As a Christian, justice, mercy and grace are significant parts of my spirituality but they are also concepts familiar to many in our culture. Justice delivers what we deserve while mercy keeps what is due at bay. Grace is off the charts compared to both; it freely provides the good we don’t merit. As a result, it can strengthen us to serve, keep us in the race, and propel us toward the finish line. Just ‘watch’ this short film about grace to see what I mean.
It’s a Wonderful Grace – Act I
From inside a tawdry living room, a camera captures a truly unfit mother watching her daughter leave home, carrying only the luggage of a broken heart and crushed spirit. As the film continues, depicting one year after another, the mother’s tears and a bottle of booze fill scene after scene. At the depth of her alcoholic misery, the phone rings. The mother answers to hear a ‘missing’ daughter calmly asserting, “Mommy, I’m coming home. I love you.”
The reunion is not stuff that happy endings are made of. The mother never regains her health and doesn’t magically start loving her child. But through her deteriorating condition, mom is nursed with an endless supply of compassion and concern. When confronted by one last round of selfishness and anger, the daughter does not retaliate or withdraw, for something has changed. The child that left shattered and alone has returned, carrying a different set of luggage – grace.
While the audience stretches and the house lights are up, let me emphasize something about grace. It is only grace because we have done nothing to warrant receiving it. The moment we can claim grace as our due, it becomes an obligation to be paid and not a free gift to bequeath.
Can’t say any more right now, people are coming back for…
The screen comes to life. A weeping man, with unkempt beard and dirty clothes, looks into the audience for solace but finds none. His head sinks to his chest, all hope nearly extinguished. You see the cardboard sign by the man’s side. He’s almost sitting on it and the words are unclear until the camera pans in.
“Will work for food” comes into focus. Intuitively you know the story will be about a struggling family, held together by the will of a precious wife and mother as the habitually unreliable husband self-destructs. And you’re right.
He has failed at a dozen jobs in three years, all due to his negligence and irresponsibility, and is at the low point in his life. It is only a matter of time until the consequences of his actions take his family down with him. The camera returns to his eyes staring hopelessly, but now, at a well-dressed man on the corner.
The man, one of the 12 previous employers, has heard of the family’s plight. He approaches the huddled wretch and extends a hand. In his palm is an offer of clean clothes, food for the family, and another chance at his old job. The husband hesitates, not believing this turn of events. He slowly stands then sweeps his matted hair from his face and tentatively grasps the offered hand. Grace grips back.
Life is challenging. It can be painful. Maybe weaknesses, hardships, and the difficulties of existence were at the root of the mother’s anger or the weeping man’s repeated failures. Each of us could become like them or we could strive to be like the daughter or the former employer. Which example of living seems the best to you?