I have this obsession with grace. I don’t understand it, I struggle to extend it, and I certainly don’t deserve it. But none of that lessens my fascination, my desire to grab grace by the shoulders and shake it until all those strange and lovely secrets tumble out. Undeserved, unmerited, incomprehensible, free. Why? And most of all, why me?
Maybe my passion stems from the fact that I deeply long for grace (don’t we all?) but I feel so undeserving (aren’t we all?). I study it and admire it and try to be grace-filled toward others… But I have so little of it for myself. I’m a perfectionist to the core, a firstborn, Type A optimist with a heart for other people and a subtle contempt for myself. I’ve read the books, listened to the sermons, devoured the articles. I know the answer to the question, and if I don’t, you can bet I’ll look it up. I know how I should parent and interact with my husband and love my neighbor. But, silly girl that I am, I continue to fail and fall short. To struggle with childish sins and shortcomings I should have left behind long ago. How could I?
A couple of weeks ago I blew it big with my kids. We work hard to keep mornings sweet, streamlined, and drama-free at the Baart house (no one wants to go to school cranky). But for some reason everyone woke up prickly, spoiling for a fight, and I played along. The battleground we chose was the breakfast table and things got off to a dismal start. I tried to assert my authority, they balked, so I drew my line in the sand. And, oh, how things went downhill from there. “I’m the mama,” I told myself. “They need to respect me.”
But it wasn’t really about respect. It was about winning. My husband and I parent four strong-willed children. FOUR. There’s not a wallflower in the bunch. These kids are loud and opinionated and stubborn. (I wonder where they get it from?) And sometimes we just want them to stop being so independent and simply obey. Why? Because I said so.
No one won that morning. Least of all me. Don’t get me wrong – they caved and I got my way. But it wasn’t worth the cost.
On days like that I want to throw Baileys in my coffee, curl up with a blanket, and feel sorry for myself. Or, better yet, start cataloging all the ways I fail as a mother (it’s a long list and I keep careful books). But the blame game is just as pointless as the power struggle.
I chose a third way that morning. And the fact that I had the capacity to do so is grace in and of itself. Instead of beating myself up for handling the situation so poorly, for making my children cry because I was on a power trip and wanted them to bow to my will, I took a deep breath. I said, “I’m sorry.”
Cue the Hallelujah Chorus. Okay, not really. Nothing much happened. I chucked them in the van and drove them to school. They piled out much quicker than normal in the drop-off lane and no one would meet my eye when I recited my morning litany: “Have a good day! Be kind! I love you!” I drove away convinced that my apology, heartfelt and hinting at grace though it was, had fallen on deaf ears.
A couple of hours later my telephone rang.
“Mom? Hey, I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for this morning.”
I’m not sure how he pulled it off. Maybe he told his teacher he needed to go to the bathroom and instead sneaked to the office to call me. What did he tell the secretary? No matter, he was on the other end of the line, accepting my flimsy apology and offering his own. I will never forget that moment and how powerful it was to hear his voice, to know that he had sacrificed something to make things right with me. To give me a second chance. To offer us a second chance.
Grace is love with open arms, no strings attached.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Although my story is a flawed and rather pathetic reflection of the grace the Lord extends to us, being a mother has opened my mind and my heart to God in a way that I have never experienced before. Remember my perfectionism? My demanding and often unattainable expectations for myself? It is grace to know, to believe that I am a child of the Most High. Unique, exceptional, worthy. Showered with gifts I don’t deserve, but that I am learning to accept because I understand (even in a dim reflection) what it means to love a child. To offer grace and hold your breath as you wait to see if your beloved will open your precious offering with joy or cast it aside.
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13
We do nothing to earn grace and it remains a gift so sacred and incomprehensible there are many who will never have the courage to believe it covers every single one of us. But grace is only fully realized when we have the capacity to accept it, to fold ourselves into the lavish embrace of God. To joyfully, eagerly seize that second chance (and third and fourth and seventy-seventh chance) and live radiant in the magnificent and mysterious wonder of love without limits.
Grace is knowing that sometimes the second chance is better than getting it right the first time.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
When my kids came home from school that afternoon, I told them: “No friends.” Instead, we popped popcorn, made hot cocoa with an abundance of marshmallows, and curled up on the couch together under woolly blankets. I wanted to hold them close, to let them know with my touch and my presence, my laughter and my arms tight around them, that we are the people of the second chance. Deeply, passionately, extravagantly loved. And when we fall, God in his infinite grace picks us up and dusts us off, gives us wings to fly.