The first time I watched the movie Forrest Gump many years ago, I thought it was just an adventure story that luckily won 6 Academy Awards. When I watched it again a few days ago I have gained an expanded insight about grace…about how scandalous grace is.
Watching Forrest Gump again also deepened my understanding of the implications of grace in the daily basis, and once again threatened my strong sense of “deservingness.”
Forrest was not a matinee idol. He was a subject of ridicule for the educated, for the smart, for those people who think they are better than him. Forrest was a subject of irritation for Jenny, his girl who doesn’t want to be rescued and insisted that he doesn’t understand what love is.
Forrest was a subject of hatred and envy, and the cause of disappointment to his former lieutenant, who even labeled him “a moron who appears in the TV and makes fun of himself.” He was called “stupid” by his school mates, and considered as “local idiot” by a coach. He was supposed to be nothing—a nobody…an undeserving.
To many, Forrest is below normal, having low IQ, and a living joke of the town. He is not entitled to be popular, to be adored or even to be lucky. He doesn’t have what it takes.
But Forrest was graced. He is more than lucky, he is graced beyond belief. His life was full of unexpected thrill, unbelievable blessings, indescribable delight and fulfillment.
Just Like That?
Forrest Gump has become like a classic movie now. Maybe because deep within our hearts, we long to receive what Forrest received despite our strong denial of our own unworthiness. We still long for some kind of unexpected delight, a surprise gift, an extravagant blessing, something that we don’t have to earn, something free. Just like that!
I have noticed in the movie that Forrest, as he narrates his life, has a habit of asking, “Can you believe that?” and a habit of exclaiming, “Just like that!” Have you noticed that too in the movie?
As I ponder more about it, I realized: grace is “just like that!” no works required, no strings attached, no payment to follow, no conditions to keep. Can you believe that?
The movie begins and ends with a feather “so light no one knows where it might land,” remarks Philip Yancey. And indeed, it landed in front of a low IQ, undeserving man. Just Like that! The undeserving boy who had a back “as crooked as a politician” becomes the fastest runner in his place, in his time. The low IQ, below normal student, later received a Medal of Honor, became pingpong champion, invited by the President of the U.S. more than once, and gathered followers from the street as he ran during the time when he just felt like running. Run Forrest, run!
Being so graced, Forrest became a living dispenser of grace—the one who truly understands what love is, knows what it means to be loyal, and exemplifies the virtue of forgiveness. “No Forrest, you don’t know what love is!” his unfaithful Jenny accused him just after he rescued her. No Jenny, you’re wrong, Forrest knows exactly what love is. And he’s demonstrating it all the time.
The concept of grace awakens in us an excruciatingly painful realization that in the eyes of God, we stand in common ground. No one is holier or more deserving. No one can boast. No one is better. We are all the same. We all sinned. This implies that we cannot or should not compare ourselves with others in terms of “being deserving.”
Grace challenges our most embraced self-deceptive lie: that we are more deserving of praise, of reward, of recognition, of heaven…than others. Grace opens our eyes so we can see that grace doesn’t choose based on performance, that, like the feather in the beginning and end of the movie, it may land to anybody regardless of status and intelligence, of titles and ranks. Just like that!
In my last post, Unlikely Protagonist, I explored about how I normally identify myself with the protagonist whenever I watch movies. And I seldom recognize that in front of God or perhaps with other people, I more resemble the antagonists than the protagonist.
Now, looking in ourselves with grace-filled lenses in our hearts, we come in contact—face to face—with the our true status before God. Because of our realization, we no longer identify with the protagonist whenever we watch movies. Instead, we realize that in God’s perspective we resemble the antagonists, the sinners, the undeserving. But we are being accepted—just like that!
Like Forrest, this grace lens helps us to be compassionate with others, to be forgiving, to dispense grace to the undeserving, to be humble. Because of grace we become slow in judging others—believing that the grace of God will land to them as it did to Forrest Gump, free of charge, no works required, no merits to be earned, no diplomas or certificates to boast, no strings attached…all is free. Just like that! Can you believe that?
