A Peculiar Kind of Grace

What does a twelve-year-old girl, a bag of Oreo cookies, and an iPod Touch have to do with God's grace?  I pondered that very question this weekend while driving back from one of my children's soccer games.  It isn't uncommon for us to travel to surrounding towns as part of a regional soccer league for 8-year-olds.  At the conclusion of one such game, my wife and I loaded our family into the vehicle and began to make the 30 minute drive home.  A nice reprieve after an intense morning of watching the kids play their hearts out on the field.  After stopping for lunch at a pizza place, we noticed that my daughter (yep the twelve-year-old) had misplaced her $100 iPod Touch device.  A moderate panic began to set in as all of us searched coat pockets and bags.  The first time this happened we had to purchase a replacement device.  The replacement had now gone missing.



At some point that afternoon, after arriving home and performing one last thorough search in the back seat of the car, I made the decision to re-trace our steps, which involved making  the drive back to the soccer field.  I figured this would be a small price to pay if things worked out, so I took my daughter with me and off we went.  It was a quiet 30 minute car ride back.  After all, I had all the leverage as the parent - right?  She had lost her gadget, I was helping to find it.  Well, we visited both the soccer field and the restaurant where we had stopped for lunch; no iPod.

Gloom and doom had set in.  I made a quick stop at a local convenience store to pick up some snacks for the second ride home, and returned to the car with a bevy of sugar-laden confections.  I handed her a bag of mini Oreo cookies (is there anything better?).  Upon tearing open the top of the bag, she looked at me and uttered, "I don't deserve this."  It was one of those Hallmark moments where I was supposed to grab her close - with soft music playing in the background - and deliver a public service announcement type of soliloquy about the impossibility of earning grace on our own accord.  Instead I was struck speechless by her reply.  What a wonderful heart she has.  What a neat thing for her to say.  "Of course you deserve this," I thought to myself ... you are my daughter, and that's enough.

As fate would have it, the lesson at Sunday School the following day centered around God's grace.  Less coincidence and more sanctification I'm sure.  The small group discussed how we cannot earn grace through hard work or hanging around the right people.  How God's grace differs from human grace.  And it does differ, doesn't it?  I think when it comes to an understanding of grace, a good analogy is gift giving and receiving.  It is an overused metaphor I'll grant you that, but an apt one.  And when it comes to gift giving and receiving (at least as it pertains to the population at large) we must consider the truism that we often give gifts to other people with "strings attached."  In fact, there are often many conditions applied to the gifts that we give each other.  

If we take a simple example, a gift card let's say.  Maybe we give someone a gift card worth $50 to their favorite store for their birthday or graduation.  Or more often than not, maybe we give them a gift card to a store that we wish they would go to!  This in turn creates two conditionals: the first is the fact that as gift-giver, we are trying to control where and how the recipient spends our money.  Second, the receiver often feels the need to reciprocate the gift.  When it becomes time for me to graduate or have a birthday for example, then do I then expect a gift in return?  Am I angry if I don't receive one?  After all, doesn't so and so remember that $50 gift card I gave to them?  Couldn't they at least take time to write me a thank you card?  At this point, the line between grace freely given and conditional giving becomes blurred.  More difficult to determine where altruistic intentions end and selfish reciprocity begins. I suspect that many of us don't take time to contemplate this idea at all - if for no other reason than it is so ingrained within us.   

But perhaps I am over thinking things.  I have been guilty of this before.  If I am not careful, the reader may begin to assume that maybe it would be best if I should receive no gift at all. Check mate.  But consider one further example first.  The example of how God uses grace.  Because God's version of grace does not include feeling guilty or the need to reciprocate.  Not if we really understand it.  In fact, I think if we really understood it, God's version of grace would equate to an enormous feeling of freedom and peace.  Let me explain further.

