I once explained Grace to a high school Sunday school class by handing each kid in the class a five dollar bill. Then I sat down and waited for questions.
What’s this for?
Why did you give it to me?
I can’t keep this.
I didn’t earn it.
As I answered each question: that I gave it to them simply because I love them… You have to keep it… You can’t give it back. … You didn’t have to do anything to earn it…
They came to understand I was talking about Grace.
Then we came to the response to Grace part. I told them they could do whatever they wanted with it. I knew some of the kids in the class had more money than the others and some would value five dollars differently. Some would be more grateful than others. The responses would all be different. I wondered later if any of the bills showed up in the collection plate that day. But it was out of my hands, quite literally.
I understand grace in my own life by having a sister with many and major medical problems that included alcohol and drug addictions and schizophrenia, none of which she asked for, not to mention the lesbian part, which she didn’t ask for either. She was miserable for most of her life.
We were raised in the same house and by the same parents. We shared a bathroom and a bedroom for many years. We watched the same movies and read the same books. How did I emerge from the same gene pool with only having a big butt as my biggest complaint? How did I luck out with none of her problems? Grace is the only answer I have ever been able to come up with.
When Elizabeth was a freshman in college she had a checking account. She had run an errand for me one day and I owed her seven dollars. I didn’t have any cash on me so I wrote her a check. As I was writing it, Emily acted outraged. She wanted one.
What for? You didn’t do anything.
How about just for being cute?
We joke around that way in our family. There’s a lot of give and take. And Emily relies heavily on her talent for being cute. We bantered about until Emily eventually ended up with a check for seven dollars. On the memo line I wrote simply “for being cute.”
I was reminded of these examples of grace the other day listening to a friend tell how her daughter had gotten a huge and quite unexpected bonus at work. The daughter invited her parents over for dinner. She stood in her living room and proceeded to tell them about the huge sum of money she had come into. It was like winning the lottery, though I think serendipity describes it better. Serendipity isn’t nearly as tense as winning the lottery.
She told them what a great feeling it was to come into money she hadn’t planned on and didn’t really need the way you need a paycheck. As she described the luxury of deciding what to do with the money, she told them she realized she wouldn’t have the great job she had with the accompanying standard of living and this serendipitous gift if her parents hadn’t spend their own money to send her to college. She wanted to repay them for her college expenses. Then she handed them a check. A huge check.
My friend was taken back. This was grace. It wasn’t really so much a repayment for college as it was a response to grace. The parents had never expected to see the college money back. Most of us don’t. We figure it’s part of the job. It comes with having kids. You buy school supplies every fall, starting with crayons and work your way up to computers. You go to Girl Scout campouts and football games. You pay for orthodontia. If you can afford it, you pony up for college. It’s part of being a parent. You never expect to get any money back.
I asked what they were planning to do with the money. She told me they had a dream vacation they had wanted to take for years but didn’t quite have the funds. The check was going to make that dream trip come true.