Grace Is Real and Better Than We Think It Is

I internalized a lot of things as a child and young adult in church that may or may not have been intentionally taught to me. One of the things I got mixed up on was the relationship between pride and loving yourself. That somehow pride was really bad and led to ones inevitable demise (the "pride comes before a fall" scenario always felt very ominous and humiliating) and that we were only supposed to be proud of others (for their humility and service) and proud of God. And if we were too ambitious (boy, did that get thrown at me as a woman with ministry aspirations in the church of Christ!) or too happy with ourselves that somehow that made us proud and selfish. Everything was supposed to be about Jesus and then others. 
The problem I've found with this is that we can only treat others as well as we treat ourselves. Even that statement raises all kinds of rebuttal from my subconscious because I have treated others way better than myself for years. But if I'm really honest about that others-prioritizing from the past, I did that because I wanted others to treat me well, to esteem me and to give me their approval (which is how I would earn  Gods). As hard as it is to label that behavior negatively because it cost me a lot so I want to see it as good, prioritizing others in order to meet my own needs is actually manipulation and ultimately, a fascade. I know at the time I was trying to serve God, but I never could quite grasp how loved and acceptable I was in the eyes of God outside of my ability to show my faithfulness to Him with my good behavior and by encouraging others to do the same (ministry). 
Judging our faithfulness to God and our good standing with Him based on our behavior leads us to view others through the same lens. Suddenly we're not so sure about that person who got pregnant in high school or the couple who's getting divorced. Because if we can't accept our own lack of condemnation before God as His intentionally imperfect, beautiful human children, then we certainly can't offer that to those who are more demonstrably screwed up than we are! Turns out, this God will just save ANYONE. And what kind of stance is that? Is this another situation where you get an award just for participating? Inexplicably, YES.
As I've turned my spiritual life inward and discovered how irrevocably okay I am in and of myself, I've finally learned what grace really is. Grace isn't the voice that tells us that we're really terrible for sinning, but God loves us in spite of our behavior because He's so good. Grace is accepting our behavior as evidence of our humanity and our need for love, freedom, acceptance and security. That our humanness was not a mistake God made, but in fact, part of His design. He wants to be in relationship with "sinners." He has what He needs within Himself. He is His own community Father/Son/Spirit. We are not meant to be His equals. We are meant to be His companions, His friends, His children. 
This is not to say that our behavior is irrelevant. I recognize the temptation to see my viewpoint as saying "sin" is okay or doesn't exist. I'm still processing that because I think we're obsessed with sin and I reject that fixation. I guess I've landed at this point on the idea that Jesus took care of sins eternal consequences on the cross for all people for all time. And here on earth, the consequences are lived out sometimes very directly and sometimes completely arbitrarily. We can do our best to do right by our fellow man and not directly seek to do harm to others. But harm will come to us all as this is part of the repercussions of all being together on earth with different viewpoints, choices and levels of love for our fellow man. Plus, freak stuff happens. 
So, the consequences of sin, even in the here and now are not within our control. Thus, even by controlling ourselves as best we can, we will still sin and we will still experience the consequnces of others sin unfairly. If we're using our good behavior as security for a good life, we will be sorely disappointed. If I were to categorize the "sin" in my life now, I'm way more open to the "no-no" sins I was taught against (cursing is THE BEST) and way less compelled to commit the ones I find more serious (dishonesty, seeking self in a way that harms others, greed, overconsumption of material goods and resources, stockpiling treasures for myself, self-righteousness, obstinance to growth or change) that were not really discouraged much in the church and in some ways strongly encouraged as "good stewardship" or "remaining true". 
It seems to me that a lot of "bad behavior" comes from "bad" feelings. Shame is a powerful tool to control our behavior because we so desperately don't want to be bad. And the punishment we self-inflict is words of our fallenness when we've acted in a way that's hurtful to others. The more that we learn that we are okay, the more we learn to respect the okay-ness of the people around us. Shame threatens us. Self-love gives us the validation that there is enough resources, opportunity, love, safety, adventure to go around. Yes, we need to take risks and work. But we don't need to take from others and work over our competition. We're okay. So instead of good behavior coming from feeling like shit, self-acceptance actually leads to more socially-conscious, holistic living because we are living out of excess and abundance rather than defeciency and scarcity. And we are better able to recognize the value of our fellow man.
Turns out, focusing on myself, loving myself, being kind, gentle and generous to myself leads me to offer those things to the people around me freely. I never quite understood why "You're bad and God is so remarkably good because somehow He finds you lovable" was good news. It always felt like a burden of holiness (that is was something we did rather than something we were given) and a total lack of grace for self. It felt like rules and duties and an endless need to be grateful for it. 
I'm coming to the baffling conclusion that the abudant life Jesus came to give was a real message of love. Not love with conditions, or in spite of its object, but that the object itself is worthy and beautiful and valued beyond measure by its Creator. So much so, that He tells us His stories of love, invites us to be with Him and showers us with grace. He calls us daughter and son and created this bountiful world for us to live in and share. The story of humanity not being an experiment gone bad with limitless problems, but being bearers of this unmistakable light, that gives us breath and peace and freedom. And that good news is lived out IN us before it can be lived out BY us.