You produce water!
That was one of the first commands I heard when I was still a cadet in a quasi-military academy. “You produce water!” means you need to sweat. Problem is how are you going to do it directly? Can you really do it? Just sweat? Or you need to do it indirectly…by doing other things that will make you sweat.
Humility is a difficult topic. It’s difficult for some reasons also difficult to explain. One is: who has the authority to teach us humility? Can an arrogant person teach us humility—a trait he does not have? If not, then only those humble people have the moral authority to teach us humility. That leads us to another dilemma.
The other reason why it’s difficult to attain comes from the old saying, “The moment you think you are humble is the moment you can be sure you’re not.” This implies that humble people are somewhat unaware of their humility.
Now, if arrogant people cannot teach us humility because they don’t have it, while humble people are not aware that they are humble, who is then left to teach us humility? How then will we learn and practice it?
How can God give me a command for which I cannot be aware of obeying? How can the Bible urge me to learn something when nobody seems to be qualified or available to teach me? How will I develop my own humility if I cannot be aware of my own progress? Should I always ask myself, “Am I humble yet?” and then what, confidently proclaim that at last I have attained it—and then feel proud about it?
The Bible is full of Paradoxes: give your life to gain it; the first will be last; the greatest of all is the servant of all; humble yourself and you’ll be lifted up.
The Bible seems to be a famous source of difficult commands as well as difficult-to-understand commands. And “Be humble!” Is one of those. A logical person may ask, “How can I obey a command if I cannot be aware I already achieve it?”
I think, humility cannot be treated through a logical formula. Like grace, humility is beyond human logic. And the best way, perhaps, to approach it, is to focus on other things. In other words, we’ll attain it indirectly.
Humility is an extremely elusive quality: the more we think we have it, the more we cannot be sure we really have it. Perhaps that’s why very few people have it.
Honestly, I’m one of those people who have struggled a lot about humility. Because every time I check whether I have already attained it, I always end up being proud of myself—thinking and believing that I have achieved something most people couldn’t achieve, only to be humbled again by striking realization that by practicing “awareness” in achieving humility, I achieved the very opposite.
How then will I approach humility indirectly?
In one of my old articles (Can We Manage Science?), I mentioned that creativity cannot be managed. If you want to manage it, you have to concentrate not on managing creativity itself but rather the environment that fosters creativity. In other words, you need to manage the other factors that will make creativity to be unleashed.
You produce water! You sweat! How do you do it? No, you don’t do it. Do push-ups, squat jumps, or other activities that will make you sweat.
John Haggai, In his book Lead On, suggests a similar approach to nurturing humility. Instead of achieving it directly, he encourages us to concentrate on the paths that will lead us to humility:
- By enthroning Christ in your heart
- By obeying Christ
- By assuming the attitude and behavior of a little child
- By following Christ’s example on prayer
- By following Christ’s example in personal relationships
- By serving others
How can I tell whether I am humble yet?
You don’t need to tell, let others tell it for you. What you need to do is focus on other objectives and let them flow smoothly into the direction of humility. When you get there, you are no longer thinking about humility—but there you are…already having it.
When people notice it, they will tell it. When they do, you will return the glory to God because your focus is not about attaining humility; your focus is to glorify God.
Humility? It’s tricky, the more you chase it, the more it repels you, so don’t focus on it! Forget it. Instead, focus on the other virtues that will foster humility. Focus on Jesus and his principles. Then humility will naturally follow.
This is a reply to your posted question in my last article, Insulted. Thanks for taking time to digest the message, and for asking—now we both have a great opportunity to grow in our understanding of this concept!
