By Mike Glenn
Whenever we confront a situation or problem, we want to deal with it and then, move on. We want to step up to the issue and do whatever we need to do. Then, we want to move on and never think about it again. We want life to be like a set of stairs. We want to deal with whatever the problem is, step up and be done with it.
Life, however, isn’t like that. Whenever we deal with problems, we find out it takes longer than we think to get past them. Why is that? Because life is more like a spiral than it is a set of stairs. We don’t deal with something, step up and then, move on. Instead, we keep coming back to the issue at an even deeper level.
Take forgiveness for example. Let’s say someone hurts you. I mean wounds you deeply. At first, you’re angry and you want to destroy the person who hurt you. You want them to suffer as much as you’ve suffered. It may take you a while, but you’ll soon realize that you can’t ease your own pain by making someone else hurt. Eventually, you’ll come to the conclusion you will have to forgive the person who hurt you to have any chance of repairing the broken relationship. You’ll have to forgive them for no other reason than preventing the anger from eating you alive.
So, you’ll forgive them. You’ll forgive them as much as you can for as much as you can in that moment.
But you won’t forgive them for everything. Life is more complicated than that. We’re more complicated than that. We have more levels than our superficial exposure to each other. There are depths that are wounded in the moment that we only discover later, sometimes much later.
Have you ever found yourself getting angry about something that happened to you months, even years, before? This is what happens. You have forgiven the person who wounded you as much as you can, but now, you need to forgive them at a deeper level.
So, someone makes a comment that embarrasses you. You get angry because you were embarrassed. You deal with that part of your anger. Later, you get angry again. Why? Because the comment wounded your self-identity. Now, you must forgive that. Or, you have to do the hard-spiritual work of discerning if there was any truth to the comment that wounded you, and then, of course, you’ll have to find a way to make peace with that new reality.
If you’re not careful, you’ll think the only thing you’re doing is going around in circles. You’ll get doubly angry because you’ll think you haven’t made any progress.
In truth, you have made progress. In most cases, you will have made a lot of progress. It just doesn’t feel that way. That’s why I’ve learned to talk to people about the “spiral of grace.” With a spiral, you’re making progress, it just feels like you’re walking in circles.
Again, back to forgiveness. You forgive as much as you can in the first moment, but you continue your journey and you find out you keep coming back to the same issue BUT AT A DEEPER LEVEL.
Human beings are multi-layered and complex beings. We have several layers that must be attended to all at the same time. True forgiveness will require walking through all the multi-layers of our lives to complete the process.
It’s the same with learning. When we learn a great truth, we must learn it at several levels. Again, you’ll feel like you’re just walking in circles. You’ll hear yourself say, “I should have known this!” Or, “Why do I have to keep learning this over and over again!”
In truth, you did learn it. You just didn’t learn it at this level.
Most of us heard about God’s love when we were children. We understood all that we could as a child, but we’d later find out, we hadn’t understood the depth, vastness or the richness of God’s love. We hadn’t understood it at all.
Well, we have, but we just keep learning at different levels. What does it mean to know the love of God after you’ve messed up? And then, after you messed up again? The love of God has an infinite number of levels and we’ve just started learning them. We’ll spend eternity learning them at ever-deepening levels.
The is why the picture of Jacob’s ladder frustrates me. This misunderstanding of how grace works has led many of us to live in a state of constant frustration because we keep thinking we should have dealt with something and moved on. We should have learned our lessons and stepped up to the next level.
But life isn’t like that. It’s much more like a spiral rather than a ladder or set of steps. You keep making progress. It just doesn’t feel that way. You are, in fact, moving up. It just feels like you’re walking in circles.
You’re not. Yes, it does take a long time because we have to keep learning them one level at a time.
We’ll spend the rest of our lives and all of eternity learning the depths, heights and wideness of God’s love.
And we’ll learn it all one level at a time.