I sat on our couch one sunny afternoon with a mama friend, sipping tea and catching up on life. Her little one was lying happily on the floor, chewing on a rubber toy.
This lovely young mother bore the signs of one who had been in the trenches of new motherhood. Many nights of little sleep, a rocky start with feeding, and rarely completing the simplest of tasks before the baby wailed to be picked up again. My heart went out to her as I related to the difficulty of entering motherhood with a high-maintenance little one. She was discouraged and exhausted, and didn’t know why it was taking so long to figure out what was supposed to be natural and intuitive.
Give Yourself Grace
I looked at her and said, “You need to give yourself grace, because God is giving you grace. God knows better than anyone that this process is not easy. But He’s gently leading you as you learn to care for this child He’s given to you.” Her eyes filled with tears as she thanked me for the encouragement and listening ear.
After she left and I reflected on our conversation, I found myself pondering the little phrase I had used: Give yourself grace. In the moment it hadn't struck me as potentially unbiblical, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it wasn’t quite right. Are we as Christians really supposed to—or even able to—give ourselves grace?
What Is Grace?
Grace is a defining aspect of the Christian life. God’s grace opens our eyes to truth, saves us, and enables us to live in a way that glorifies Him. Because of that, it’s so important to have a firm grasp on what grace is, where it comes from, and how it works in and through us.
Grace is a whole doctrine in and of itself—one I am not going to fully tackle here. However, I’ll give a little overview of the different ways the word is used in Scripture.
In essence, grace is an undeserved, very good gift from God. Grace originates in and comes from our loving, kind, merciful Heavenly Father.
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23–24)
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8–9)
Extending Grace to Others
And it is something we are to utilize to the fullest to live in obedience to God. It is how we love and serve God and others with it: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
As I went through all the verses in the Bible containing the word “grace” my suspicions were confirmed. God never says this is something we can give to ourselves. Never is there any implication this is something we can bestow upon our own lives. Yikes … I stand corrected.
So, how should we align our thoughts and words with the unchanging Truth of the Bible? Should the entire idea behind the phrase “give yourself grace” be tossed out—or just shifted?
Consider a few conclusions I’ve come to in my own thinking and praying and study of Scripture.
1. God Gives Grace
Our eternal hope lies in the fact that God is the Giver of grace, and that it is abundantly available to us as His redeemed children. So, when we are counseling our own hearts or encouraging others, this should be our focus. When we are weighed down by the cares of the world, the stresses of life, the learning curves of marriage or motherhood or anything else, we can remember: God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). On our own, we are hopeless. But in Him, we’re not left to fend for ourselves! And this is where eternal, never-ending hope lies!
As Corrie Ten Boom so sweetly and simply put it, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”
Let’s not buy the lie that is thriving in our world, which says we have what it takes to live well. We don’t. Because we need Jesus. Joyful and grace-filled living begins with believing that.
2. Practice Patience
It may be wise to communicate the idea behind “give yourself grace” in a more biblical way. I happened to be reading a book by Jen Wilkin recently called In His Image. It’s about various ways we are called to reflect God’s character as His image-bearers. One chapter is about reflecting God’s patience. There was one section in particular that struck me:
“When we begin to think that a circumstance is stretching longer than we can take, we remember the patience of Christ to wait on the Father’s timing in all things.… And when we feel discouraged with ourselves for continuing to give in to sin, we can remind ourselves—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—to be patient, because God isn’t finished with us yet.”
I don’t know about you, but I think this hits at the heart of the way I’ve used the phrase “give yourself grace.” Essentially, God gives us the grace to practice patience with others and ourselves as we’re being sanctified. This still flows from God—it doesn’t originate in ourselves. But when we are putting pressure on ourselves simply because we’re frustrated with the timeline of growth, we need to ask the Lord to help us think about ourselves the way God does. I often need the reminder that God is patient (or we could also say gracious) with me in the sanctification process, and therefore I need to be patient in it, too.
This doesn’t mean we have a license to sin. Laura Wifler, co-founder of Risen Motherhood, said in a Facebook post on this same topic, "I don't know about you, but when I'm truly honest with myself, I often find myself saying ‘give yourself grace’ as an excuse for my sin, rather than something to motivate me out of my sin.”
We need to be very careful that we are never, ever giving ourselves or others an excuse to sin. Grace is given to free us from sin, not be a license for it (Romans 6:1–2). So whether we’re using the words “gracious” or “patience” or anything else, we need to be sure we’re using them the way God does.
3. Never Forget
Too often we forget that in Christ we are given the grace we need for every circumstance we face in this life. And because we so easily forget, we need to be reminded over and over and over again about the abundant grace available to us in Jesus Christ. Spending time in God’s Word regularly helps us remember. We need to remind ourselves, and remind others. And we need others to remind us. There will never be too much reminding (2 Peter 1:13).
This takes a posture of humility, though, to be reminded. Have you ever had someone tell you something you already know? I have. And I’m sad to say, my initial reaction has often been to bristle out of pride, whether it’s a spiritual truth or parenting advice or anything else. Which, actually, is the perfect indicator that I need to be reminded of that very thing. I think of myself as “been there, done that,” or I’m defensive because I am keenly aware of my weakness in that area. But the reality is, I will never not need to be reminded of truth.
A Timely Reminder
As the song says, “Prone to Wander, Lord I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love.” When we’re tempted to wander, thinking we have what it takes to live this Christian life, or that we need to work for our salvation (or to keep our salvation), or that our areas of weakness will never be strengthened and overcome, we need to be reminded of God’s grace. We need to be reminded of God’s favor abundantly poured out on us by no merit of our own. It's imperative we remember that Christ died and rose again so that we could be covered by His righteousness and enabled to live a life free from the shackles of sin. And that by His Spirit, we have everything we need to live in a manner worthy of the gospel.
True Grace, True Hope
True hope begins and ends in Jesus. So, when we’re counseling our own hearts and the hearts of others, let’s be sure to always, always point back to Him. Let’s weigh our words carefully, asking God to help us communicate truth and love. If something sounds good in the moment, but doesn’t lead back to the everlasting, beautiful, powerful, loving Creator, it will always fall short. The gospel is sometimes hard to speak and to swallow. But it brings life everlasting, because it fills our gaze with Jesus.
So let’s remind ourselves, and one another, that God gives grace. And that, my friend, is eternal joy.
Your Friend, Heather
Heather Cofer is a wife and mother with a passion for encouraging others to love Jesus with all their hearts. This comes through writing, leading worship, and being actively involved in life-on-life discipleship alongside her husband, Judah, who is one of the pastors at their church. She is a regular contributor to the ministry of Set Apart Girl, and you can follow along on Heather’s journey through her blog, Instagram, or Facebook.