But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain [wasted]; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. I Corinthians 15:10
When a spouse dies, there is work to be done in re-identifying who I am and where I am going. The plans we made together don’t fit when half of me is gone, and it is a great temptation to stop living. Oh, I am alive, but there is no dream, no meaningful work, and no seeking the kingdom of God. I don’t see that I have anything to give, and my energy and clarity of mind come and go. How can my life be useful and fulfilling when I feel so broken? I begin to do things again, lots of things, but they are separated from my heart.
Paul too had a traumatic experience that changed his identity. After meeting Christ on the road to Damascus he was no longer identified as a Pharisee, and of the tribe of Benjamin and the stock of Israel. All of his security shifted from a familiar place of status to the new Paul, whose identity—“I am what I am”—was formed by re-centering his life on the grace of God. It even taught him a new way to think! (Romans 12:3)
Paul is our example to re-identify who we are. We have useful work ahead in the Kingdom of God, and though we feel so limited, God’s grace is unlimited—if we do not waste it. There is a fruitful grace, and there is also a grace that is wasted. God bestowed grace on me, and for many years, his lavish acts of grace in my life were wasted. I hoarded His grace, and gave no thought to giving it away. After all, I was all alone in a world of couples [that’s a lie, by the way] and I had to maintain the familiar routine that two people once carried. I used the church for entertainment, social gathering, and programs that provided for my children. And the product of my wasted grace, and a whole culture of wasted grace, is a society corrupt with injustice and a world without hope. Wasted grace is all around us in a world on the verge of moral and economic collapse. It is grace turned inward producing ineffectual lukewarm empty restless people.
Yes, I am a widow with many responsibilities and two jobs and precious children and grandchildren, and limited income, and an aging body that needs more nutrition and exercise. “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” I declare with the apostle Paul that God’s great grace that has provided all things in my life was NOT in vain. Paul faced peril, beatings, shipwreck, hunger, cold and nakedness. He needed more grace. I don’t know what I will face in the years ahead, but I hope I will not be so comfortable and secure that I see no need for grace.
I will labor more abundantly; yet it is the grace of God in me that does the work. We become who we are “according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7). So your life is changing like an earthquake. Everything that was familiar and comfortable is now uncertain. Here is a promise for you: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). So there you have it. The grace of God has been bestowed upon you to bring you comfort and healing and wholeness. Don’t waste it! He will help you discover your new identity as He bears your grief and carries your sorrow. And when you seek Him with all your heart, you will wake up one day and say, “By the grace of God, I am what I am!”