Today, I want to talk about grace. I chose it as the name of my blog, my podcast, my little corner of the internet. But I realized recently that I never explained it to you, why it’s so important to me. You see,
Grace changes everything.
A friend of mine once told me a story that illustrates what grace is really well. When my friend was a kid, he loved baseball. Couldn’t get enough of it, played it all the time, basically ate, slept, and breathed baseball. Once, when he was about nine, he was playing in his backyard with some neighborhood friends and accidentally hit one right through his parents’ bedroom window. Eeeesh. He knew he was in big trouble, and his mom confirmed he was going to get it when his dad got home. Knowing his dad, he knew that meant a spanking – probably a big one, with the belt – and having to do some work for his dad for a looooong while in order to pay back his parents for the window. He waited in his room, consumed by his guilt and shame – how could he be so stupid to play facing the house like that? – and full of anxiety and fear leading up to the spanking. By the time his father got home, he was a total nervous wreck. He could hear his dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs, and when his dad opened his bedroom door, he jumped what felt like a foot off his bed.
But then a crazy thing happened. His dad didn’t take off his belt. He just said, “Come on, get in the car.” Confused, my friend followed his dad. Now he was REALLY scared. Was his dad taking him out into the country to beat him this time, so no one would hear? He started shaking in the backseat. His dad noticed and said, “Relax. You’re not getting the belt today.” Shock and relief flooded his system. But why wasn’t his dad going to punish him? That didn’t make any sense. He had screwed up big this time. He knew he deserved the belt. But his dad was letting him off the hook? Just as he was about to ask where they were going, his dad pulled the car into the parking lot of a local ice cream shop. Okay…what in the world? my friend thought. Ice cream? Had his father lost his mind? Inside, my friend’s dad told him to order whatever he wanted. Completely confused, he tentatively ordered a giant Reese’s cup sundae. While he and his dad shared the sundae, his dad broke the long tension.
“Today, you messed up,” he said. “But instead of punishing you like a child, I thought you were old enough to learn a new lesson this time. Your mom and I talk a lot about God, and His mercy and grace. Do you know the difference between those two things?” My friend shook his head. His dad went on. “Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. Like when you didn’t get the spanking after you broke the window. That was me showing you mercy, like God shows us through Jesus when we sin. Jesus took the punishment of our sin so that we don’t have to.” His dad paused to take a spoonful of sundae. “Grace is different,” he continued. “It’s getting what you don’t deserve. Like when you got a Reese’s sundae even after you messed up, just because I love you.” My friend swallowed his mouthful of chocolate and peanut butter goodness and said slowly, “So Jesus gives us good things, even when we don’t deserve them.” His dad nodded. They ate for a little while and my friend said, “I’m really sorry about the window, Dad. I want to help pay for it. I’ll do as much work for you as you want me to do until it’s paid off.” His dad smiled. “I appreciate that, son. That’s the best part of grace – it makes you want to do good things, instead of just wanting to avoid doing bad things. Listen, I already have the money to cover the window, but I’d love it if you’d help me fix it.”
I love this story because it illustrates the heart of God toward us so well. We expect when we screw up that there will be punishment waiting for us, because our sense of justice says that our wrong must be made right. We expect God to be angry and retaliate against us like a human would, which is why it’s so confusing and shocking when He says, “Listen, it’s already paid for. But let’s fix this broken part of you together.”
If we are in Christ, we have experienced great grace by way of God in human form, giving His very life for ours. But grace doesn’t stop there. When we choose grace in every situation when dealing with other broken humans like ourselves, subverting our revenge instinct like Jesus modeled for us, and like my friend’s father modeled for him, we learn that grace truly has the power to change everything.
When the Sanhedrin convicted Jesus of crimes He didn’t commit, put a crown of thorns on His head, and nailed Him to a cross, He didn’t call on His Father’s power to take them out. He prayed for them, saying they didn’t know what they were doing. Grace.
When Jesus sat at the table with Judas the night He would betray Him, He didn’t condemn Judas or send him away in shame, or just plain kill him to avoid being captured Himself. He broke the bread and poured the wine for the first communion ceremony, signifying how He would soon pour out His own blood and break His own body for us – even Judas. Oh, grace.
When Paul was persecuting and even killing followers of Jesus, though I am sure He wept and grieved, Jesus didn’t strike Paul dead on the road to Damascus. He appeared to Paul instead, asking a question: Why are you persecuting Me? Then He changed Paul’s life and used him as His instrument to preach to the Gentiles and write half the New Testament. Grace.
Why? Because He knew grace changes everything.
Of those who convicted Jesus (or cheered for His conviction) and sent Him to His death, many would become believers and followers of the Way once He rose from the dead. They would repent and tell the story of what they had seen, and many more would come to know about Jesus. If He had retaliated against them, not only would the gospel not have been shared, it might not have happened at all.
If Jesus had not appeared to Paul to reform and transform him and instead just took him out for his sins, a substantial amount of people would never have heard the gospel, and a huge chunk of the Bible would never have been written. Billions and whole generations of people would not have his letters to encourage them, teach them, and help transform them.
You and I can choose grace like this.
We can choose kindness in the face of hate when someone provokes us.
We can choose to give the benefit of the doubt in the face of a letdown or a perceived betrayal.
We can choose to treat the person in front of us as if they are who they could be instead of who they’re acting like now. When I have done this, I’ve been amazed at how they live into a better version of themselves. It’s like magic.*
It’s like everyday grace.
Yes, it can feel super tempting to slip right back into demanding vengeance. “But God, look what they did to me!” we cry. “But look what I did for you,” He whispers gently. I try to remember this when I respond to angry people. Usually anger comes out when someone is secretly hurt or afraid, like a guard dog protecting a little child. Unexpected kindness disarms it. Suddenly it doesn’t feel the need to bite anymore.
When all we can see is the broken window, we miss the opportunity to love like Jesus loves, to change the world one kindness at a time and help bring about a new Kingdom – one of hope, true justice, and unconditional, illogical, transformative love. He will heal our broken windows. All of them. But He then challenges us beyond our thirst for vengeance and calls us into a different space – one of ridiculous, reckless compassion and mercy for others. A heart-attitude that says to others, like He says to us, “There is nothing you can do to cancel my love. You’re stuck with it. I’m gonna love you even when you’re really stinking hard to love.”
This is the Way that Jesus is teaching me to walk in. I hope to follow it with my actions and my words, and you’d better believe I fall and fail often, but He keeps calling me forward every time. Is He calling to your heart, too? Let’s join His crazy, joyful grace parade and learn to practice radical kindness, generous understanding, scandalous mercy. And simple, complicated, reckless, ordinary, wild, everyday grace.
*Note: In the above sections, I’m talking about the usual slights and wounds and heartaches we inflict toward each other just from being human and in the same room together, not abuse. Abuse is different. Please note: I am absolutely not advocating staying silent in the face of abuse and just letting it happen to you. Grace takes many forms, and in an abusive situation, it looks like getting yourself out and working on trying to forgive that person from afar in therapy, so that you don’t get yourself stuck in an emotional prison over that asshole for the rest of your life. Stay safe, beautiful, and if you need permission in Jesus to leave an awful situation, you have it. Go in grace.