One of my most trying journeys during college has been learning to give others grace: to forgive my roommate, to be patient with other white people’s ethnic journeys, to stop calling myself “an evangelical that doesn’t like other evangelicals.” One of the areas I still struggle with is in giving grace to women and men that don’t see eye-to-eye with me on gender issues.
Every year our UNC InterVarsity chapter holds two events called Ladies’ Night and Men’s Night. Each involves one gender performing comical skits and serving food to the other, as a way to show them appreciation and honor. While attending Ladies’ Night and working on Men’s Night are great fun for most women in our chapter, for me, they are bittersweet. At some point every year, I always wonder why we do them in the first place.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the past two years the men have sponsored significant gender justice events about relationship violence or sex trafficking around the same time as Ladies’ Night. When I go to Ladies’ Night I can’t help but feel frustrated that most of the men in the chapter don’t know much about sexism, despite their genuine desire to honor women. The skits and desserts are a good time, of course, but are these people actually committed to the issues I care about as a woman? Beyond cosponsoring one sex trafficking movie?
Quick as I am to judge, reflecting on grace has brought me an interesting realization this year: “giving grace” to others isn’t just about forgiving or bearing with one another, not simply about avoiding rash reactions or sticking in a relationship. Grace literally means “gift,” and many times I think I’m giving someone the gift of my forgiveness and patience. But what’s really crucial? Is it my ability to give something that’s lacked? Or my ability to receive? Why is it that I think I am above receiving the gift of Ladies’ Night from these men that genuinely love the women in our community?
I’m coming to think that perhaps my issue isn’t “giving grace” after all. Perhaps it’s a problem of willingness to receive grace, a gift—to accept love when it doesn’t feel like the demonstration of love I want. While true reconciliation will necessitate men’s understanding more of what is meaningful to me as a woman and their action to correct ongoing gender injustice, part of reconciliation is my job too.
The Lord is showing me that humbly accepting whatever good gift I am offered by men is essential if intergender unity is to ever be achieved in the Body of Christ. After all, God accepts love and worship from imperfect humans. Who I am to reject the creativity, excitement, and goodwill of these men? Of course, grace is difficult, whether I’m giving or receiving, but over time I am being taught to say of both, “I will with God’s help.”