What Happens When We’re Not Open to Grace?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you open to grace? What happens if you aren’t?

In The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck discusses the importance of being open to grace. He believes that grace is a tool for spiritual evolution—and that rejecting it can hinder our growth and even lead to mental illness.

Read more to learn why it’s important to be open to grace.

Becoming Open to Grace

To overcome the obstacles to spiritual growth, become open to grace.  

Based on theology, grace has traditionally been defined in two ways. The first is the Doctrine of Eminence, which is the notion that a god outside of ourselves passes grace down to us. The second is the Doctrine of Immanence, which is the notion that grace exists within us as a manifestation of God. This is a paradox, and the issue with this paradox (or any paradox) is that we want to categorize the concept cleanly. This tendency makes us want to “make sense” of grace by determining whether it comes from God or comes from us. Truly, the relationship between us as individuals and the mystery of grace as it relates to God is an integrated one. Grace is an external force that is of God but nonetheless moves through us.

All manifestations of grace share the following:

  • They contribute to and protect the growth of the human spirit.
  • They make only partial sense (dreams) or completely defy the laws of nature (paranormal events). 
  • They occur frequently and universally.
  • They do not originate in the conscious mind, nor can they be deliberately summoned by the conscious will. 

These characteristics all can be explained as being an expression of the influence transcendent of human awareness and comprehension which exists to support the spiritual development of humanity, known as grace. 

Grace and Resistance

You have many tools available to you on the spiritual growth journey, but using them is a matter of discipline. Your will to heal is what will determine your growth and your openness to the tools of growth, including grace. The determining factor for how much the tools impact your life is your level of commitment to using them. There are plenty of severely ill people who heal, and plenty of mildly ill people who do not. For some, no matter what is available to them, they are resistant to growth, and therefore none of the tools are put to effective use. The will to grow can be directly compared to the will to love, as love is defined as the will to extend yourself for growth. The influence of grace, which cannot be measured, represents God’s love. It is available to all, but not everyone is open to grace. 

Why We’re Not Always Open to Grace

If grace is a representation of love given by an external God who supports our spiritual growth, there is the question of why. What is the purpose of this evolution? It might be said that the purpose is to become our loving God, but we don’t like this idea, because it’s easier to believe in a God whose position is exalted above us and unattainable. To believe that we can access God’s position ourselves would ask of us an astronomical level of responsibility and effort. If we see God as nonexistent or hating, or untouchable in some way, we have no obligation to grow spiritually. We can live life at the most comfortable level, and not push ourselves to become our most loving, most responsible, or most competent selves.

Essentially, if we accept that we can become God, we will never be able to justify lack of effort again. The level of responsibility we give to God we would then be responsible for embodying ourselves. The idea that God is encouraging our growth so that we can become God forces us to confront our greatest problem in life: our laziness.

Consequences of Rejecting Grace

To gain insight into what happens when you are not open to grace, consider the following truths:

  • Strong mental health occurs when you embrace reality and the pain of growth. 
  • Neurosis arises when you avoid reality and the pain of growth.
  • The impetus to embrace reality comes from the will of a loving God who wants you to spiritually evolve.
  • The impetus to avoid reality comes from the conscious will of the individual and is motivated by entropy.
  • Mental illness is the result of rejecting the will of God within you (growth fueled by love) in favor of your own individual will (stagnancy fueled by entropy).

To live your best possible life you must live it in accordance with reality to the best of your ability. Understanding reality requires rigorous internal and external examination and making adjustments where necessary. This process is difficult and painful. The more you use defense mechanisms to avoid the pain of seeing reality as it is, the less accurate your perception of reality. This can cause your actions to become unrealistic, and this will be apparent to those who observe you. These observers might then identify you as mentally ill, even if you yourself are convinced you are seeing reality accurately. 

Your unconscious communicates this disconnect to you before the external observers do. Symptoms can include panic attacks, nightmares, depression, and so on. The unconscious, having full knowledge, tries to alert the conscious to the disconnect between the truth of reality and the denial of it. Only those willing to accept total responsibility for the symptoms of their mental illness will come to understand that the symptoms are a result of their conscious actions being out of alignment with their soul, recognize their occurrence as a manifestation of grace, and take action to heal themselves through deliberate effort towards growth.

What Happens When We’re Not Open to Grace?

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  • The four key elements in the path to enlightenment
  • The importance of spiritual competence in relation to mental health
  • How you can face challenges and grow through hardship

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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