It’s been week-long lesson time over here at the little house by the river. It all started last Monday when I arrived twenty minutes late for my first class of the semester. I had made a mistake — missed the mark. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I fumbled through that first class making apologies and praying that my students wouldn’t base their opinion of me on that gaffe.
The same class met two more times last week, and truly, my students were gracious. They arrived on time (mostly), they did their assignments (pretty much), and they engaged in classroom activities. They, from all appearances, had offered me grace — undeserved favor. My performance didn’t earn respect, but they gave it to me anyway.
So, I went forward through my week and offered the same to everyone else I interacted with, right? That would be a nice way to end the story, wouldn’t it?
However, as humans go, I’m pretty run-of-the-mill. I have a short memory, and I don’t like to apply the same rules to others as I do to myself. I want everyone else to be perfect and to earn the favor that I give to them.
Turns out that most humans are pretty run-of-the-mill, aren’t they?
I’ve been struggling with a few humans in particular. Their actions, or lack thereof, have left me fussing and fuming. I have not been quiet about my disdain for these few individuals. Their decisions, in my opinion, have been less than ideal; they have missed the mark. In fact, most of the people I have fussed and fumed to have agreed with my assessment. I have every right to cast judgment on these people because of their poor choices. Certainly they have been wrong and should be held accountable.
It’s true. All of us, in fact, have been wrong and should be held accountable.
So, a companion of mine (who shall remain nameless) and I were recently driving on the highway. We were missing church to go to a family event, so the thoughtful driver (no names, I promise) had brought a devotion along to read in the car. While the driver drove, I read the devotion about grace — this was not orchestrated; it was just the devotion for the day. When I read the words, “Remember, grace is not given to us because of our goodness, but in spite of our sin,” I gave a hard gulp. How many times have I received grace in spite of my sin? So many times. Each day. Today. Yet, I withhold that grace from others — maybe because their sin is different from mine, maybe because I have decided that they are unrepentant, maybe because they have hurt people whom I love. I decide that they are not worthy of my grace. They haven’t earned it. But grace, by definition, can’t be earned. Or deserved. My driving companion and I mused on this for a moment and acknowledged how each of us had failed in this arena. We had failed Grace 101.
Not long after I finished reading the devotion and we had finished our musings, said driver had what we like to call “the pedal to the metal” when we flew past a Michigan State Trooper stealthily resting in the median. Just as we zipped past him, the trooper flung himself out into the lane behind us. My driver said, “He got me,” slowed the speed of the car, and moved toward the right lane in anticipation of being pulled over. One other car separated us from the trooper when his flashing lights went on. We watched the other car pull to the shoulder, fully expecting the trooper to move forward and pull us over, but instead, he pulled onto the shoulder behind the other car.
My driver and I looked at each other and exhaled. “That,” I said, “is grace.” We had been breaking the law after all; we had missed the mark. We deserved a ticket but received undeserved favor. Just in case we needed an object lesson to go with our devotion.
So I moved forward from that car ride and spread grace lavishly, right?
Have I mentioned that I am a run-of-the-mill human? Within forty-eight hours I had meted out harsh judgment on others in my life. I had determined what mark they should reach and, noticing their failure to meet it, had poured on scorn and disfavor — exactly what they deserved.
But God, being ever gracious and merciful, gave me the lesson once more this morning. He reminded me, through the gentle words of my physical therapist, of His great love for me and His great love for others. Not only that, He reminded me of the privilege I have of bearing witness to His grace in the lives of those who desperately need to hear it.
I’ve missed the mark so many times, yet He continues to pour grace on me — through students, through pre-packaged devotions, through State Troopers, and through physical therapists. Perhaps I’ll be able to bear witness to that this week.
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.