One of those Christian-ese terms that you often hear at church or in worship songs. While most Christians would tell you that they know what grace is, they probably wouldn’t be able to explain it. Why not? Because most of us have a vague idea about grace, but we don’t fully grasp it. After all, articulation is the litmus of comprehension. In other words, if you can’t explain a concept to someone else, you don’t really understand it.
When it comes to grace, I generally fall into the perplexed category. Although I wouldn’t call myself the governor of the “state of confusion,” I definitely have a local address, especially regarding grace. That’s because grace is more than just a far-off theological term or a prayer you say before chowing down. Not only is grace an integral part of the Gospel and, but it also plays an essential role in our lives. And that can make it difficult to grasp. Like a zoomed-in camera lens, we find ourselves too close to see the entire “grace picture.” Sometimes, though, God hoists us on His shoulders, giving us the bird’s-eye-view. In these moments, we catch a glimpse of grace. For me, Wednesday April 18th held one such moment.
For a week and a half, I’d been denying the existence of my combined sinus and ear infection, hoping that it would get bored and leave me alone. But finally after twelve hours of difficulty in swallowing, I broke down and went to my local Walgreen’s Take Care Clinic. Here the kindhearted nurse practitioner Shelley took care of me (no pun intended) and told me that, yes, I did indeed have a sinus and ear infection (Note: When infected, your eardrums look bloodshot. Weird, huh?). After fifteen minutes of friendly conversation and symptom checking, she sent me happily on my way. She even called in the prescription at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, so I could pick it up on my way home. Wonderful.
Looking at my watch, I realized that I was within the 2-4 p.m. Sonic happy hour, so I treated myself to a strawberry Limeade. Then I remembered that I had wedding gifts to purchase. Since Target was conveniently located right behind Sonic, I dropped in. Ten minutes later, I strolled up to the nearest register with an 8-pack of Sterilite mixing bowls and a set of four glasses in hand. My mission was almost complete.
Then my sweet cashier, bless his heart, offered to bag my gifts. No sooner had I said, “Sure,” did I hear the sickening thud and clank of the glasses, in their box, hitting the linoleum floor. More striking, though, than the sound of my purchase colliding with the ground was the expression on my cashier’s face. I could almost feel his heart sink as he quickly picked up the box to survey the damage. That’s when I noticed his “New Team Member” sticker where his name tag should have been. Poor kid. I drop things all the time. What if it were my first day on the job? Dropping a set of four glasses would have been my greatest fear. And that’s exactly what he did. Together we opened the box and checked all the glasses: Not a mark on any of them! Hallelujah! Smiling, I told him not to worry about it, that I would still take the glasses. He sighed with relief.
Thirty minutes later, I walked out of Wal-Mart, antibiotic in hand, and slid into my little red Volvo. As I started to back out of the parking space, I noticed a man in my rearview mirror. He was signaling me that I was clear to go. Normally, I am an incredibly cautious and competent driver. I’d never been in an accident; I’d never hit anyone or anything. But as I watched him motion me backward, I must have gotten distracted because, before I knew it, I heard the sickening sound of impact. My fender had just sideswiped the bumper and wheel of the car next to me. Shoot. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the traffic-director man then said, “That’s my car.” Double shoot. Every time I enter or leave a parking space and the car next to me has people in it, I hold my breath because I’m terrified of hitting them; it’s my greatest parking-lot fear. And that’s exactly what I did. Needless to say, my heart sank.
The next few minutes were a blur. He rushed over to examine his car. I called my mom to ask about insurance. His wife and newborn baby appeared from inside the store. As I was simultaneously trying to explain the situation to my mom and offering profuse apologies to them, the man and his pretty wife looked closer at the damage. The red mark from my Volvo came easily off the hubcap, and only a small paint scratch remained on the vehicle itself. When I asked if they wanted my insurance information, they said that a claim would only raise both our rates, and a paint scratch wasn’t worth the trouble. I gave them my name and number nonetheless and told them to contact me if something changed, but they told me repeatedly that it was fine and I didn’t need to worry. It wasn’t until after I’d backed out successfully and moved into an empty area that the tears began to fall.
Grace. In the span of sixty minutes, I’d given it and received it. And began to better understand it.
If asked, most Christians would probably define grace as “getting something you don’t deserve,” like a gift. And while I think that definition holds true to an extent, it also falls pitifully short. It fails to capture the emotion, the will and the heart behind it. Grace isn’t like purchasing a wedding gift or a birthday present, which is a one-time, semi-obligatory display of kindness. No, it’s a conscious decision, driven by compassion, to tell someone that it’s okay, that they are okay, and that they don’t have to worry because everything is going to be alright. It’s the choice to give a smile instead of a reprimand, a hug instead of a slap. It’s unexpected. It’s unwarranted. It’s completely contrary to human nature. And that’s exactly why when Jesus calls us to be ambassadors for His Gospel, He wants us to be agents of His grace. Mercy triumphs over judgment, and God’s grace saves us.
Which I guess makes it pretty darn “amazing.” 🙂