I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott
Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith, but I think, for many of us, it is a difficult concept to truly grasp. It is so contrary to the judgemental, unforgiving attitude of the culture around us, which insists that you have to work and achieve certain standards to earn your place or find your worth.
If we’re honest, we can also struggle at times with the fact that grace means our success is not down to our own merit. We like to think that we can achieve on our own, through our talent, commitment or hard work, because it makes us feel good about ourselves.
Grace, on the other hand, means humbling ourselves, admitting our need, accepting a gift that we do not deserve and cannot earn. It is not always easy to accept, but, when we do, it opens the way to freedom and transformation.
The first time I remember experiencing grace was when I was about 14. My music class at school was working on a group performance. I had been given the piano part to play and, as it was a challenging part, I asked if I could take it home to practise. My teacher agreed, as long as I promised to bring it back the next day because it was the only copy of the part, and I said that I would.
I practised hard that night and returned to school the next day, feeling much more confident about playing the part. It was only as I opened my bag to get it out at the start of the music class that I realised: it was still sitting on the piano at home!
I felt so annoyed with myself. The one thing she’d asked was that I bring the part back. I was scared of telling her, but there was nothing else I could do, so I approached her to confess, bracing myself for her reaction.
But all she did was hand me a percussion instrument, tell me to play that for the lesson instead, and begin the practice, playing the piano part herself, without the music.
I was confused, and I felt tense throughout the whole lesson as I sat there, playing percussion. Why wasn’t she saying anything? When was she going to start shouting? Maybe making me wait was part of the punishment.
When the end of the lesson came I packed up slowly, sure that she was going to tell me to stay behind, but she didn’t. I was puzzled by her reaction. I still half-expected a punishment to come later in the day but it never did. When I returned the music the following day, she simply thanked me, her manner perfectly warm and pleasant.
I think that was when I finally understood that she was forgiving me but I had no idea why. To me, forgiveness was something that might come after the punishment, or once you had done something to earn it, or completed enough good deeds to outweigh the bad. It wasn’t something that was offered freely like this. I had no concept of grace.
I imagine the lady we meet in John 8 experienced a similar feeling, though magnified many times. Caught in the act of adultery, she had nowhere to hide as she was dragged before the crowd, expecting to be stoned as the law demanded.
Yet where she anticipated condemnation, she received mercy. As Jesus spoke, one by one her accusers left her, until only one man stood before her- the only one who had the right to judge, and yet he chose not to.
“Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11 NLT)
We don’t know what became of this woman or how her life was changed, but I do know that accepting grace, even on a small level, leads to transformation.
After the incident in the music class, I never forgot a piece of music again. I had a new respect for the teacher, she saw that I loved music and worked hard at it, and over the years she taught me so much and gave me many opportunities that helped me to flourish and built my confidence. She went above and beyond the call of duty, even getting me my first paid music job, playing in the orchestra for a theatre production.
And, yes, she was a Christian, and I’m sure the grace she showed was a reflection of God’s grace. It is only when we truly experience grace that we are able to show it to others. In fact, I think when we have experienced grace we are compelled to show it to others.
Grace is not about paying it back, but paying it forward, and I think as we do that, the impact can be greater than we’d ever have imagined.
So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21 NLT)
This post is written for a blogging challenge exploring the question: “What is grace to you?” as part of the launch for James Prescott’s book “Mosaic of Grace” which is released on 13th February. You can find out more about the book here and pre-order on Amazon at these links: UK, US. Check back here next week for a review.