In February I had the unique experience of witnessing my oldest son Thomas get ashes for the first time on Ash Wednesday. We walked up together side-by-side holding hands. He watched me receive my ashes with his big brown eyes full of wonder. Then I turned to him and watched him receive his ashes from our pastor. I listened as the pastor gently said, "Jesus loves you," and watched my son's face light up with joy as his facial expression changed from curiosity to excitement. We returned to our seats where he started asking me all kinds of questions. I was happy to answer his questions and it spun off into a great discussion about God's love and grace. During Lent I often find myself thinking about the grace that God has given us so it was great to share some of my thoughts with my son. The most rewarding thing from our discussion was that it reinvigorated my prayer and lead to some deep thought and insights that I hadn't thought of before.
For me, grace has meant several different things in my life. Each new challenge and joy has changed what grace looks like to me. In some ways you could say that grace has been an elusive mystery for most of life. As a child grace was like opening a big birthday present. The suspense and anticipation of ripping open the wrapping paper and discovering a wonderful treasure inside filled my heart with joy. I was told that Jesus loved all the little children and that someday I would meet him in heaven. My imagination made heaven into this glorious beautiful place and to this very day I still believe in a heaven that is like this. I loved listening to Genesis verses because it was full of imagery and the wonderful creations filled me with awe. Grace was a gift, waiting to be unwrapped.
In my preteen and teenage years I found grace to be something entirely different. I found myself believing in a more selective grace. Grace to me was Santa's naughty and nice list. Had I been a good girl? Did I do all the right things? I knew I better behave because God was watching me. I better not fall out of line or he might zap me with Zeus-like lightning bolts or worse! He might decide to put me in the worst possible penalty box of all--HELL. For many young people, I think this is what grace looks like. There is a perception that you have to earn grace.
Then as I became an adult grace was different suddenly. Grace felt so far out of reach. For the first time in my life I had accepted the label of being a sinner. I knew I had messed up and that I would probably do it again. I began to wonder why Jesus would die for a sinner like me. What did God see in me or any part of humanity anyways? All around me I saw pain and suffering and sinners just like me struggling to find a greater purpose in life.
It took having children for me to understand and believe in grace again. As the mother of three kids I am constantly challenged. Raising children is most definitely the most rewarding and challenging thing I have ever done. You love them unconditionally and would give them everything in the world if you could. You want the best for them and work very hard to give them everything they need. In addition to basic needs children need guidance, support, and love to grow. A parent is the best person to offer these things to a child.
However, sometimes a child rejects these things. As my children get older I am experiencing this more and more frequently. When they are young it is temper tantrums and disobedience. As they get older there are still meltdowns and disobedience but you find yourself incredibly disappointed when they do wrong. Sometimes the disappointment can be very painful and exhausting. Despite all of this you still love them and continue to do what is best for them. It is frustrating but you still offer your love and keep on giving second chances. When they fail you offer discipline and love in the same hand. It is this kind of support that children thrive under.
God's gift of grace to us really isn't any different than this. I could write a book about all the things I have done that are wrong. I am past second chances. I sometimes repeat the same mistake several times and I even struggle with some things continuously. I am not proud of it, but I am a sinner. However, I have a Father who wants me to get up and try again. Grace doesn't have to be something you search for or have to earn. It doesn't even have to be a great mystery. God does love us and wants to give us this great gift. Grace is not a secret or exclusive to one group of people. Grace is for all of us!
Someday I hope to share in greater detail what grace is with my children. There is one thing I will share with my children now and that is to never give up on growing with God because God will never give up on us! I hope that they can see that I am not perfect but that the power of prayer has taught me to be persistent and to keep trying. The journey of faith changes sometimes and can seem mysterious but with persistence you will get to where you need to be.