remotely deserve. Jesus, the Christ, came to walk our earth so that He could be the very embodiment of the Father’s favor to us. And even now, even today in our homes, in our offices, in our coffee shops, He extends that grace to us.
I can’t tell this story to each person in this room (and quite frankly, I don’t think they want me to touch their faces…) But there’s someone sitting right here who needs to hear that truth, within my own skin, with whose failures and fears I am all-too familiar with. And this morning, I’m going to preach that Gospel of grace to myself. I’m going to receive the grace of a good God, and then do the painstaking and pride-bending work of extending that grace to myself.