Does focus fall under the ability to control emotion? It might lead to, yes, but the ability to regulate the emotion, I think, falls under “flexibility.” So what’s the difference between focus and flexibility? Let me begin with focus. We will deal with flexibility on my next post
In Insulted, I was discussing about the mindset of a person, the inner eyes, the inner vision. Everybody has a focus—a center that controls everything else in his life. This is where you pay attention to most of the time…most of the situations. Your focus is the center of your life. Whatever you put in that center will be the source of your judgement, of your feelings, of your chosen actions. So that basically implies that whatever is in the center of your life will be in constant command of your life. It can command your every feelings and your every decision, and therefore is your master—the captain of your life.
Some people put themselves (their own self) in their center or focus. Some people put their religion on their center; some, their education or achievements; some, their physical beauty or appearance; some their reputation (yes, even if their reputation is not congruent with who they really are); some their girlfriend or boyfriend; others put money in their center; others, sex.
However, you have to know that you have the ultimate control on what you want to put in the center of your life. You have a choice. You have a free will. You can put material things in the center of your life—that means your decisions are mostly dictated by the command of those material things that you desire. You can make your parents your focus. Whatever your parents desire for you, you simply follow even if those desires are against your will and passion. You can also put your enemies into your center. That means whatever you do or plan or say, you always think about your enemy—about revenge, about hurting him, about getting even. And when you do that, that means that your enemy is in command of your life—you are his slave. He is in-charge of your emotion. He rules over you.
That’s how powerful your focus is!
Now let me recap. Every one of us has our own focus—that’s the center of our life. Whatever that focus is, will be our master and we become enslaved by it. However, we can freely chose what we want to be in our focus. We can choose our master. It’s a free choice for everyone. That’s where the words of Sheila (sheila4hastenhome) in her reply gives a very profound insight: if we put Jesus Christ on the center of our life then “our defenses will tend to build up, rather than tear down.” We will not be threatened because whatever we do, whatever we think, whatever we say, we are doing it for the glory of Jesus Christ, and not for our own gratification.
When I mentioned in INSULTED that we should be focusing on the “universal truths or principles” in life, I was referring to the principles of Jesus—principles of honesty, integrity, respect, obedience, humility, love, sacrifice, and many other principles. Because I believe that Jesus Christ is the source of all moral principles that we know. And those principles are universal, timeless, and obvious. You don’t need to be a genius to learn those principles. You just need to be open-minded and willing to see the unseen.
Thanks for asking Karen! I hope I’m helping here.
Now we can tackle flexibility in the next post.
The concept is inspired by authors Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Principle-Centered Leadership) and Philip Yancey (Reaching for the Invisible God—Rosetta Stone).
Showing Off versus Self-restraint
I love to watch martial arts movies; but I like Jackie Chan’s more than others. His movies are not violent and not brutal. Rather, they are funny and full of display of genuine art, gracefully performed in a very entertaining way. The one thing that stands out, however, why I love Jackie’s movies so much, is his self-restraint. Though an expert fighter, Jackie always avoids fights by evading challenges, sometimes leaving a connotation that he’s afraid to fight. What a powerful display of self-restraint: the one who can crash your head in a single blow may always choose NOT to, even at the expense of being labeled coward!
In daily life, I observe the very opposite. Many people with power are so excited in testing if it really works, trying to crash people’s heads as much as they can . . . doing it to as many people as they want as often as they can. Some people in position always find ways to exhibit their phantom power — displaying to everyone that they are above us all, that they know something others don’t, that they posses something that others lack. Yet, what they do just makes people repel. And when they observe that people avoid their company, they feel insulted and then they persist to be liked. A paradoxical cycle begins: the more they attract people with their titles and positions, the more people repel.
In contrast, true powerful people are not powerful because they are able to put down smaller people. They are powerful not because they are able to overcome their attackers. No! Instead, they are powerful because they are capable to overcome themselves. They have mastered to restrain themselves from hurting others, from fighting back, from taking revenge.
