I live in a bubble. At this point in my life, I am going to school and church and that is about it. The only people, outside my family, that I really interact with are other seminarians, my professors, and other Christians at Bible Study or Church. It’s weird but that is the season of my life. This is partly due to moving (2,700 miles makes it a little difficult to hang out), partly family obligations (a wife and child [almost able to add the -ren] that actually expect me to spend “my” valuable “free” time with them!), and partly the rigors of my program (for the first year- the second and third year you are expected to get out and serve!). So right now, I am struggling to find a way to live out my faith in my new community.
Despite the filling of my head with all sorts of great “knowledge” about my faith, I recently had two opportunities that demonstrate how much growing that needs to occur in the “living” of my faith. I’ll relate one story here; the other will probably get its own post in a day or two.
A few weeks ago a car hit me while I was parked in a parking garage. I’m not sure if the driver saw me or not, (I was reclined in the front seat waiting for my wife), but he drove off. I got out of the car, saw the driver stop at the other end of the garage, check his car for damages, and then hop in and drive off.
I was shocked. It was so irresponsible and disrespectful. When I inspected my car, I noticed a few scratches, but nothing major. I had written down the guy’s license plate number and was torn: Do I call the cops or not?
When my wife returned, we talked about it and decided not to follow up. It was just a few scratches and there were some old scratches in that area anyway.
Yay for us! We demonstrated grace to this undeserved, irresponsible jerk. Sure we could have “taught him a lesson,” but we didn’t really think it would be right to make him pay for something that he didn’t entirely do.
About a week later, I hit a car in a parking lot. I scratched the car’s bumper, but there were some other scratches already on it (though mine was much bigger than any of the old ones). I left my name and number told the owner what had happened and to call me if they wanted to follow up…. and the owner took me up on the offer. She’s getting a new bumper.
I was/am kind of shocked. When you cut away all my layers of pretention, knowledge, and professions of faith, in practice I believe/trust/rely/expect the world to work in a basic karmic fashion (I know I totally reduced and simplified the concept of “karma”): If give good, you get good; what goes around, comes around. Basically, my “good” deeds and thoughts are a form of work and I expect to receive compensation. I had let a car go; I expected to be let go.
But that is contrary to grace. Grace is free. It is given out of love. By definition it is unmerited and cannot be repaid. “She travels outside of karma” (obligatory Christian U2 reference).
Grace is antithetical to people. We really like it, want it, perhaps even expect it, but we don’t know how to give or live it. I guess that why it is so important to remember I am not reliant upon my ability to be gracious. My motivations are so twisted, even my most altruistic actions ultimately serve to reinforce some image or expectation I have of myself.
It is not my grace that matters. It is God’s. This does not excuse ungracious behavior or give license to be a jerk or selfish, but it is an acknowledgement of my limitedness and God’s limitlessness. The Father is gracious. The Spirit draws. Christ reconciles. God is good.