At a particularly difficult congregational annual business meeting many years ago, I was accused of spending too much time preaching on grace. Those making the accusation felt that it was time that the church heard some of the “deeper” truths of the faith–truths that they just happened to know and would gladly reveal to the congregation if I would just stop preaching about grace and get out of their way. At the time, I was pretty sure that it was impossible to emphasize grace too much, a belief that really hasn’t changed in the intervening years. God’s grace is still the most important point in my approach to our faith.
When I began this series of stories for the blog, I quickly remembered the first two–but this once kept peaking around the edges of my mind, a story from my childhood that I didn’t think much of over the years but is much more important that I realize. While I am a bit uncomfortable sharing it here for some reason, here goes.
I grew up in a big family–there were nine of us kids. Although Dad had a steady job that paid fairly well, big families tended to be poor even way back then–we didn’t live on a farm and the garden and pigs that Dad kept only supplemented our diet. So, food for all of us, clothes, shoes and all the rest meant that there wasn’t a lot of money to spare.
The story begins with me playing in the living room by myself–how that happened in a house full of kids I can’t remember. I was swinging a throw pillow from the couch, just having fun stretching and turning and whirling around for no other reason than I could. Unfortunately, one poorly thought out swing of the pillow took out the ceiling light fixture. It was just a bare bulb but still, it was looked totally wrecked and would probably have to be replaced.
Mum cleaned up the mess on the floor and told me “Wait until your father gets home!” The rest of the day was long and painful as I waited for Dad to get home. I remember that he was on the day shift that week which meant that he would be home shortly after 3:00. Since I broke the light around mid-morning, it meant that I had to wait a few hours to find out my punishment for the light.
I did what any smart, scared kid would do–I tried to be both the best kid in the family and the most invisible kid in the family at the same time. The closer it got to 3:00, the more invisible I tried to become. Eventually, though, the time came. Dad arrived home–we didn’t have a car in those days so he walked home. I stayed out of sight as he cleaned up and talked to my mother.
Then came the call–Dad was in the living room and I needed to go there right now–no more hiding, no more being good, no side trips to the bathroom. It was judgement time. I dragged my feet to the living room and there was Dad, poking at the broken fixture with a screwdriver. He looked at me and said something like, “It just needs a new light bulb–don’t swing the pillows in the house anymore.”
To say I was relieved doesn’t really capture the feelings I experienced at that moment. I was free–no punishment, no grounding, no restrictions. All the heaviness of the previous hours was gone. The punishment I expected and knew I deserved was gone. The anticipated distance from my father never arrived. I didn’t get excited about getting away with breaking the light–I got excited about, well, I am not sure that I could have described it then.
Now, I am aware that I experienced a taste of grace–a totally unexpected, unwarranted, undeserved forgiveness that wiped out a very real wrong on my part. As I have studied and taught theology over the years, that story has probably been quietly influencing and shaping my thinking much more than I realized, at least until I began working on this post.
Can we preach grace too much–I don’t really think so because unless everything we preach and teach and practise is grounded in the grace of God, we will still spend a long day waiting for Dad to come home. Grace tells us that when he gets home, we have nothing to worry about.
May the peace of God be with you.