I also know some people with high position yet they don’t seem to use it to take advantage of smaller people. Like the great Jackie in the movies, they don’t display phantom power, rather they hide their true power so that smaller people will not be afraid of them. They reach out. They, at times, even share power to smaller people like me. In return, I look at them with great reverence, acknowledging the true great power they have.
There, another yet opposite paradox is set in motion: the more they don’t show off their power, the more they become great, and the greatness becomes evident.
They use their power to overcome themselves, their own weaknesses, their own temptations, instead of controlling others. They remind me of a motto that struck me so strongly when I was in college:
If I can defeat others, I am strong; if I can defeat myself, I am stronger.
For years, I worked out my own attitude to align to that motto. And I find it again and again that it’s not always easy.
Knowing that in every rule there’s an exception, here’s what I see In quick view of this two-sided paradox:
Those people who exhibit their power are those who actually don’t have it; while those people who really have it don’t display it.
But how do they do that?
It takes faith to feel comfortable in the presence of uncomfortable paradoxes.
Faith is courage in action. In my part, it takes courage not to use my position. It takes courage not to use my power to crash their heads, specially those who attack me. It takes courage to face the consequence of not striking back.
To be painfully honest, it is always difficult, doubting, troubling, not so assuring. It is challenging. It goes against my human instinct, against my normal reason. That’s why I need faith. Because If everything is so assured faith is no longer necessary. If everything is clear, easy and without doubt . . . if everything is doubt-proof, flows normally with everyday reason, then, I don’t need faith at all. All I need is believe.
Faith, according to the Bible is, “Being sure of what we hope for, and being certain of what we do not see.” In contrast, belief is based entirely in proof and evidence, in what is seen and measured, in what can be calculated and explained. To see is to believe, remember?
As a layman, I see my faith as an inner battle triumphantly manifested in the choices I make after I made it. When the martial arts expert refrain from accepting a challenge or from striking back after being hardly hit, perhaps he’s not displaying belief in himself, maybe he’s exercising faith — believing against all his human logic that by doing so, that by avoiding the fight, he gains victory. Yet, without proof, without evidence, he acts with assurance.
“You can win more friends in two months by becoming interested in people than you can in two years to get other people interested in you.”
How often do I fall into the trap of attracting people only to painfully discover that I am achieving perfectly well the very opposite of my goal! Against the normal flow, I learned that if I want to attract people I have to approach them in reverse: I need to be attracted to them. Instead of using my position or any superficial things, I’d rather selflessly concentrate on people, highlighting and appreciating what they have — a sign of being attracted.
What proof do I have that they will surely like me in return? Nothing. I only have faith.
While doing my assignment for my masteral studies two nights ago, I overheard some indistinct voices from the outside. That was about nine in the evening.
My crammed room is located at the rear of our housing unit. It’s a quiet, secluded room that is at least far from the busy life outside — far enough for me to enjoy tranquility amidst the sometimes wild and often noisy environment.
But not this time: the voices I heard managed to penetrate the concrete walls, closed windows, and the plywood partitions that shield my room from the uninvited sounds that normally irritate me. The voices managed to penetrate my silence, disturbing my concentration and displacing the mellow music that played in the background as I typed. I was totally distracted.
When I silently opened my door to sneak my head outside just enough to let my ear do the inquiring, I noticed that the voices were rapidly getting louder . . . and closer. Then I began to recognize them: a man and a woman. “Oh, the couples across our narrow street — that’s a simple husband-wife quarrel.” I told myself.
Being an introverted person who prefers to live a quiet and undisturbed life, I was so tempted to hide back inside my small room and continue minding my own business, rationalizing that they are both grown ups, have kids, and that I don’t have any business with whatever it was they were brawling about in their private life. But wait, why are they near my front door?
Still, I neglected my own question and turned my body towards my notebook to continue my work. Yet before I was even able to close my door, I heard loud bangs from our entrance. They already reached my door. And the loud shouts made my heartbeat faster and louder as if synchronizing with their rhythm. Those shouts invited me to interfere.