Recently I visited my 97-year-old grandmother in the hospital.  She had gone through quite a rough spell.  It began with her falling and injuring her leg in the assisted living facility.  This resulted in a round of physical therapy and a period of time for healing.  After being largely sedentary for a number of days due to the limited mobility in her leg however, pneumonia set in.  She now found herself being moved from the assisted living building over to a the hospital.  And for those of you that don't know, pneumonia at age 97 is a really big deal.  She is a strong and independent woman, but things did not look good.  

The reason for my visit was to attend the priest's last rites ritual at her bedside.  You see, my grandmother is a lifelong Catholic.  After he arrived, those of us in the room all prayed along side him and received a blessing as well.  Of particular interest to me during this meeting was the way in which Fr. Mike talked about God's list of priorities.  After years and years of performing similar rituals and prayers over sick people, he explained it in the following manner.  First and foremost, he noted that God cares about people's level of spiritual peace.  And in fact, after the majority of his bedside prayers, there is a marked decrease the person's sense of anxiety.  He then said that God seems to place a secondary value on the person's psychological well being.  This sounded strange to me at first, but if we think about it for a minute ... doesn't spiritual peace really outrank intellectual contentedness?  Finally, he said that God seemed to place a person's physical well being (or the possibility of a healing for example) on the very bottom rung.  If they are to be healed then He heals them, if not, then so be it.  

This is an interesting hierarchy.  How odd this would seem to the outside, secular world.  Don't most Americans value physical health above all else?  I knew as soon as Fr. Mike had recounted this list that it would stick in my mind.  Catholic or not, this was good stuff.  This was a godly man telling a room full of downtrodden people what he had witnessed God doing spiritually throughout his life.  We were ready to listen.

The reason I am telling this story now is because to truly understand what God has done for us on the cross through the sacrifice of His son via perfect grace, is to know and be a part of this type of spiritual peace.  It surpasses the need to be either psychologically content or physically healthy.  It swallows up those other two things in fact, and stands boldly at the top of the pyramid proclaiming itself as king.  I believe my grandmother possessed this feeling of peace in the room that day.  It was a grace given to her freely from the Father.  When the priest informed her that we were about to pray over her just in case she passed away, she turned and said to him, "oh, that's a really good idea."  Her response struck me funny, but I think I was too caught up in the moment to laugh.  Would I have responded with that much calmness and presence of mind?  Would you?

What is it like to receive a gift with no strings attached?  To be given something that we can never hope to repay?  To accept something without any conditions attached?  How different Christianity would be if Jesus' great commission included a fine print clause which mentioned that his adherents must try really, really hard to repay what he had done for them.  Instead we are asked only to repent and believe in him - and by so doing, also the one who sent him.  If we really understood this, I imagine we would also look upon God as children with a half-open bag of mini Oreo cookies in our lap ... thinking to ourselves, "I don't deserve this."

After our unsuccessful search for her iPod, my daughter and I pulled into the driveway of our home around late afternoon.  We went back into the house to break the news to my wife.  As it turns out, one last look in the very back seat between the cushions revealed the missing item.  My wife's last attempt to search it out proved successful.  It was in the car the entire time!  I loved my daughter anyway of course, fathers always should - regardless of whether or not we find what we are looking for.  She hasn't earned my love, she doesn't have to.  She simply receives it.  It is no accident that the Bible equates God's love for us to that of a Father and child.  It is most similar to that relationship, but better.  The same way that it is better to have peace than whatever it is we think we need instead.  It is a peculiar kind of grace, but it is ours, and it is given freely.  We need only accept it.

My grandmother did bounce back by the way.  A day or so after we prayed for her, she improved enough to move back to a skilled nursing facility.  She has told me countless times throughout my life that God is good.  I have no reason not to believe her, no matter what the future holds.  Oreo cookies anyone?




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Comments

  1. When I pictured sweet Morgan saying, "I don't deserve this", tears sprang to my eyes. Wow.
    Well written & good message!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have said that phrase so many times in this past 9 months. "I don't deserve this!" Thanks for sharing! Great blog!

    ReplyDelete

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