When was the last time you said grace? I’m not talking about that brief prayer of thanks at mealtime. When was the last time you actually spoke grace to another person?
Let’s take a paragraph to define what speaking grace isn’t. Speaking grace isn’t affirming or complimenting someone when they deserve it, or encouraging someone when they need it. But neither do we speak grace by saying “Oh, that’s OK; don’t worry about it” when what’s been done really is not OK and the person concerned needs to change their ways. Grace isn’t given as a way to facilitate failure, but as a boost to those who aspire higher.
On a recent Friday morning, I was working at my desk when I received a call from Tom, the pastor at High Road Community Church in Black Diamond. I was happy to hear from him and curious about the purpose for his call.
Here’s the thing: at 8:45 that morning, I was supposed to be in Covington helping to pick up food for four different churches, but I was a no-show. When people couldn’t reach my cell, they simply did my work for me and pressed on. At 9:15, when I should have been helping unload, sort and reload the food in Black Diamond, I was also a no-show. Then Tom called.
Think about it: if you were the person in this situation calling a person like me, what would that phone call have sounded like? Thankfully, Tom sounded just like the same friend and brother whom I’ve worked alongside in the past. But I’ve let people down and they’re waiting on me and I’m trying to figure out how I could have missed my duties that morning as I drive north. OK, so my phone was stolen and my calendar and reminders were on it. I’d been out of town that week and had a sinus infection. And I was prepping to move all of our earthly belongings the next day. Doesn’t make me much happier with myself, but certainly makes sense.
I’ve come to the conclusion that grace is meant to work like a good wood-filler (or caulk). In wood-working, you can prep your pieces to near-perfection, but when it’s time to bring them together into a functional unit, you’ll still find there are gaps. Wood-filler turns a gappy piece of work into a seamless whole and makes soft bridges for sharp edges. Grace does the same thing when relationships come together in the body of Christ. If you’re deliberately swinging an ax in the workshop it’s of no use to you (try forgiveness instead), but it’s exactly what’s needed when good intentions meet with poor outcomes.
I arrived in Black Diamond as quickly as I could. I was greeted with smiles and warmth. I apologized and got to work. And in contrast to the fact that my absence had already made more work for everyone else, several had stayed behind to help me load my truck. I didn’t feel like I had to repeat my apology multiple times. I didn’t leave with that tail-tucked-between-the-legs feeling. I was humbled in a way that softens your heart rather than hardening your defenses. I was awakened to the beautiful reality of how faith and love amongst Christians can inspire works far greater than any personal goals of perfectionism I might set for myself. I honestly felt freed and empowered and I confess that I’m getting a little misty just in describing it again. I literally left saying, “Thanks for the grace.”
How can something so simple be so powerful?
Steve Strombom is lead pastor at Enumclaw Nazarene Church.