Several years ago, I dressed up with friends for a birthday meal. We were enjoying the day until a stranger spilled her drink on me as she literally threw her cup in the trash. Without any hint of apology, she muttered “Oops” and walked away dismissively. As I stood speechless, a familiar chorus reverberated in my soul: “Don’t make a big deal out of this. Show grace. You’re a Christian.”
Somehow, “being a Christian” had come to mean that, when mistreated, my primary concern was not to voice my feelings or stand up for myself. Instead, I should offer “grace” to my offender, letting them save face. In this situation, that meant minimizing and moving quickly past what happened so that the woman did not feel called out. Offering grace meant letting her walk away unburdened, while I cleaned up her mess. It did not feel Christlike to assert my boundaries or protest her behavior.
For a long time, this was how I understood grace: being a doormat, excusing rather than confronting people who treated me badly. Jesus laid down his life without protest, so I too needed to be silent. He said to turn the other cheek, so confronting injustice and wrongdoing felt retaliatory. If I wanted to embody Christ’s sacrificial and selfless love, I concluded that I needed to be a doormat.
“Jesus laid down his life without protest – so I too needed to be silent”
The problem with “doormat grace” is that it neither reflects nor pursues right relationship: loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. In his grace, God created us and saved us for loving communion with him and each other. He is restoring all things to a state of shalom marked by right relationships, peace, justice, and fullness of life. Grace is not a free pass to sin; it is another chance at living in shalom. “Doormat grace” fails on at least 3 counts:
- “Doormat grace” won’t make demands consistent with right relationship.
As a reaction against legalism, I assumed that grace could not make demands. If legalism says, “You cannot mess up;” then doormat grace says, “You can mess up as much as you want.” So I lowered my expectations of people and systems and bore more than I was called to bear. My theology of grace silenced me in the face of mistreatment; the only acceptable response was, “It’s okay, there is grace.” Doormat grace is more akin to lawlessness than right relationship.
True grace asserts truth: we are made for right relationship, with God, others, and ourselves. It acknowledges and knows clearly that, “It’s not okay, but here is another chance to do better.” Jesus laid down his life without protest, but he also called people and systems to right, just relationships, turning tables to confront a broken temple system and calling his followers to the highest love. Jesus was full of grace and truth.
- “Doormat grace” prioritizes outer harmony over right relationship.
I have seen this play out in many East Asian American communities. Because we value saving face and not rocking the boat, sometimes we offer grace so that outer harmony will be maintained even if true peace is lacking. It often just results in a return to the status quo.
While it is important to be considerate of the whole community and meet people where they are, “harmony” must not be an excuse to shy away from the work of reconciliation and justice. Sometimes grace needs to include a challenging word to tackle the deeper issues. When we uncritically reinforce an unjust status quo or consistently ignore a broken relationship for the sake of harmony, we are not giving true grace.
- Lastly, “doormat grace” reinforces self-lessness rather than selflessness.
Here’s what I mean by “self-lessness”: I thought “dying to myself” and “considering others above myself” meant muting my desires and ignoring my needs. I’d sing “less of me and more of you, Jesus” with the hope that I’d fade away and become like a puppet controlled by God. There was no room for me in my relationship with God or others. If selfishness is “thinking too much of ourselves”, then self-lessness is “thinking too little of ourselves”. Instead, we must live with a clear understanding of who we are – made in God’s image, beloved children of God.
Jesus was neither selfish nor self-less; he was selfless. He laid down his life as “somebody” not as a “nobody.” He neither held onto privilege and safety to protect himself, nor did he lose himself or his sense of self-worth on the cross. Rather, Jesus was more fully himself – loving, merciful, just – in his selflessness. He never once believed or suggested that the cross was okay, and yet he forgave. As Martin Luther King, Jr., demonstrated, I must first understand that I am “somebody” made in God’s image for shalom; only then is it possible to offer grace “selflessly” – and not “self-lessly”. We must not be confused about our self-worth or our basic humanity when we choose to put others above ourselves.
When Asian Americans experience microaggressions and racism, some Christians immediately call for grace in a way that violates our God-given value. These calls for grace send the message that we Asian Americans do not deserve right relationship or just treatment. They prioritize the well-being of the offender or status quo harmony, as though our pain does not matter. Of course, Christians are called to forgive, but when our calls for “grace” leave no room to be upset about injustice, they rob us of dignity and reinforce self-lessness instead of Christ-like selflessness.
“when our calls for ‘grace’ leave no room to be upset about injustice, they rob us of dignity”
We worship a God who is full of grace and truth, who has chosen shalom over status quo harmony, and who is selfless not self-less. God is nothing like a doormat, and we must not be doormats either.
So how did I respond to the woman? I felt led to approach her. Firmly but graciously, I protested her behavior, asked her to acknowledge both her actions and me through an apology, and offered forgiveness. It was awkward and went against so much of what felt “gracious”, but I needed to assert that what she did was not okay. This Asian American woman will no longer be a Christian doormat – but instead, I am being formed in grace and truth to love like Christ.