One particular incident from my childhood always sticks out in my mind. I had accidently broken a cup and, despite knowing that I was in a loving home, my immediate reaction was one of fear – what would happen? My mother responded gently, “It’s okay, sweetie, accidents happen.” As a youngish child, that was such a pivotal experience of grace. There was no punishment, no reprimand, just gentle grace.
It’s something I have always kept in mind as I raise my own children. Of course, I know I haven’t succeeded all the time. Especially on accidental matters. It always seems too easy to react with a raised voice and to add on a rebuke, “if you weren’t running this wouldn’t have happened; or if you’d just been more careful it wouldn’t have happened!”
How much harder it is to show grace when the transgressions are not just accidental, but deliberate thought-out choices: hitting their brother, saying something rude, and so on.
Yet God models such amazing grace to us. There are very few instances where Jesus rebukes people for sin, instead His encouraging presence seems to lead them to their own sense of conviction and repentance (Zaccheus). Jesus seems less concerned with the past and more with the future. To the woman caught in adultery there is no lecture or urging her to think about how she got into the situation, just an injunction to go and sin no more.
What is grace? When does someone deserve grace? When they are repentant? When they have shown remorse? The definition of grace is ‘unmerited favour’. God says that while we were still sinners, his grace was released on us. Of course grace doesn’t mean that there are no consequences to be faced or things to be mended, but that these are to be administered in a spirit of grace.
There isn’t a good word in English for showing grace to others. We have gracious, but that inspires images of the ‘gracious’ queen bending regally down to her subjects. We have graceful, but again this inspires images of ballerinas and their fluid movements.
Kindness is probably the best word, but it seems too weak to hold this powerful concept of acting with love and good intent towards those who do not deserve it. Perhaps the compound loving-kindness can capture the idea of being full of grace toward others.
It’s not just kids who need grace. Parents need it too.
Many of us place tremendous expectations on ourselves to be ‘good parents’. Yet the Bible pretty much assumes that we will love our children (note the many parental metaphors). We are urged simply to pass on what we know to be true, to our kids. And really that’s pretty much all we can do. Take care of their bodies and minds and hearts with that which we have and know. And it is 100% guaranteed that we will make mistakes, because we are all flawed and limited human beings. If we have added Jesus into our life equation, we have access to tremendous resources in Him. But, but… we are still limited by the choices our children make for themselves. God has given them a free will and as much as we can guide and direct them, they ultimately are responsible for their own actions, whether we have messed up or not.
I have sat with several friends whose kids have messed up and they are so ready to take the blame on themselves. I too have experienced on several occasions the deep pain when my children have chosen a path I didn’t feel was good, and felt the guilt come swarming in. What did I do wrong, I cry to God.
On a recent occasion I received this beautiful message from a friend. I can see that she is someone who understands the concept of grace.
‘Dearest friend, I just want to say my heart goes out to you and your family. Everybody makes mistakes somewhere in life and God’s most amazing characteristic is His immediate and total forgiveness and love. To every single body. Always. And please know that I still love your son. We all do. He is a stunning young man, as you are a stunning Mum. And just know that it will all work out for the best in the end.’
Her kind words were a balm to my wounds. Let’s remember this as we deal with one another on this planet which is so often a harsh environment. There is a place for learning to do better and a time for rebuke but at all times and especially when we have been deeply hurt, we need grace.
The story of Zaccheus - Luke 19
The woman caught in adultery – John 8
God’s grace to us - Ephesians 2