Theologically speaking, Grace is unearned love, undeserved mercy. We receive it not because of who we are, but because of who God is. In fact, we CANNOT earn it. It’s given. If you have to earn it, then it’s not Grace. It’s something else. See how that works?
On trips, when I was still a youth minister, I used to sometimes give the kids homework. They were required to notice at least one act of Grace that occurred during the day with the understanding that in the evening I would ask the question, “Where did you see Grace today?”
The answers always varied from the simple to the profound: I was still hungry and so-in-so let me have half of their sandwich; I fell down and a stranger helped me up; The homeless man I sat next to at the soup kitchen wanted me to have his cookie; Some lady let me go first in line; A random boy stopped what he was doing to help me find the first aid station; I’ve never really had any friends, and I didn’t want to come on this trip, but you guys took me in and loved me anyway.
The closing lines of the movie Love Actually are, “It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there . . . When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
Grace is like that, too. It’s all around, but it’s definitely not newsworthy, especially in our 24-hour-news driven society where sex, violence, and fear are what sell. When we buy into that vision of the world, we begin to see it through fear and hate colored glasses, which is why I liked to challenge the kids in my youth group to look at the world differently.
Is there great evil in the world? Yes. Are there people in the world who would plant bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon? Yes. But there are also people in the world who go unnoticed, committing countless acts of Grace everyday, and I would hypothesize — perhaps naively — that those ordinary, unsung saints far outnumber the hate mongers.
Whenever a tragedy of the magnitude of the Boston Marathon bombing occurs, stories of Grace always trickle out of the confusion alongside the tales of horror and grief: A jacket given away to a person in shock, cell phones passed through a crowd so that loved ones might be contacted, first responders running toward danger, money given away freely to help people get home or to a hospital, hands clasped, shoulders gently touched, hugs given . . . all acts of Grace exchanged between perfect strangers; all acts of unearned love.
Destruction is easy and immediate. It’s the work of a moment — the pulling of a trigger, the detonating of a bomb, the striking of a match . . . It’s loud. It’s flashy. It’s sexy. It’s larger than life. It feels like power. But the work of Grace is much harder. It’s not immediate, and it takes finesse, creativity, agonizing vulnerability, and patience. The work of Grace is a trillion little moments stacked up patiently and quietly over a lifetime. Which of the two takes more strength?
I will say it again because it can’t be said too much, it is my belief that despite all evidence to the contrary, those involved in the work of Grace far outnumber those involved in the work of destruction.
Where did you see Grace today?
I dedicate this post to my dear friend, Mary Gray Swan, who passed away very unexpectedly this past Thursday, April 11, 2013. To know Mary was to know Grace. She is one of my “balcony people.” Those are the people who sit in the church balcony of your life, right where they can make eye contact with you. They cheer you on and encourage you to be you with all of the strength and honesty you possess. Mary was a “balcony person” and a Grace-maker for a great many people, but as far as I know, she was never featured on CNN.
Mary dedicated her life to educating children, and in lieu of flowers her family is asking that people donate books to children.
So yeah, there is great evil in the world. It’s real, and it sucks. But you know what you can do to fight back? Go out and buy a book in honor of Mary, for a kid who needs it. It’s not as big and immediate an act as setting off a bomb, but a million moments of Grace stacked up over a lifetime by millions of people are far more reaching and far more lasting.