So I did. What I thought to be a simple lovers’ quarrel turned out to be a more complicated dispute. There was a third person. They are all my acquaintances. The couples are my neighbors; the other man, my housemate. That explains why they were near my doorsteps. A heated dispute was firing up and the woman was trying to cool it down.
The argument broke into an open fist fight while the woman was helplessly pulling her husband away from my house mate. As the three push each other, they bang with the entrance door of my unit.
I realized I had no choice. I needed to intervene.
In short, my quiet study time was instantly turned into a chaotic play of intervening a raging interaction between two furious friends.
The dispute invited more audiences and in less than a minute, our immediate surroundings became like a coliseum of gladiators with some “extras” in between the fearless warriors to stop the show. I was one of those extras. I was trying everything to stop the show.
Instead of the gladiators, we, the extras, were the winners. We managed to stop and cool down the blazing combatants.
After pulling my housemate away from the scene into our unit, I closed the door, and then asked him what happened. As he told me his story, I knew that there was something more. I knew that what he told me was just the most outer layer of a seemingly thick cascaded layers of a subtle cycle of personal attacks and counterattacks. I knew I wouldn’t be able to dig the deepest root and I did not want to even try it. Besides, I have detected that they were not the only persons involved in the conflict. There are more.
“Go back to your room, take a rest, and we’ll settle this tomorrow when all of you are no longer drunk,” I told my housemate. Yes, they were all drunk. Although not too much, nonetheless, they were.
He was very polite to submit to my request. So after he entered his room, I happily went back to my already distracted work and tried as strongly as I could to retrieve all the lost data in the memory of my head. One by one, the data I have been processing before their chaotic world invited me, began to emerge gradually.
I was smiling and shaking my head peacefully as I typed my next few sentences when all of a sudden I heard louder voices from more people. Wow! What happened? I thought . . .
Going back to the battle field not as a warrior but as an arbiter, I first cleared my mind. “This one is tougher. I need to be more collected, cool and alert.” I reminded myself as I saw my neighbor holding a bolo — a long single-edged knife — as he gave a warning to my equally fierce housemate.
The audience had doubled. The battle was elevated to the next level. One warrior was using a weapon. “What would I do now?” I asked myself, “Should I play the same winning role I played earlier — as an umpire? What if I lose this time and become the victim of that deadly bolo?”
I didn’t remember the exact details of how we did it. Everything happened so fast. But with more “extras” to stop the war, we managed to settle it down. Everything that happened next was almost exactly the same with the previous chapter: I told my housemate to return to his room, and again, he did.
Before I went back to my catastrophic study time to hopelessly continue my assignment, I went outside and talked to our amazed audiences not to go home yet, lest they might miss the forthcoming third round. I already accepted the apparent fact: the battle isn’t over yet, the fighters were just having a break. Perhaps, they were just planning their next strategy.
Then I went back to my room, but I changed my mind. Having convinced myself that the war has just began, I decided to just secure my notebook and forget about my assignment. Lives outside my room were at stake. They were more important, I thought, than my grades.
Back to my desk, staring at my poor abandoned notebook, I was ready for the next loud shouts. Nothing. “Should I continue my study or just wait for the next match?” I didn’t know. So instead, I switched on my desktop and planned to play.
Maybe my PC was so slow, because before I even started the game, a soft knockings on my room took my attention. When I opened the door, the person outside was a little bit confused as he didn’t know what to say.
So I made him sit in my dining table across me and encouraged him to speak up. He shook his head slowly and then told me, “Arnold, I don’t know what to say and how to start it, it’s complicated.
“Now I have the fourth involved person. I was right about my initial assessment on the conflict. What started to be just a simple dispute between two drunk men was actually a culmination of a long grudge tenderly harbored by all parties involved. One by one the names of other people in this complex situation emerged.
Suddenly I became the person I didn’t want to be. I became the accidental umpire, the judge, the mediator.
