The difficult grace of the passive voice

My wife is truly a saint in the making, and not only because she puts up with me.  She has an unquenchable thirst for God – prioritizing prayer and study. She’s great at something I am horrible at – praying for others in her life, not only when they ask for it but just as part of her daily routine. And, as the founder of a moms’ prayer group at our daughter’s school, she convenes a community of women that she cares deeply for and serves in countless ways.  She has organized enough meal drops for sick or recovering members that the “Take Them a Meal” website should consider her for their board, or as a celebrity endorser.

I mention this because, as she recovers from her own health issue, it is readily apparent that she is very uncomfortable with the shoe being on the other foot.  As her friends rise to the opportunity to reciprocate for all she’s done for them, she is grateful, but uneasy.  Some of it, I suspect, is the desire not to be the center of attention, but it’s more than that.  We are trained to think of faith in the active voice – we pray, we worship, we study, and especially we love, by feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and comforting the lonely and sometimes guiding the lost.  But if we are all equally children of God, and we live in a community of faith that supports each other, we need to be willing, when needed, to accept the sort of support we freely offer to others.

If you’re the type who is used to achieving, used to independence, used to control, being helpless (or at least needing help) is tough.  There is inevitable guilt (“think of all the people who are in much worse shape”) at being served, when you are used to doing the serving.  There is a safety in being the one to offer help; depending on others can feel like the opposite of safety.

But I think it’s good for us, to some extent, to accept the difficult grace of the passive voice.  When we do, we make evident that there are not two classes of people in God’s family – the givers and the receivers – but that we are all both, all the time. If it is in giving that true joy lies, there is a consideration in letting others embrace that joy at our expense. And the experience of receiving something that you could not attain on your own is to experience the definition of grace and a kind of love that is a reflection of the divine.

I’ve been reflecting this week on Luke 7, where Jesus goes to a Pharisee’s house and a “sinful woman” washes his feet with her tears.  There are a lot of dynamics in the story, but one that hadn’t struck me before was Jesus’ willingness to let this woman wash his feet. Late in John’s Gospel, when Jesus says he will wash the feet of his disciples, Peter protests – no way, you’re the one who should be served. But if we are to be the hands and feet of Christ, that not only means we need to heal and feed and go where Jesus would have us minister; it means we need to let others do the same for us. May we embrace the difficult grace of the passive voice.

3 responses to “The difficult grace of the passive voice”

  1. […] remind us), or you have a personal or family emergency – the death of a parent or a medical emergency, we realize how much that “normal life” is a facade, and we lose ourselves for awhile in the […]

  2. […] tended to, than when we get to play the Samaritan. I wrote a piece about five years ago on that, “The Difficult Grace of the Passive Voice.” Day’s video reminded me of that, especially the last (spoken) […]

  3. […] learned that it’s OK to let you all return the favor once in a while, although I still resist the difficult grace of the passive voice, as I called it some years […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: