“Grace? She died thirty years ago!”
If you’re not sure where that phrase comes from, set aside an evening during the 2016 Christmas Season. You and I have plans. 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of my favorite holiday movies, second only to A Garfield Christmas.
Why am I beginning this post with a quote from a movie that many consider to be, let’s say, unedifying? Because miraculously, Grace didn’t die thirty years ago. She’s still alive – barely.
Okay. Enough of this drawn-out-metaphor stuff. If you haven’t yet it figured out, I’m trying to creatively (or not-so-creatively) get into the subject of grace. And I’m not necessarily writing about the kind of unbelievable grace that gets sung about at least once a month in a typical Sunday morning gathering. I’m not even speaking explicitly to those of you who are followers of Christ. I’m speaking to my fellow humans. What is grace, and why do we struggle with it?
First things first, what is a simple definition of grace? I think the Merriam-Webster dictionary sums it up for me when it says grace is “an act or instance of kindness or courtesy; a temporary exemption.”
At its simplest level, that’s all it really is. Making an exemption for something. It’s simply being kind, even in a situation that may place us at odds with another person.
Notice I said “at its simplest.” I don’t mean to insinuate that grace is simple. It is anything but simple. But why is grace even a notion that sits in our brain? Because someone did something wrong.
Let’s look at this in a way that most of us can identify with.
It’s 7:30 a.m. You have to be at work in fifteen minutes, and you’re still thirty minutes away from work, driving on the highway. You notice a car moving past you on your left. Is the idea of grace on your brain? Probably. But only because you’re hoping that your boss will be gracious to you for being late.
It’s at that moment when that car in the left lane whips in front of you and takes the exit coming up on your right. You slam on your brakes, spill your chai latte on your lap, and tell the driver where you hope that exit will take him.
Are you showing the grace you hoped to receive?
I’m not brow beating here, and I’m using a cliche example to prove the point that, in both instances, there had to be a wrong committed to bring about grace. That’s the more complex part. At least for me.
My issue with grace: When does it become apathy?
Before you interrupt, I understand, as a follower of Christ, that His grace never stops, but I also believe that I am called to become better as I grow in Him. What happens when that growth doesn’t happen?
Enter: My struggle.
Rules are set for a reason, whether it’s for protection, effectiveness, or for many other reasons. Do we always agree with them? Of course not. But they are there. In order for grace to be given, a rule has to be broken. If grace is, as stated before, a “temporary exemption,” how do we handle a repeated breakage of rules or wrong-doings?
I know my struggle is that I’m too nice. I’m too afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. I don’t want people to be mad at me. But if grace is temporarily saving someone from punishment, am I really doing anyone any favors by granting an infinite amount of grace? Punishment is sometimes the only way us humans learn.
I guess I get caught up in a merit-system mentality. Anyone who has ever gone to school or held a job can understand this. Study for the test? You’ll probably do pretty well. Finish what your boss wants you to do today? You’ll most likely have a job come tomorrow morning. Don’t do these things? You know what’s going to happen. That’s the way life works.
So how do we manage to balance the mentality of merit and the notion of unending grace?
I’m going to level with you. This post has been in the draft folder since we launched Imperfect Collective. It was meant to be my first post but frankly, I didn’t know how to bring it around to a point. After a couple weeks of reading it and thinking things through, I’ve realized one thing: I still can’t bring it around to a point. I honestly don’t have an answer. Instead, I’d like to hear others’ opinions on it.
So how do you do it? How do you know when you’ve reached the end of your grace? When, and how, does the merit mentality come into play?
I am seeking wisdom.