The person in front of me called all the other players and they demanded to settle everything in front of me. They wanted a witness, an arbiter, an outsider perhaps, they wanted me to sit down and listen to them as they settle their long harbored grudges to one another. They wanted reconciliation, and they wanted me to be there. “But why me?” I was screaming inside my heart! Most of these people are older than me. They are older than me by more than a decade. Some of them are already like a father or uncle to me. Why me? Why here in my unit?
Having no other choice, I listened to their pains, and predicaments. As they expressed all their negative feelings, some false assumptions that were responsible for their behaviors started to surface gradually. As they journeyed to their past, I couldn’t help but listen, trying to connect to their hidden world that has not been visible to me.
During the discussion, I noticed that every one of the five people who crowded my small living room started to cool down as if they have realized that their behaviors in the past were just products of their false assumptions and wrong interpretations to the actions of their fellow. As they concealed their feelings, they only gave them away . . . uncontrolled.
After less than an hour of painful recollection of the past they started to smile and began saying sorry to one another. My neighbor and my housemate embraced as they both said, “Sorry!” I was relieved. Every one was happy. Everything back to normal. At last, it’s over! We all won the battle!
Pondering about some principles I have learned from similar encounters, I began to relax and stopped listening attentively to them. “They are okay now!” maybe that’s the assumption unconsciously running inside my head as I let them go on with their stories and clarifications with each other.
My mind was pondering over some principles actively at work beneath our every word, and behind our every action. I was reflecting on the situation, its causes and implications when I noticed that the peace we were just starting to enjoy was gradually fading. The gradual fading slowly became rapid.
Before we even knew it, diplomacy was gone. When my housemate threw his cellphone toward the entrance door and angrily walked out the door, I realized the peace was temporary. Our jaws dropped as we saw his cellphone dropped to the floor in four pieces. Everybody was shocked. In less than ten-seconds, the four people inside my unit, locked their eyes on me as if waiting for my response.
I wanted to vanish right from my seat. I wanted to ask them why are they staring at me. “Why always me?” When will this agony stop?
The person in front of me broke the silence by asking me, “You see what he just did?” I nodded very gently showing him a sad face. And then, he stood and started to walk through the door with the intent to follow my housemate outside the building into the dark.
Another round had begun: the third round.Before he walked outside to follow my housemate, I managed to remind him to be cool and stick with the objective — to settle things out. He did the opposite.Another fight broke in. Louder, more intense, and with more adrenaline. It took us almost another hour to finally settle their raging emotions down. The same chain of events were repeated. We managed temporarily to cool the situation down only to be reincarnated into a more dangerous, ravenous monster: the fourth round followed next. Everything was repeated in the same exact sequence.
Finally, few minutes before midnight we were all embracing each other, repeating the words, “Sorry!” and “Thank you!”
After all was gone, I was left alone in my small secluded room unable to sleep, thinking about what happened. The three-hour struggle for peace was finally won over.
What have I learned?
As for me, I still don’t know why I was there, and why I was put in the middle of them, because to be brutally honest, I didn’t do anything that might have led to their reconciliation. I was just an outsider — not an umpire — who happened to be there, perhaps in order for me to learn something about hate and pride . . . about forgiveness.
What I have just witnessed reminded me that harboring pains and grudges only intensifies the chaos in our already hostile world.
I have learned that in a dispute like this, or in any war — even those in cosmic scale — our true enemy is not our perceived enemy, but war itself.
Hate and pride are deadly twins. Forgiveness is not simply about saying sorry and then forgetting it when we recall another offense done in the past; it’s about a 180 degrees change of heart. Forgiveness is about renouncing pride and letting go of our hate — submitting them to God, and focusing ourselves towards the opposite, towards forgetting what the other person did and forgiving him not just in words and in deeds, but most importantly, inside our hearts where nobody will attest except God.
That makes forgiveness so difficult, because it’s not about what other people see in our actions, nor about what they hear in our words, but rather what God sees inside our hearts.
Lord, help me to forgive!