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Grace Bias

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch the TED Conference simulcast. TED is an organization whose slogan, Ideas worth spreading, doubles as its mission — spread worthy ideas. TED has an annual conference where innovators from many fields present inspiring speeches. One talk in particular from the recent conference roused me. Cognitive Neuroscientist Tali Sharot spoke about Optimism Bias. She has discovered that humans have a bias toward optimism. Here’s one extreme example — statistically about 50% of marriages end in divorce, but about 0% of people heading into marriage believe that theirs will.

Most of us are optimistic about our future. Sure, bad things will happen, but we have a bent for the best. Ultimately, Dr. Sharot noted that it’s better for our mental and physical health that we be optimistic and respond positively when negative circumstances occur rather than be pessimistic and expect negative circumstance to occur frequently. In other words, it’s healthy to be hopeful.

This optimism bias reminded me of another hopeful bias — a grace bias. Unfortunately, I think it’s opposite for most of us. Despite our belief in Christ removing our shame, we have a shame bias. We’re stuck in our inherent inadequacy. To varying degrees this tints our whole approach to life. Typically, we deal with this bias in two ways, fight and flight. Both ways mask insecurity, but one is more accepted by culture than the other. It’s more honorable to fight than to flee.

To fight is to perform. We do this through our careers, collecting status symbols, religious behavior, rebellion, etc. Subtle and not so subtle messages in our culture offer us plenty of ways to fight. This ____ will make you somebody. This ____ will make you better. If you ____, you will finally feel content in your own skin. We are innovative when it comes to battling shame. But the fight is fixed, and not in our favor. Even if we could win, the prize isn’t true contentment.

To take flight is to hide. We may feel the shame bias is so overwhelming that fighting is futile. The best thing we can do is take cover. We may hide by living a small, quiet, invisible life. Or we may hide by escaping into legal (food) or illegal (drugs) substance abuse. We hide in broad daylight and in deep dark places.

We desperately need a grace bias. God’s grace dissolves shame. God says I AM here, you are cherished, and all will be well. In a very personal way, God woos us out of hiding. He gives us the freedom to lay down our weapons. He calls us back home to our true selves and contentment. We’re meant to have a grace bias.

To live with a grace bias takes great courage. It costs us our shame.To live with a grace bias takes great courage. It costs us our shame. Releasing all of the ploys that we use to feel good about ourselves can leave us feeling naked and vulnerable. It’s difficult to trust God to satisfy any nagging sense of inadequacy. It takes time for us to live into the wholeness and freedom that God gives. Moreover, it takes the movement of God’s Spirit within us for grace to be our new default.

With a grace bias, we default to grace rather than shame. We make decisions from a secure sense of self, intimately connected with God. Grace leads us to acknowledge that God is here, we are cherished, and all will be well. We can know that despite what’s happening in the moment, all will eventually be well. The grace bias has us default to trusting ourselves and God’s empowerment rather than fighting or fleeing alone.

Grace…that’s an idea worth spreading.

About the Author

Artie has been communicating God's grace in various contexts over the last fifteen years. His passion is similar to Bill and Anabel's in that he desires to communicate God's grace in a way that makes it easily applicable in everyday life.