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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What is Grace?

What is “grace?” (A Year with Jesus: Daily Readings and Meditations by Eugene Peterson, page 225).

Grace is a very positive word—it comes with practically no negative connotations. Whether someone wins graciously or loses graciously, it’s a quality to be desired. I am going to avoid the temptation to look the word up in the dictionary and come up with a definitive answer to the question: What is “grace?” Instead, I’m going to look back to where I first encountered grace and strive there to find its essence. This was for me in the home.

Grace involved the way I was treated by my family despite behavior that could have elicited the opposite of grace—namely cynicism, meanness, spitefulness, and ridicule. The first time I was shocked by a father yelling at his son (words that my father would never yell at me) was when I was about 13 years old in Ellenton. I was playing in an expansive lawn area late one afternoon next to a street lined with houses. From one of these houses I heard a father yelling at this son as the son came out the front door. The father yelled after him: “If you were half as smart as you think you are you would be President of the United States.” I knew instantly that in this spirit and with this tone my father would never address me. I got from my father just the opposite—quietly informal conversation filled with generosity, forgiveness, and belief in me; all serving to bring encouragement and hope. This is not because I had faults that my father could not plainly see; it was rather because my father loved me enough to treat me with generosity and forgiveness—with grace.

Perhaps one would expect grace more from my mother (after all, women are named “Grace”). I remember mother’s smile, her focus on the task at hand, and her joy. This light overflowed upon my brother and me.

Now my brother (4 years older than me) and I were sometimes antagonistic; but when the chips were down, my brother graciously covered for me and my sins. One time I got mad at him and threw a screwdriver at him, hitting his leg and bringing blood. He graciously let the matter rest and never mentioned it to “the powers that be.” Another time when I was beginning to experience sexual emissions, I somehow got into my head to dribble Wildroot Cream Oil hair tonic into the toilet. I thought it (being white) looked something like semen. After a spell of this, at the breakfast table mom and dad mentioned seeing it in the toilet and said Wildwood was expensive and this was a waste. Whether they flat-out asked who was doing this or just told us to stop I do not remember. But my brother said he would do it no more; again, graciously covering for me.

Based on my first encounters with grace, I continue to cherish it wherever I find it and pray that, despite deep inner forces to the contrary, I can sometimes genuinely express it.

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